Don’t look now but the Patriots have the same record as they did last year after nine games. And they won their fifth game in a row but blasting the Denver Broncos in Denver, winning there for the second season in a row 41-16 on Sunday Night Football.
The story of the game was the play of the Patriots Specials Teams. As we stated in our pregame matchups, Denver’s STs play has been awful and that would be an area to watch. A muffed punt, a blocked punt, a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Dion Lewis and a too many man on the field penalty on a punt which resulted in a first down was just one of the nightmares that Denver will have to live with.
And the vaunted Denver pass rush was rendered immaterial by a tremendous game plan by Josh McDaniels and superior execution by Tom Brady. The Broncos have as talented a trio of cornerbacks as anyone. So Brady and the Patriots didn’t challenge them, they ignored them and worked the middle of the field with the tight ends and running backs and Denver couldn’t stop them. The Patriots scored on seven straight possessions until late in the fourth quarter when the game was over.
Brady was cool, calm and collected and consistently found the open man. He finished 25-34 for 266 yards and 3 TDs and no interceptions. He completed passes to nine different receivers and at least six of them had three or more catches. Rex Burkhead, with Mike Gillislee inactive, picked up a bunch of his slack and had a heck of a game. He carried 10 times for 36 yards, had 3 catches for 27 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown which opened the scoring and blocked a punt.
Denver can’t blame this blowout loss on the quarterback this week. Brock Osweiler played a pretty solid game, completing 18 of 33 passes for 221 yards with a TD and an interception. The vast majority of his success came with his finding Emmanuel Sanders open. Sanders caught 6 passes for 137 yards on the night with 114 of them coming in the first half. He gave Malcolm Butler fits all night long.
Other observations include:
LaAdrian Waddle Gets a Game Ball: How many times did we hear Von Miller’s name tonight? Waddle, filling in for an injured Marcus Cannon played a heckuva great game at right tackle. But the offensive line overall was outstanding. Denver’s strength is their pass rush and Brady had a clean pocket to work from nearly all night long. Nate Solder was also outstanding, as Shane Ray was invisible. The only sack Denver got was on a safety blitz and James White had a rare miss in pass blocking.
But Waddle gets very high marks tonight. Denver had to see that matchup as a mismatch but Waddle, frequently out there alone, more than held his own.
Gilmore Returns and Has a Very Solid Night: Stephon Gilmore returned from his concussion and played a very good game matching up with Demaryius Thomas. Gilmore had Osweiler looking elsewhere almost all night long. Thomas ended up with 5 catches for 44 yards with the one touchdown where he beat Gilmore on a slant but for the most part, was rendered ineffective. Gilmore looked sharp all night long and his return is definitely a good sign for the defense…
Matt Patricia’s Crew is Getting it Figured Out: With the exception of Malcolm Butler who had a rough night with Sanders, the defense is looking better each week. Despite missing several key players, they did exactly what they needed to do and allowed just 16 points. During the five-game winning streak, the Patriots defense has allowed an average of just 13.4 points per game. While it still needs some work, overall, this unit looks light years better than the unit that struggled so badly the first few weeks of the season.
Red Zone Offense Looks Better: The Patriots “officially” went 4-6 in the red zone tonight, and against Denver’s defense, on the road, that is a big improvement. They lost one opportunity on a sack of Brady inside the 10-yard line and the other on a blown call by the officials. Brady hit Rob Gronkowski on what looked like a touchdown pass, but the officials ruled it incomplete. The play was reviewed and the call was upheld. One has to wonder if Walt Coleman used the logo tablet to review the call or not. The ball never touched the ground. Coleman’s crew missed an obvious pass interference call on Chris Harris where he clearly grabbed Brandin Cooks arm on a deep pass by Brady in the end zone. Inexcusable.
Spreading the Wealth: Denver’s defense was done in by the Patriots versatility and depth on offense. Brady was brutally efficient at spreading the ball around in the passing game. Cooks had six catches for 74 yards, Gronkowski had four catches for 74 yards, Martellus Bennett had three catches for 38 yards, Danny Amendola had four catches for 36 yards and Burkhead chipped in with his three catches and a score. Dwayne Allen finally got off the schneid and got his first catch as a member of the Patriots and it ended being a touchdown. James White added a touchdown catch as well.
The running game was handled by Dion Lewis and Burkhead and they produced enough to keep the Broncos linebackers honest in the pass rush department. Overall, the Patriots kept the Broncos off-balance and reeling all game long. They dictated the pace and won the battle of the trenches.
Where Do We Go From Here: The Patriots improve to 7-2 tied with the Steelers for the top record of the AFC and game ahead of Kansas City. The win coupled with Buffalo’s loss gives New England a two-game lead in the AFC East.
The Patriots will remain in Colorado and work out at the Air Force Academy this week as they get further acclimated to the altitude when they travel to Mexico City next week to face the Raiders. The stadium in Mexico is about 2000 feet higher in altitude than Denver so it makes sense to remain, make it a shorter travel week and get more work in the thinner air.