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Total Team Effort Pushes Patriots Past Broncos, Clinch AFC East

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
December 18, 2016 at 11:48 pm ET

Total Team Effort Pushes Patriots Past Broncos, Clinch AFC East(PHOTO: Chris Humphreys - USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 5 minutes

Hat and T-shirt Game Gets the Patriots a bye

The Patriots put together a fantastic team effort and executed a steady, workman-like ball control game plan to defeat the Denver Broncos 16-3 in Denver. The win by the Pats clinched the AFC East for a record eighth year in a row, breaking the old record of seven that they shared with the Rams. They also secured a bye in the first week of the playoffs.

This one wasn’t flashy but it certainly was effective. Unlike a year ago, when they were one-dimensional on offense, the Patriots used the quick running game featuring Dion Lewis who carried 18 times for 95 yards, a career high as the Pats ground out 136 yards with their running game.

The Patriots defense put together a very impressive performance holding Denver to just three points in their own stadium and after a slow first quarter, smothered QB Trevor Siemian until he piled on some garbage time yards. Logan Ryan picked a perfect time to snag his first interception, as he jumped an out route at the Patriots four-yard line and raced 46 yards to the Denver 46, setting up the only touchdown of the game.

The Patriots forced three turnovers including a muffed punt that was recovered by Jonathan Jones which led to the Patriots first field goal of the game. Kyle Van Noy also forced a fumble which ended a Broncos drive into Patriots territory.

Patriots’ Defense Outstanding: This time it was Denver who was one-dimensional on offense, the Broncos have struggled to run the ball all season and Sunday was no exception. Denver could only manage 58 yards on the ground as the interior of the defense took away the run and the linebackers filled the holes extremely well. Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, and Vincent Valentine were excellent. Branch, in particular, had an extremely strong game. And the Patriots pass defense was once again up to the task.

The Patriots pass rush was key in this game, getting good consistent pressure on Siemian, and logged four sacks. Trey Flowers led the way with two and was a disruptive presence all game long. Jabaal Sheard played arguably his best game of the season. He was immense, consistently pushing RT Donald Stephenson backward and creating pressure. He had a sack, a tackle for a loss and two QB hits. Malcom Brown also added a sack. Chris Long also put in another impressive performance.

The play of the Patriots secondary was a big story. Malcolm Butler shadowed Emmanuel Sanders all game long and rendered him onto a milk carton until Sanders made three catches at garbage time. Logan Ryan battled with Demaryius Thomas all game long and made the big interception to negate a Denver scoring drive. Facing a third and short, Siemian tried to hit Thomas on an out route at the Patriots four. Ryan read the play perfectly and jumped the route, easily intercepting the ball, and returning it into Denver territory.

Devin McCourty played another strong game and made the big hit which jarred the ball loose from Thomas at the Patriots 15-yard line on a 4th down which turned the ball over. McCourty provided the deep coverage all game long, taking away the deep chunk plays that Denver has traditionally tried to do.

Siemian started the game hot, he passed for 111 yards in the first quarter but only managed a field goal on the Broncos first drive. They wouldn’t score again. After that first quarter, Siemian would pass for only 75 yards thru the second and third quarters and halfway thru the fourth. It was only when the Patriots had the game iced and they started taking 15-17-yard deep drops that he piled on the yardage late.

One key area that plagued the Pats defense earlier this season was third down. Denver was just 2-12 on third down on Sunday and 0-1 on fourth down attempts. Since the loss at home against Seattle, this unit has been steadily coming together and is playing their best football at just the right time. In the last five games, the defense has allowed just 70 points which is an average of just 14 points per game.

Game Plan on Offense Was Conservative: The Patriots made a concerted effort to run the football and instead of Blount, they relied on the quickness and elusiveness of Lewis who saw the most work that he has had in a Patriots uniform. The Broncos tried to play in their dime defense but unlike last year, the Patriots made them pay.

James Develin was key on numerous times, opening holes for the backs with some punishing blocks. What a day of redemption for Marcus Cannon.

The Patriots right tackle was taken to school by Von Miller in the AFCCG as Miller logged 2.5 sacks and terrorized Tom Brady all game long. But this time around, Cannon was outstanding in his run blocking, keeping Miller out of being a factor. And he was non-existent in the pass rush department. Miller had no sacks, no tackles for loss and no QB hits. Cannon had a tremendous game and deserves an enormous amount of credit. Nate Solder on the opposite side had a similar shut out of DeMarcus Ware.

Brady didn’t have a big statistical day completing just 16 of 32 for 188 yards, but that was part of the game plan. The Patriots weren’t going to test the Broncos secondary thru the air, instead, they were going to run the ball, control the clock and play tight defense. They held the ball for more than 33 and a half minutes, including nearly 19 minutes of the second half.

LeGarrette Blount only had 31 yards on the ground but his one-yard touchdown run in the first half put him in the Patriots record books. The score was his 15th rushing touchdown of the season and a new Patriots record. He shared the previous one with Curtis Martin who scored 14 touchdowns twice.

When he did pass, he went to his best bud Julian Edelman and he was impressive on Sunday. Brady started slowly, going 0-6 in the first quarter but once he started targeting Edelman, things got heated up quickly. On the Patriots touchdown drive, Brady hit Edelman on passes of 17, 15, and 12 yards to set up the score. He finished with six catches for 75 yards, many of which were in tight spaces where he took some hard shots.

Josh McDaniels called a  good game save for one drive with about 8 minutes to go in the game. There he called three straight pass plays which resulted in a three and out and took little time off the clock. But that may be a little nit-picky.

What it All Means: The Patriots not only clinched their division and a bye during the Wild Card weekend of the playoffs, but they exorcised some demons from 2015 with a big win in Denver where they lost twice last year. They also dealt Denver’s playoff hopes a big hit with an impressive effort in all three phases of the game.

The team ran its road record to 7-0 and showed some fantastic mental toughness, not just in this game, but all year long as they’ve been able to win on the road. Now they turn their attention to the Jets who were embarrassed by the Dolphins on Saturday night. A win on Christmas Eve should wrap up the #1 seed for the Pats.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

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About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and wrote as an Military Editor at, as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Bill Belichick Chris Hogan Danny Amendola Denver Broncos Dion Lewis Dont'a Hightower Jabaal Sheard Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler Martellus Bennett New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rob Ninkovich Trey Flowers

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