DENVER – Football Hades, no more?
These are not your older brother’s Denver Broncos. This is a far cry from a team two years removed from a Super Bowl championship. Von Miller, MVP of Super Bowl 50, must be wondering how this great team fell apart so quickly. Tom Brady has a winning record against every team in the NFL except this one. Bad things always seem to happen to the Patriots here in Denver.
Whaddayaknow. The Patriots parlayed three plum special teams plays, an interception and some untimely penalties into a 41-16 win on Sunday night at Sports Authority Field. The Patriots won here last year, 16-3, so this win marks the first time since 1966 that the Patriots have won two straight games in the city of Denver. The 41 points equal the most by the Patriots here in Denver; they beat Denver 41-23 in 2011, but Denver’s quarterback that day was someone named Tebow.
The Patriots were able to survive a few kooky plays for Denver, plays which usually portend defeat here in this otherwise terrific city. Malcolm Butler was burned literally all night long by Emmanuel Sanders, but everyone else on defense was solid. Brady pulled ahead of former Bronco Peyton Manning with his 86th road win, an NFL record. Bill Belichick moved ahead of Tom Landry into third place in most victories by a head coach in NFL history. The Patriots have the best conference record along with Pittsburgh at 7-2, and look nothing like the flawed team that lost to Kansas City and Carolina earlier in the season.
From the beginning, the night seemed to belong to the Patriots. Following a three and out on the opening drive, the ensuing punt was muffed by Isaiah McKenzie and covered by Jacob Hollister at the Denver 24. Rex Burkhead covered those 24 yards on two plays, the last of which was a nice 14-yard slant pass for a touchdown to put the Patriots up early, 7-0.
After a field goal on the ensuing drive for Denver, Dion Lewis took the kickoff and scampered 103 yards along the left sideline for a touchdown to make it 14-3. Early in the second quarter, Burkhead broke through and blocked a Riley Dixon punt, giving the Patriots the ball at the Denver 30. This led to Stephen Gostkowski’s second of two field goals to put the Patriots up, 20-6. That’s 17 points off special team mistakes by Denver, if you’re keeping score.
The game seemed competitive all night long, but it really wasn’t. Sanders finished with six catches for 137 yards, all of it against Butler, but Denver scored only one touchdown all game long, and it was by Demaryius Thomas in the third quarter, covered by Stephon Gilmore. Otherwise, the Patriot defense held Denver to three field goals and never allowed Brock Osweiler to take over the game. Following the opening drive’s muffed punt, Ryan Allen was not called upon to punt again until the fourth quarter, and even that punt came with an asterisk as it was nullified on a 12 men on field penalty. Brady moved the Patriots through the Denver defense with ease, something he is not used to here in Denver.
Two kooky plays which in the past used to turn momentum to Denver turned out to be inconsequential. Early in the second quarter, on first and goal at the Denver 2, the Patriots failed to put the ball into the end zone. On second down, Brady tried to hit Dwayne Allen, still looking for his first Patriot reception, in the end zone, but he dropped a seeing eye pass that was right to him. This was followed by a sack of Brady by Justin Simmons, and the Patriots came away with only a field goal despite the imposing field position. But that drive was followed by Burkhead’s blocked punt, so no harm done here. Allen would eventually get that first catch, an 11-yard touchdown reception at the end of the first half.
On their first drive of the third quarter, with the score 27-9 Patriots, Denver seemed to be poised to make a comeback. On third and ten at the Denver 25, Osweiler dropped back, threw the ball, and was hit by Trey Flowers when he released the ball. The ball floated helplessly in the air, seemingly heading towards someone in a Patriot jersey. However, Thomas was running a crossing pattern from the right side of the formation, and the floating duck landed right in his arms in stride for 17 yards. 58 yards later, Osweiler hit Thomas on a slant route from 7 yards out to make it 27-16.
But the Patriots answered that with a 7-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a 6-yard touchdown run by Dion Lewis. A fourth quarter flat pass for a touchdown to James White put the dagger in the Broncos. The crazy catch by Thomas turned out to be nothing. It was the Patriots’ night.
Brady finished 25 of 34 passing for 256 yards, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 125.4. Brandin Cooks and Rob Gronkowski each had 74 yards receiving, but of particular delight was the return of Martellus Bennett, who shot his way out of Green Bay (much like LeGarrette Blount did some years back in Pittsburgh), came back here (like Blount), and caught three passes for 38 yards, including a 26-yarder in the first quarter. Osweiler was 18 of 33 passing for 221 yards, a touchdown and a pick. His rating was 72.9. Gilmore held Thomas to only 44 yards on five catches.
The Patriots will stay put in Colorado this week. They will head to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and practice there, which is at a higher altitude than Denver and more in line with Mexico City’s altitude. The Patriots will leave for the Mexican capital city on Saturday and play the Oakland Raiders there next Sunday, then return to Foxborough on Monday.
Mexico City is 7,350 feet in altitude. This had an effect on the 1968 Summer Olympics, particularly in the mile run as Jim Ryun was upset by Kenya’s Kip Keino. The Patriots looked pretty able on Sunday night in Denver; heading to a city 2,000 feet higher, this week in Colorado should help the Patriots, though the Raiders (on a bye this week) have fallen on hard times recently like the Broncos have.
The Patriots are flying high right now. They’ll take their act from Colfax Avenue to the Paseo de la Reforma, and hopefully stay on that high.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary