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Patriots Report Card In Super Bowl LIII Win Over LA

Steve Balestrieri
February 5, 2019 at 7:50 am ET

Patriots Report Card In Super Bowl LIII Win Over LA

Nobody saw that kind of low-scoring game playing out, but Bill Belichick and Brian Flores put together a masterful game plan and totally shut down the Rams offense, which was the #2 scoring unit in the league, holding them to nearly 30 points below their weekly average.

Julian Edelman was the most uncoverable receiver on the field and very much deserved the MVP Award, although the Patriots offense moved the ball well all night long, they couldn’t finish drives. But they found a way to win late and that’s what champions do, And the duck boats are gearing up for a parade on Tuesday morning. Super Bowl win #6 is a testament to how teams win victories and not always the more talented.

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s blowout win:

Quarterback: B-

Tom Brady didn’t have the eye-popping numbers 21-35 for 262 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT in the game as the Rams did a very good job of mixing things up and changing coverages especially after the Patriots would cross mid-field.

While Brady didn’t get hit a lot, the Rams did have pressure and were all around him enough to influence many of his throws. So, while the Patriots could move the ball consistently, they weren’t able to finish drives. Until crunch time.

With the game tied at 3-3 with ten minutes to go, that’s when Brady engineered a perfect drive where he made it look easy. First, he lobbed a perfectly drop in the bucket to Rob Gronkowski for 18 yards to get the offense moving. Next, he hit Edelman right down the middle for 13 yards. This was followed by a 7-yard pass to Rex Burkhead on the right sideline. On 2nd and 3, from the Rams 31, he made his best pass of the night, a beautifully placed touch pass to Gronkowski who beat double coverage. Gronkowski hauled it in as he went to the ground for a 29-yard gain. Sony Michel easily powered it in from the 2-yard line on the next play….Boom. Welcome home Lombardi Trophy #6.

Running Backs: B

The Patriots were patient with the running game and it paid off in the end. They ran for 154 yards on 32 carries as the Rams wore down in the end and the running game gashed them while running the 4-minute offense.

Sony Michel, you remember that “waste of a 1st round pick”? Well, he led all ball carriers with 94 yards on 18 carries including the only touchdown in the game. His biggest play was a 26-yard scamper that got the Patriots out of the deep hole in their own end.

Rex Burkhead chipped in with 7 carries for 43 yards and two catches for 15 more. On the same drive that started at the Patriots 4-yard line, Burkhead also got a 26-yard run where he burst thru the line and then cut back against the grain. Those two runs took the Patriots from deep in their own end into scoring range.

James White was a total non-factor in the game, carrying just two times for four yards and with just one catch for five more. The Rams did a tremendous job of taking him away.  

Wide Receivers: B-

Julian Edelman was absolutely uncoverable, and he rates an A+. The rest of the receivers? Not so much. Edelman roasted Nickell Roby-Coleman, frequently having 3 or more yards of separation. Roby-Coleman was doing a lot of talking early in the week, but didn’t walk the walk. The Rams then tried Aqib Talib on Edelman, but his quickness was too much for Talib off the line. Then Phillips trotted out Marcus Peters who was blown away off the line allowing a big catch down the seam for 25. Nobody could cover him on Sunday night. He finished with 10 catches for 141 yards on 12 targets.

Chris Hogan was targeted six times and had zero catches. Brady’s interception, on the first pass of the game, was well behind him. But he was unable to get any separation. Phillip Dorsett wasn’t targeted. Cordarrelle Patterson had two catches for 14 yards and added a pair of runs for seven.  

Tight Ends: A-

Rob Gronkowski was excellent in the running game blocking for the backs. On the Patriots touchdown, they went to a two-tight end set and he and Dwayne Allen helped the line blow the Rams off the line of scrimmage for a too-easy touchdown that was the difference in the game.

But in the passing game, Gronkowski had six catches for 87 yards on seven targets. Like Brady, he saved his best for last. On the Patriots touchdown drive he had catches for 18 and 29 yards, the latter a really nice catch as he was going to the ground.

