By: Ian Logue
Bill Belichick’s defense came up big Thursday night against Denver.
There were plenty of doubts heading into Sunday night’s match-up between New England at Denver, with the majority of the focus centered around the Patriots’ banged up defense and how they would fare against an explosive Broncos offense.
Overall, they fared pretty well. In fact, save for two possessions they more or less completely dominated Denver, shutting down a Broncos offense that has had their way with nearly everyone this season.
It sounds funny to say but looking back, aside from when New England gave them the football in their own territory, Denver only passed midfield on their own unaided by a turnover twice during regulation in this game. Here’s a look at each of their possessions, with the bold portion denoting when the Broncos passed midfield without a New England turnover, while the red indicates the drives that started after a Patriots turnover:
1st: They went from their own 20 to their own 39 before punting.
2nd: Got the ball at the Patriots 10 after the Tom Brady strip sack and later scored a TD.
3rd: Got the ball at the Patriots 44 after the LeGarrette Blount fumble and kicked a FG.
4th: Went from their own 20 to their own 42 before punting.
5th: Drove from their own 30 down to the Patriots 10 and scored a touchdown.
6th: Went from their own 30 to their own 47 before punting.
7th: Went from their own 19 to their own 48 before Montee Ball fumbled it away.
8th: Went from their own 15 to their own 34 before punting.
9th: Went from their own 15 again to their own 26, Manning was picked off by Logan Ryan.
10th: Went from their own 20 to their own 22 and punted.
11th: Went from their own 20 down to the Patriots’ 11 and scored a touchdown.
12th: Went from their own 33 to their own 44.
13th: Went from their own 20 to their own 42 before punting.
14th: Went from their own 13 to the Patriots 42 before punting.
There were only twelve possessions that didn’t start from a turnover, with just three where they passed midfield. That’s beyond impressive given the circumstances.
Obviously Knowshon Moreno had a big night running the football, picking up 224 yards on 37 carries including a touchdown. Looking closer, 94 of his yards came on six plays, including three rushes of 18 yards that happened once with about six minutes left in regulation, and two in overtime. Aside from that, New England’s defense did a good job of keeping him from breaking off any huge gains and putting the Broncos in long-yardage situations on third down.
Overall Denver finished 9-of-18 on third down last night, with eight of those eighteen being from 3rd-and-7 or longer while allowing just one conversion. These are numbers similar to what we’ve seen from New England in recent weeks, and for the Patriots defense to pull that off given their current personnel situations on that side of the football is just staggering. Granted they got a little help from Mother Nature last night, but the Broncos were obviously facing the same conditions.
“I thought we hung in there,” said Belichick after the game. ” I thought our guys competed well, and they’re a tough offense to play against. I mean, look, it’s hard to hold them down yardage-wise, hold them down point-wise, but I thought we hung in there and battled and I thought our corners, they deserve a ton of credit. [Aqib] Talib, [Kyle] Arrington, Alfonzo [Dennard], they’re all…I mean nobody’s 100% in that locker room. They’re all banged up, they fought through it, just wanted to go out there and compete. Devin [McCourty], Duron [Harmon], then we have Marquice [Cole] at the end jump in there, Logan Ryan, those guys, they just went up there and competed against a great group of receivers. They made some plays, but we made some too.”
That they did, and it’s hard not to feel pretty good about what we witnessed. This is hopefully one of those games that could be considered a turning point in a season that should turn everyone in that locker room into a believer of what they can do when they band together and execute. Spotting a team that’s favored to win it all 24 points and then coming all the way back to beat them like that was special, plain and simple.
It was a championship type of performance Sunday night, and one that should give fans a glimmer of hope that how this season ends will come down to whether or not they can continue to play like this over the final five games of the season.
If they can, it’s tough not to believe anything is possible should New England be in the mix in January.
TAKING THE WIND WAS THE RIGHT MOVE:
Looking back at last night’s game, it appeared that when the captains went to midfield to start overtime and the Patriots won the toss, even they seemed surprised when head coach Bill Belichick opted to take the wind instead of the football. Given how they had played, it also showed the type of confidence he had in his defense to help make sure Denver didn’t get in the endzone.
In the end it ended up being the right move, as it put the wind in Manning’s face and prevented the Broncos from having a shot at a long field goal after they reached the Patriots’ 37 yard line in overtime on their second possession.
“It was a strong wind,” Belichick explained when asked about his decision after the game.
“We just had to keep them out of the end zone, obviously and I just felt like the wind would be an advantage if we could keep them out of the end zone on that first drive. We were able to do that. The wind was significant in the game. It was definitely significant.”
It ended up seemingly playing a part on the Patriots’ punt on the ensuing drive, with the swirling wind clearly making Wes Welker indecisive enough to not make the call in time to get teammate Tony Carter away from the football, which bounced off of his leg and Patriots special teamer Nate Ebner pounced on the football.
“Bill’s a genius,” said Patriots safety Devin McCourty told Boston.com’s Erik Frenz. “He’s a genius. I mean, even the captains didn’t know. We [were] like, ‘Defer? Take the wind?’ And, it was obviously the best call, and it was a great call by him.”
EDELMAN COMES UP BIG:
Wide receiver Julian Edelman continues to have a terrific season, finishing last night with over 100-yards receiving for the third time in his career while also finishing the night with three punt returns for 39 yards, two of which helped give the Patriots good field position which ended in a touchdown and a field goal.
“Julian did a great job,” said Belichick. “First of all, he did a good job of handling the ball, especially in the 3rd and 4th quarter there. He made a couple of good runs with the ball in his hands, also got open, caught the ball. The under route he got there gave us the field position in the overtime, it was a big play.”
Edelman was humble after the game, pointing out a muffed catch he had. But he was glad to have been able to contribute.
“Well, I fumbled a punt, after I muffed one, so that’s not that good,” Edelman told reporters after the game. “Today, my number was called a few times and I was able to have a couple of opportunities and I just try to take advantage of them. A couple games back it was KT [Kenbrell Thompkins], AD [Aaron Dobson], Danny [Amendola], I mean, that’s our job. Our job is to go out there, get open and catch the football and I was able to do that a few times.”
He finished the night with 9 receptions for 110 yards including two touchdowns.
RIDLEY SAID PATRIOTS HAD ‘NO OPTION’ BUT TO TAKE HIM OUT:
Patriots running back Stevan Ridley was disgusted with himself after his first quarter fumble, telling ESPN Boston that he knew by putting the football on the ground that it gave Bill Belichick no other option but to sit him.
“For me, it’s almost disgusting, man,” he told the website. “Consecutive weeks. Personally, as a player, my team deserves better. I come in, I work, bust my a– every day. To come in and have the same mistakes happen, there’s something I gotta do different, I gotta do better. As a competitor all I can do is come in here and keep working. … I just gotta be there for the team when they call me.”
“When I put the ball on the ground, they have no option but they take me out. It’s sickening, man,” Ridley also said. “I’m frustrated, but it’s part of the game.”
BRADY REACHES ADDITIONAL MILESTONES:
Tom Brady reached another milestone on Sunday night, with his third quarter touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski marking his 350th career touchdown pass, making him just the fifth quarterback in NFL history to reach that milestone. He later also recorded his 56th career 300-yard game thanks to an 11-yard pass to Kenbrell Thompkins in the 4th quarter, which was also 5th all time.
After an exhausting weekend at work and a late night of football, no links in today’s edition. We’ll be back at it tomorrow instead. My apologies.