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Patriots Report Card: New England Drops First Game of Season in Mile-High Challenge

Derek Havens
Derek Havens on Twitter
8 years ago at 9:00 am ET
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Patriots Report Card: New England Drops First Game of Season in Mile-High ChallengeRon Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

Tom Brady did his best to elevate a banged up Patriots offense Sunday night, but fell short for the first time this season against the Denver Broncos. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots lost to the Denver Broncos 30-24 in overtime Sunday night.

Here’s how the Patriots graded out in week 12. —

Offense: C-

The Patriots came into the game short-handed, leaving Sports Authority Field even more banged up. Given the personnel, perhaps the grade should be on a bit of a curve, but there were too many head-scratching moments on Sunday to give New England an easy pass.

For starters, the running game was non-existent, 16 carries for 39 yards. This put even more pressure on Tom Brady and his depleted receiving corps.

Brady, on the other hand, was terrific. He missed a few throws and a few were off target, but given the circumstances he was solid. Brady continues to step up and help elevate those around him, especially in crunch time, despite the environment, the defense, officiating, etc.

The play calling was more than questionable. New England had a game plan, use their backs and tight ends as pass catches, because of the injuries to the wide receivers, in an attempt to take advantage of their one-on-one matches usually against linebackers. The sideline fade to Scott Chandler was tantamount to banging your head against the wall — 11 targets, five catches for 58 yards. Chandler has been a disappointment to this point in his Pats tenure. He looks stiff and his hands are not as smooth as they were portrayed.

To me, the Patriots played this game not to lose instead of trying to win after a hot start. The most uncharacteristic series came towards the end of the second quarter. The Patriots took over with 2:07, three timeouts and one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. We’ve seen this story before, New England loves the “double-dip” — a late score before the half and then again to start the third quarter. But that wasn’t the case Sunday night.

Five straight runs, followed by a Brady heave downfield to avoid another punt. Instead of trying to matriculate the ball down the field and put Stephen Gostkowski in position for a field goal, they were clearly content to head to the locker room with the lead. I look back at this series as one of the worst decisions from the contest.

Defense: C

New England was off to a fast start, a big key in tough road games. The defense was able to contain Denver’s offense and with the help of their special teams unit, put the offense in position to have some early success.

After awhile, however, Denver began to break through and gain some momentum. While the Patriots defense has been incredibly stout against the run for the last month or two — entering the game as the league’s second best run defense — the Broncos rushing attack led by CJ Anderson gashed the group to the tune of 179 yards. The unit missed Jamie Collins and after Dont’a Hightower went down with a knee injury, all bets were off.

For those wondering how the defense was effected by the Hightower injury. The Broncos rushed 15 times for 43 yards with him in the game. After the injury, they had 17 carries for 136 yards and three scores.

The pass defense wasn’t terrible. Logan Ryan has emerged as a solid pairing with Malcolm Butler on the other side. Ryan took away Demaryius Thomas for the majority of the night and the front seven was able to put some pressure on Brock Osweiler.

Alan Branch had a monster game. When he’s motivated, something he’s been criticized for since entering the league, he is a force in the middle. Malcom Brown has come on as well and created some push up the middle.

When it came down to the fourth quarter and overtime, though, the defense couldn’t hang on. The Broncos were able to convert when the needed to and Anderson ran for a 48-yard scamper off left tackle to seal the victory for Denver.

Special Teams: B+

This grade should be an “A”, but you can’t gloss over the Chris Harper muffed punt. It was a turning point in the game, but not the only reason New England lost Sunday. Still, it changed momentum and set Denver up for an easy score. The NFL is a business, a fickle one at that. Chris Harper found that out quickly and was released on Monday.

On the flip side, Gostkowski continues to prove he’s worth every penny of his big payday last offseason. He only kicked one field goal Sunday night, but it was a 47-yard attempt to send the same into overtime… he drilled it.

Ryan Allen was incredible. I know, everyone loves some good punter talk, but you have to give him credit. He punted 10 times, for 450 yards, only one touchback and five pined the Broncos inside their own 20. Allen was able to flip the field and give the Patriots defense some room to breathe throughout the contest.

Final: C +

This was an incredibly frustrating loss for the Patriots. Let’s put it in perspective, though. A banged up Pats team went to one of the toughest stadiums to play in primetime, battled through questionable penalties, in-game injuries and still took the contest to overtime.

This New England team is still the cream of the NFL crop, no question. They have a chip on their shoulder, depth, resolve and showed their fight in a tough spot. Almost any team in the league would have hung their heads and accepted defeat after the Broncos took the lead. The Patriots didn’t.

The biggest cloud above the Patriots now? Injuries. It’s all about getting heathy. That has to be priority one.

New England captain Matthew Slater said after the game, “No one is feeling sorry for the Patriots.” He’s right, they won’t. But it’s on them to respond moving forward.

New England is now 10-1 on the season. The Broncos sit right behind them at 9-2. Since Denver has the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Pats have to bye time with their injured stars, while maintaining the number one seed in the AFC. It won’t be easy, but we’ll see how it plays out over the final five weeks.

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