Offensive Line: A-

The Patriots offensive line put together another very impressive performance. While the Rams were able to stop the running game early on, they did a good job of protecting Brady, despite the pass rush of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh getting some pressure. The only sack was more of a coverage sack than anything else. Brady had forever to throw but no one was open and he probably should have thrown it away.

But late in the game, with the Patriots backed up at their four-yard line with four minutes to go, the Rams knew they were going to run the football. And they did. On Sony Michel’s 26-yard run, David Andrews destroyed Suh, pushing him three yards to the left and dumped him on his backside.

Defensive Line: A

The Patriots defensive line was absolutely terrific. The Rams potent running attack with Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson never got untracked and had just 62 yards on 18 carries. The Rams motion tries to get linemen moving sideways, but the Patriots attacked and were getting very good penetration. Danny Shelton blew thru a gap and nailed Anderson for a loss.

Trey Flowers also burst thru and had a tackle for a loss. But the front also did a very good job at getting pressure on Jared Goff. Adrian Clayborn and Lawrence Guy had QB hits while Flowers had two.

Linebackers: A

The Patriots linebackers were outstanding. Both Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy were all over the field and they were a very disruptive force all night long. With the team running a 6-1 look, the outside backers were essentially lining up on the line of scrimmage. They did a tremendous job of setting the edge in the running game and took away those shallow crosses and slants the Rams like to run.

Hightower, who in every Super Bowl plays like a man possessed, was everywhere. He had two tackles for a loss, two QB sacks, a pass defensed and three QB hits. Van Noy was also everywhere. He had four tackles, a tackle for a loss, a sack, and three QB hits. Hightower, on the Shelton run stuff absolutely destroyed Tyler Higbee in the interior of the line. Ouch.

Elandon Roberts and John Simon each saw action and as a whole, the linebackers totally took away the Rams RBs in the passing game, which was supposed to be a mismatch. Rams RBs had three catches for 11 yards in the game.

Secondary: A-

The Patriots secondary played a different look mixing in man coverage with Quarters zone coverage and held the Rams to a net 198 yards passing which was far below their average of 281 per game. Stephon Gilmore was outstanding as he has been all season and chipped in with the interception that sealed the deal for the Patriots.

Slot corner Jonathan Jones played some safety in their Quarters looks which showed off his versatility. Jason McCourty had the play of the game where on a busted coverage, Brandin Cooks was wide open in the end zone. McCourty flew over from his side and knocked the ball away.

Pat Chung was having an excellent game, but early in the third quarter broke his arm. In stepped “the Closer” Duron Harmon, who played very well. Harmon blitzed and forced Goff into throwing a floater that was picked off by Gilmore.

Special Teams: A-

Ryan Allen and Matthew Slater were fantastic in this game. Allen dropped three punts deep in the Rams zone where Slater was there to cover it up. They were able to force the Rams to go the length of the field.

Stephen Gostkowski missed his first field goal attempt but made his next two tries, including the one with a minute to go to put the game out of reach. The coverage units were solid and Patterson took the opening kickoff back 38 yards.

Coaching: A

Bill Belichick and Brian Flores gave a master’s class on having a great game plan that the players were able to execute perfectly.  Of all the Patriots Super Bowl wins, this one could arguably be considered their best defensive effort, holding a team that averages almost 33 points a game to just a field goal.

They flummoxed Sean McVay and Jared Goff on the opposite side of the field all game long. The Rams offense never looked like it was getting into anything resembling a rhythm or a comfort level all game long. McVay admitted after the game that Belichick outcoached him. It wasn’t the first time that Belichick has done that.

Josh McDaniels tried mixing things up offensively where the team could move the ball but kept stalling. They did figure it out late in the game and the team put together two impressive drives to finish the game, and win another Super Bowl.

So, who’s ready for a parade?

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as our writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots-Rams Super Bowl LIII Keys Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
February 1, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

The New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams are in Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII and contrary to popular belief outside of New England, the Patriots don’t reach the Super Bowl every year that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are together on the field. It just seems that way.

Super Bowl LIII will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, February 3 at 6:30 PM ET and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson, Evan Washburn, and Jay Feely will work from the sidelines.  The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Cappello.

The Patriots (13-5) are in the big game for the third straight year, after blowing out the Chargers and winning an overtime thriller against the #1 seed Kansas City Chiefs.

The Rams (15-3) also won in overtime in the NFC Championship Game beating the New Orleans Saints after coming back from being two scores down early in the game.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Rams are meeting for the first time in the postseason since Super Bowl XXXVI, the Pats first Super Bowl win over the “Greatest Show on Turf”. The only two remaining pieces for either team remain Brady and Belichick.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Rams Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots rushing offense has been outstanding down the stretch and thru the first two games of the playoffs. New England utilizes a three-headed rushing attack with Sony Michel handling the lion’s share with Rex Burkhead, and James White also adding into the mix as well.

The Rams defense uses the Wade Phillips 3-4 where they bring an extra linebacker up on the line in run support. The Rams during the regular season allowed 5.1 yards per rush but have been much better in the playoffs. In the Saints game, Aaron Donald was shooting the gaps and blowing plays up before they had a chance to develop.

The Patriots run a different system and should line up right over Donald and will look to take him on rather than trying to reach block him like New Orleans did where Donald’s quickness off the line made that a losing proposition.

Look for the Patriots to attack the perimeter in the running game and they’ll use motion with Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson to run some of those Jet Sweeps. The aggressiveness of their front, especially Donald and Ndamukong Suh is where they’ll try to exploit by running at them on the perimeter.

The Patriots interior players David Andrews, Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason will be the ones to watch against the Rams interior run stuffers. They like to move Suh around and created mismatches so this will be a key area to watch.

Patriots WRs vs Rams Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game has ratcheted up their game down the stretch with Tom Brady and Julian Edelman both having big games in the first two playoff matchups. The key obviously is in pass protection, the Rams boast Donald, Suh, and a very good pass rush which can disrupt anyone’s passing attack.

Wade Phillips will try to take away the middle of the field and may try to double up Julian Edelman. If that happens, watch Brady put him in motion. The Rams defense struggled in the passing game against “12 personnel” groupings (2 WR, 2TE, 1RB) and look for the Patriots to utilize White or Burkhead quite a bit in the passing game.

How LA decides to cover Rob Gronkowski will be fascinating to watch. Will it be in single coverage like KC did with a safety? Or will they chip and roll more coverage on him? Gronkowski looks as healthy as he has all season and had a big game inKC. Brady will try to get the ball out quickly and negate Donald and the pass rush. How well they are able to do that will determine how successful they are at passing the ball.

The Rams played a lot of zone coverage, then switching to man coverage inside the red zone. However, since Aqib Talib’s return, they’re playing more man coverage, and that should continue this week.

Next up the Los Angeles offense:

Rams RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Los Angeles

The Rams have been one of the best teams at running the football this season averaging 139.4 yards per game (3rd in the NFL) and have two excellent running backs in Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson. Some tendencies to watch for. When Gurley is in the game, they run nearly 70 percent of the time to the edge and when Anderson is in, that number is nearly 50 percent right up the middle.

The Rams offensive line is much like the Patriots, they are tough, very well-coached and rarely make mistakes. LA runs primarily out of “11 personnel” (3WR, 1TE, 1 RB). They like to condense the formations, (something Bill Belichick mentioned this week) and run a ton of misdirection. Like New England, they like to put a guy in motion to get three men on one side and like to run behind that strength.

Jared Goff lined up for 40 percent of his snaps under center, among the most in the league. Play action passing is a stable of their offense. I’m looking for the historian in Belichick to dust off a look that he used successfully in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Eagles, the Bears 46 Defense.

Bringing up eight men in the box and placing a linebacker outside close to the line of scrimmage is a way of limiting the running game of Gurley. They’ll place a big man over the center and use their interior men to attack the gaps. The key is setting the edge, especially when Gurley is in the game. In two playoff games, they’ve allowed just 60 yards rushing.

Rams WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Los Angeles

The Rams passing game was lighting up the league in the first half of the season. The loss of Cooper Kupp to IR has been a big blow, however, they are still very, very talented. They have a plethora of targets for Jared Goff in Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Gurley, Josh Reynolds, and Tyler Higbee.

The key is for the Patriots is to disguise their look until the final second. Goff doesn’t read the defense as well or as quick as Brady. Rams coach Sean McVay will have his team rush to the line and see how the Patriots line up and he’ll call out into Goff’s helmet the read until the microphones are cut off at the 15-second mark of the play clock. It will be then up to Belichick and Brian Flores to change things up and show something different. Can they confuse Goff enough or slow down his processing time enough to make a difference? That’s the key here.

Look for the Patriots to put Stephon Gilmore on Robert Woods, and possibly their speediest corner Jonathon Jones or Jason McCourty on Cooks with safety help. Rookie J.C. Jackson will see more of Reynolds.

Look for more of that “Amoeba Front” look to disguise where the pass rush is coming from to try to get pressure on Goff. They’ll rotate their coverages and safeties to give Goff a different look in an attempt to slow down his processing time to allow the pass rush to get home.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Los Angeles

The Patriots special teams have been much better down the stretch but for once, they’re facing a team with a slightly better cast. Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen remain extremely solid. Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson will look to make a difference in the return game.

The Rams have an outstanding STs unit and it begins with punter Johnny Hekker. He is always lavished praise by Belichick and not only is he an outstanding punter but the Rams have shown that they aren’t afraid of throwing it on 4th down with him. Greg Zuerlein is very good at kicking. JoJo Natson and Blake Countess handled return duties.

Next up, who wins and why…

Keys to the Game and Prediction

This game should be another classic must-watch down to the wire matchup. What would a Patriots Super Bowl be without an edge of your seat finish? Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective are:

Start Fast and Put the Rams in Catchup Mode: The Patriots have been very good at starting fast this postseason. That must continue. The Rams offense wants to make this a track meet and that’s a game they’re much better suited to winning.

3rd Down/Red Zone Key: The Patriots have to win the 3rd down battle, on offense they must give Brady the third and manageable distances, the 3rd and 4 or less. On defense it has to be the opposite, forcing Goff into obvious passing situations where they can mix and match their coverages and bring pressure. Field goals instead of touchdowns will be a way to win or lose the game.

Win the Turnover Battle: The Patriots and Rams should both be able to move the ball this Sunday  It may come down to getting a key turnover, especially in the opponent’s end of the field. Can the Patriots generate a turnover or two, something they were unable to do a year ago?

The feeling here is experience is a great asset. Brady, Edelman, Gronkowski and James White have been here and won, before. That will be the difference in another great Super Bowl. It will go right down to the wire, but cue the duckboats, Marty, the Lombardi is coming back to New England. Patriots 31-27

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Denver’s Offensive Woes Continue As the Team Struggles to 3-5 Start

Steve Balestrieri
November 8, 2017 at 12:00 pm ET

The Broncos have lost four straight and are officially on the hot seat and can watch their hopes of making the postseason blow up with another loss on Sunday night to the Patriots. Denver is limping into this one at 3-5 and the reason they’re struggling has to do with the offense.

The defense has been holding up their end of the bargain despite last week’s anomaly in Philadelphia where everything that could go wrong did. But Denver’s offense has scored just 52 points during the current four-game losing streak. And 14 of those points came in garbage time when the game was already lost in Philly. That won’t win many games and the team is struggling to find the answers to right the ship.

Here are a few of our first impressions of the Broncos before Sunday night’s matchup.

Carousel Under Center: Quarterback Trevor Siemian has been benched and the team has turned to Brock Osweiler. Osweiler started in place of an injured and aging Peyton Manning in 2015 and played well. The highlight of his career could easily be the Sunday night game where he beat the Patriots in a thrilling overtime win. However, soon after Denver’s Super Bowl win, Osweiler bristled at GM John Elway’s waffling on whether to sign the young QB to an extension or to sign Manning to a one year deal.

Osweiler bolted to Houston for a big money contract, who could blame him? But he quickly flamed out with the Texans and with them drafting DeShaun Watson, they shipped Osweiler to the Cleveland Browns. And he couldn’t make the team there, despite the woes of the QB position in Cleveland. With the injury to QB Paxton Lynch, he’s was brought back full circle to the Broncos.

He didn’t play well in Philadelphia last week, but neither did any of the other players. Now the team is hoping he can catch lightning in a bottle twice against the Patriots and hold the season together (with their defense) until they know what they have in Lynch, who Elway spent a first-round draft pick on in 2016. He’s getting healthier and if Osweiler doesn’t want to be replaced again in Denver, Sunday night is a big one.

Running Game Needs to be the Focus on Sunday: In Denver’s first few games of the 2017 season, they ran the ball down the throat of their opposition and jumped out to a 3-1 start and people were already pencilling them in for a long playoff run, thanks in no small part to their dominant defense.

A big part of their quick start was the running game. Running back C.J. Anderson was averaging 82.5 yards per game, (nearly 100 in their three wins). But during the four-game losing streak, Anderson’s production has plummeted. He’s gotten only 152 yards the past four weeks with 78 of them coming against the Giants.

But don’t dismiss the Denver running game, or in case you need a refresher for your memory, think back to that snowy game in 2015. Anderson ran for 113 of Denver’s 179 yards and that running game opened up a big game for Osweiler who passed for 272 yards.

Denver as a team are averaging 4.2 yards per rush, which is exactly what Anderson is averaging. Jamaal Charles is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and Devontae Booker is tops with a 4.6 yard per carry average. Defensively for the Patriots here is where the game will be won or lost.

The Patriots aren’t doing a great job of stopping the run and with Malcolm Brown and Dont’a Hightower out, it will make the running game a harder option to stop. When Denver has run well, they’ve won. When they haven’t, their quarterback play has suffered and they’ve lost. It isn’t hard to see where the Patriots defensive focus will be this week.

Turnovers Have Plagued the Team During Recent Skid: Like everyone else with an offense that is struggling, the Broncos can’t afford turnovers and that is exactly what they’ve been doing during the recent losing streak. Denver right now is woeful -12 in the turnover department. One of the reasons that Siemian was benched was turnovers. In the seven games that he started, he turned the ball over 15 times with 10 interceptions and five fumbles.

On the flip side of that, the Denver defense will be looking to feed off of the normally raucous crowd of their home field and force a couple of turnovers of their own. They are feeling a bit salty after allowing 51 points in Philly and the Patriots are always Public Enemy #1 for them.

Again, going back to that 2015 game, what turned the tide? A turnover. Chris Harper muffed a punt in the second half and the Patriots went from having a double-digit lead to quickly being down and having to force an overtime. Turnovers will be key to both teams this week.

Don’t Expect Defensive Meltdown At Home: Pundits are entirely too quick to throw dirt on this Broncos team, especially the defense. Even many Broncos fans on social media have been quick to predict gloom and doom this week as the two teams will meet on primetime Sunday night.

Besides giving up the 51 points last week, particularly galling for members of the defense was HOW they gave them up. Philadelphia had over 400 yards of offense but 197 of them were on the ground. Entering the game last week, Denver had allowed just 510 yards rushing or 72.8 yards per game.

Von Miller spoke about that game and how the team was approaching the rest of the season this week to ESPN.  “We are where we are right now,” Miller said. “Right now, [Sunday] … we’re not a good football team.

“We still have time. We still have time to be great,” he continued. “We’re not a great football team right now, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a great football team within us. But [Sunday], we’re not a good football team, offensively, defensively, special teams, whatever. We’re just not good right now.”

Don’t expect to see Dion Lewis running wild this week. Look for the Broncos to be much better and back to their normal selves on Sunday night.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Broncos CJ Anderson Shares His Respectful Thoughts For Tom Brady

Robert Alvarez
January 28, 2016 at 9:10 am ET

Before the AFC Championship game on Sunday, Many Denver Broncos players were heard trash talking the New England Patriots but running back CJ Anderson was not one of them. On his personal Instagram account, Anderson created this respectful tribute to quarterback Tom Brady following their exchange on the field after the game. His admirable words below might help ease the pain of defeat.


Monday Observations: Broncos Loss is Minor, Gronkowski is a Big One

Steve Balestrieri
November 30, 2015 at 6:57 am ET

The Patriots dropped an overtime loss in Denver to the Broncos Sunday night 30-24 as C.J. Anderson rumbled 48 yards for the game winning touchdown on a third and one after the Patriots had stalled.

The loss ended the Patriots winning streak in 2015 at 10 but the bigger loss is that of tight end Rob Gronkowski who went down with a knee injury in the fourth quarter.

Anderson and Ronnie Hillman combined for 179 yards on the ground as the Denver rushing attack gave the Broncos the ability to control the flow of the game and kept them around for a fourth quarter comeback.

The Patriots led 21-7 in the fourth quarter and seemingly had the game under control until Chris Harper muffed a punt that Denver turned into a touchdown by Anderson that ignited the Broncos and the crowd.

Denver surged back for a go-ahead touchdown with Brock Osweiler hitting Andre Caldwell in the end zone for a three-yard score with just over a minute to go. That set the stage for Brady to mount a desperation drive that culminated with Stephen Gostkowski booting a 47-yard field goal that sent the game into overtime.

The loss still leaves the Patriots at the top of the AFC at 10-1 with both Cincinnati and Denver at 9-2. The team still has a comfortable four game lead in the AFC East as the nearest competitor the Jets sit at 6-5 and the Patriots hold the tiebreaker against them. So the loss of the game means less than the potential loss of their biggest weapon on the offense.

Other observations include:

QBs play well: Brady and Osweiler ended the night with similar numbers; the Broncos’ starter in his second game in for an injured Peyton Manning completed 23-42 for 270 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Brady finished 23-42 for 280 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

On a cold night with blowing snow, both quarterbacks threw the ball well and it seemed that the weather conditions wasn’t a big factor other than perhaps slowing the pass rush of each team a bit. Osweiler pass to Emmanuel Sanders to the Patriots ten-yard line in the closing minutes was an absolute beauty. His best pass of the night.

Offense Takes Another (Big) Hit: With the loss of Gronkowski the Patriots offense, if he’s out for any length of time reverts to early training camp mode. Brady’s top four targets in 2015 will be out and they’ll be looking for someone to step up.

Going from a quick strike multi-dimensional attack to searching for someone to step up; without Gronkowski et.al this unit becomes a plodding offense and there will be no more explosions of points. Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick are the best at putting players in a position to succeed. They’re going to have to be even better now.

Without Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, they lost their quick, off-the-line  players who can beat coverage off the line and allow Brady to throw it in less than two seconds which was tearing teams up early in the season.

They were searching for matchups and tried to attack the Broncos linebackers with deep shots down the sidelines with throws to Scott Chandler and Brandon LaFell as well as a wheel route with Brandon Bolden. Some worked better than others (Bolden’s 63-yard TD catch) but it is simply a case of them trying to search for the best case scenario.

Losing Gronkowski for any length of time, (reports were circulating after the game that it wasn’t a serious injury), takes away the game’s biggest mismatch. No one in the NFL has the combination of size, strength and athleticism at the tight end position that he does. Which is why with the loss of the players listed above, teams have been doubling him and covering him at times with their better cornerbacks with safety help.

Another Not-so-stellar night for Refs: This officiating crew was just another example of what is becoming an embarrassment for the NFL. With the crew letting the players play for the majority of the game, there were numerous cases of jersey pulling on Gronkowski all game long, the arm bar on Talib that was let slide, but then they call the most ticky-tack holding penalty on the Patriots that wiped out a sack that would have pushed the Broncos back to a third and goal from the 19-yard line, instead to a first-and-goal from the four.

A key holding penalty on Tre’ Jackson wiped a 51-yard pass from Brady to Keshawn Martin in the fourth quarter that would have put the Pats in field goal range. But the hankies were firmly in the refs pockets on a blatant hand to the face of Jabaal Sheard on the Broncos go-ahead touchdown as well as a hold on McCourty on the game-winning touchdown at the line of scrimmage.

But the best (worst) two were the ridiculous offensive pass interference penalty on Gronkowski which wiped out another key first down and the Broncos “fourth” time out where the clock doesn’t stop and precious seconds were allowed to tick away. The call on Gronk was particularly a sore spot with both he and Brady as the QB looked close to drawing an unsportsmanlike penalty which would have been a perfect ending. Bill Belichick was particularly testy when asked of this after the game and said, “Go ask the league, they have all the answers,” when speaking of what is and ISN’T offensive pass interference.

Bottom line is this; there’s no sense in the team arguing about referees and officiating. They didn’t and it wasn’t the reason they lost (more to that below), but it would be nice to see a “level playing field” when it comes to how they’re calling these games. Be proud Rog….

Rush Defense gashed: Coming into this game, one of the keys we looked at the was the run offense that was transforming under Osweiler. It was similar to the offense that the Ravens ran, and gave the Patriots so much trouble with last year.

With Peyton Manning under center, primarily in the shotgun, the rush offense stifled and was largely ineffective. Now with Osweiler under center, the stretch plays and the bootlegs have been much more effective. Hillman and Anderson ran them to perfection and although the Patriots run defense came in allowing only 88.8 yards per game, they were gashed time and again.

Once again, injuries played a big role in this one and moving forward. With their top two linebackers missing, Jamie Collins missed his fourth game in a row with an illness and Dont’a Hightower left the game with a knee injury and didn’t return the run defense suffered. Although Jerod Mayo and Jonathan Freeny filled in well, they don’t possess the athleticism and power that Collins and Hightower  do.

Hopefully (this refrain is getting old), Hightower won’t be out long and the illness that sidelined Collins for a month is gone and they’ll be back on the field. One bright spot in the Broncos game was the play of Alan Branch. He was penetrating on the inside rushes all night long and had a nice night of pushing the pocket inside on the passing downs, getting his hand on a couple of throws by Osweiler. Jabaal Sheard had another big game as well as he’s seemingly completely healthy again and a force on the edge.

Ryan Stellar on Thomas: Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan had the unenviable job of guarding the Broncos leading receiver Demaryius Thomas on Sunday night.  And he was outstanding; Ryan shadowed the Broncos talented and explosive wide out all night long and had him at zero catches for the first 11 passes that Osweiler threw his way.

On the Broncos go-ahead drive, Thomas out-leapt Ryan for a big 36-yard gain that put Denver at midfield but once again Ryan had tight coverage on the play. Ryan was also beat on the go-ahead touchdown by Caldwell but it was perfectly thrown pass by Osweiler in a tight window.

Ryan has been a very solid contributor all season long and his play on Sunday night drawing Thomas was by no means an ordinary assignment. Had things ended differently for the Patriots, Ryan would be talked about as one of the key players of the game.

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

 Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots 2015 Opponents, Five First Impressions of the Broncos

Steve Balestrieri
November 25, 2015 at 9:19 am ET

The Patriots have a short week to prepare and head out west to take on a familiar nemesis in the Denver Broncos on Sunday evening.

The Broncos (8-2), are fresh off of a tough 17-15 win on the road against the Chicago Bears on Sunday. Brock Osweiler made his first career start and was impressive completing 20-27 passes for 250 yards. The defense kept the Bears out of the end zone time and again with impressive stops.

The Patriots beat the Buffalo Bills 20-13 on Monday Night Football. Tom Brady, despite being hit hard all night long passed for 277 yards in leading the Patriots to the victory. The defense was impressive holding the Bills to a single touchdown and a pair of field goals.

The game is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. and will be televised by NBC and will have their announcing crew of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth on the call. It will also be carried by the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 FM the SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak.

Here are our five first impressions of the Broncos:

Team is Osweiler’s Now: With the news that Peyton Manning has his foot in a cast and will be out at least another two weeks, we now know that Osweiler will be at the helm for the foreseeable future and barring a total collapse will be the quarterback to lead Denver into the post season.

He did nothing to hurt himself or the team in Chicago; he runs the offense that Gary Kubiak wants to operate in rather than a hybrid that they were running for Manning. His first drive was a beauty, capped off with a 48-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.

Osweiler did all the little things right in his first start; he knew when to throw the ball away and not try to force things where there was no opening. He got everyone including new TE Vernon Davis involved. And he used his three plus years of being a backup to prepare himself to play well against a good Bears defense. Most importantly, for the first time this season the Broncos didn’t turn the ball over.

Manning has been a shadow of himself all season and his 17 interceptions are the most in the league. Osweiler runs the offense exactly as his coach envisions it and although he may have some bumps in the road gives the Broncos the best chance for success.

Broncos Hope to Have Sanders, Ware Back Sunday: The injury news is just related to Manning’s foot for the Broncos. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (ankle), and OLB DeMarcus Ware (back), both missed the Chicago game on Sunday.

Sanders tried to go but after working out with the training staff prior to the Bears game, he still wasn’t close to 100 percent and was deactivated. Ware missed the last couple of games with a back ailment flared up against the Colts and hasn’t practiced since.

Ware has circled this game as a possible return and after watching the Bills pass rush  pound Tom Brady last Monday night, must be chomping at the bit to get back into action.

But in reality, the return of Sanders to the Broncos offense would be more of a boost, especially for a young QB making just his second start against an underrated New England defense.

Defense Not Lacking Confidence, “Best in the World”: The Denver defense which has been the top unit in the NFL this season in terms of yardage allowed (277 ypg entering Sunday), put an exclamation point on Sunday’s win in Chicago, stuffing Bears RB Jeremy Langford two-point conversion attempt with 29 second left.

The Broncos secondary, allowing the least amount of passing yardage in the league by a wide margin, is a confident, cocky bunch who play right to the edge and sometimes over the line between tough and dirty play.

Against the Chiefs in Week 2 they committed four personal fouls in the first half. Aqib Talib was suspended for the second Chiefs game for eye-gouging Colts tight end Dwayne Allen and the next week T.J. Ward was ejected for punching Chiefs WR Jeremy Maclin.

“Best DBs in the league,” Omar Bolden said on Tuesday to the media about the Broncos’ secondary.

“Definitely the best defense in the league,” CB Aqib Talib said. “We pride ourselves on being the best cornerbacks in the world, the best secondary, the best defense period.”

Their best moment came against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers during their Week 8 matchup holding Rodgers and his fleet crew of receivers to just 76 yards passing, the lowest amount in any of his career starts.

With a smothering pass rush consisting of Ware, Von Miller and rookie Shane Ray, the Broncos play an aggressive and blitzing man-to-man coverage and they rely on their corners to get it done.

“Ain’t no better corners than me and ‘Lib out there,” CB Chris Harris said. “Big receivers, small receiver, it doesn’t matter.”

Running Game Gets Spark in Chicago: The Broncos needed a spark in the running game against the Bears with first time starter Osweiler at QB and got it on Sunday. After rushing for less than 70 yards in the previous two games, they rushed for more than that in just the first half.

Denver leaned on running backs C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman and rushed for 170 yards on the day, frequently picking up key yardage and moving the chains. Hillman rushed for 102 yards on the day and Anderson added 59 in the win over the Bears.

It was the type of performance the Broncos have looking for, the running game has been extremely inconsistent thus far in 2015 with six games of having the team rush for less than 70 yards and four games with them being very effective, with 944 yards, the bulk of their season’s total in wins against the Bears, Packers, Vikings and Browns.

In Kubiak’s system, the backs have to be in a “one-cut-and-get-up-the-field mode. Parts of their struggles have been the running backs haven’t been decisive enough. But  also a revolving door of offensive linemen has hurt their continuity….something the Patriots know full well.

So with a renewed sense of running the ball to help their young QB, the running matchup should be a key one to monitor.

Broncos Tight Ends Are Young QB’s Best Friend: With Emmanuel Sanders out for the Bears game, the Chicago defense made a concerted effort to take away Bronco WR Demaryius Thomas and in doing so opened up the middle of the field for QB Brock Osweiler.

Osweiler found the big spaces in the middle of the Bears defense time and again hitting tight ends Vernon Davis and Owen Daniels for a combined 10 catches for 137 yards, with eight of those catches going for first downs.

It was Davis’ best production since coming over from the 49ers as he snagged six passes for 68 yards and looked more like the Davis we were accustomed to seeing in San Francisco. He seemed to be much more in sync with Osweiler than he had with Manning in the previous few games.

Perhaps the Bears were a bit gun-shy after Thomas burned them for a 48-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the game, but those two tight ends will be a tough matchup for the Patriots secondary on Sunday.

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