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New England Patriots News 10-13, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
October 13, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 10-13 and AFC East notes this week. 

Game Day, but not for the Patriots who are off until next Monday evening when they take on the Jets on Monday Night Football.   

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Tom Brady – so much hand-wringing over a QB who completed 31-41 for 334 yards on a short week throwing the ball to two UDFA wide receivers and a seventh round tight end. Look, no one is arguing that Brady was lights out in the Giants game…he wasn’t. But despite all the missing pieces, and the scuffling of the offense, he completed 15 in a row at one point and made some terrific throws. On that subject…. 

Wright, Kellerman, Parker – who or what exactly are the Three Stooges going to make asses of themselves with every week when Brady retires. How anyone can actually watch these bobos or take anything they say remotely seriously? I see the clips every week on social media. It is the dumbing down of America. Are the haters of everything Brady and Patriots so desperate for hope that they get their pablum from these people?    

Chase Winovich – The Patriots rookie LB scored his first NFL touchdown on a blocked punt in the Giants game and then hurled it deep into the stands…oops! His boundless enthusiasm and motor got the best of him there. Hopefully, the fan with the ball will get some face time with “Thor” and return it for some Pats swag.

Matthew Slater – was quoted as not being a fan of the Thursday night games and made his point in his usual eloquent style. “You could be 22 years old — it’s [still] tough. Player safety, player health? This doesn’t fit into that as far as I’m concerned,” Slater said. “I know we’ve had a lot of discussions about it as a union. I know it’s a good product as far as the consumers are concerned, and the fans enjoy these Thursday night products. But I think when you talk about the rigors of playing in an NFL game, and then what it takes to recover and be able to do it again the following week, to do a Sunday-to-Thursday turnaround is tough. It doesn’t fit under the umbrella of player safety as far as I’m concerned. But you guys know that — I’ve said that every year.”

TNF – I’ve made it clear I hate Thursday Night Football. From the lack of preparation/rest that creates sloppy football, it is dangerous to the players as well. The Patriots suffered six injuries on Thursday night. And yes it includes those awful “color rush” monstrosities that the NFL has sold the fans on what they “must-have”…heaven knows why. “If you take the blue pill..” However, I digress.

If the league was truly invested in player safety then make TNF after the opening week wait until teams come off their bye week [Thanks Murph]. Teams coming off the bye week can play on Thursday nights, and still, have 10 days until they play again. Problem solved. It can be done but would require some work by the good folks on Park Avenue. Although we’d still be subjected to those awful uniforms…

Sunday’s Games – One of the key games to watch today will be the Houston-Kansas City game with the Chiefs being the home team. This should be as exciting a matchup as we’ve seen all season. The Chiefs are coming off a home loss to the Colts and are getting Tyreek Hill back from injury. But Patrick Mahomes isn’t completely healthy, he injured an ankle against the Colts that could the mobility that makes him so dangerous.

For the Texans, they’re coming off a 50-point explosion where QB Deshaun Watson threw for five touchdowns. This one ought to be fun to watch and may come down to the team with the ball last wins. 

But the NFL is a Passing League: You know the old saying that the NFL is a copycat league? If you think teams didn’t notice how the Patriots ran the ball in the playoffs, think again. While going to these light fronts with smaller athletic players on defense, offensive coordinators are adjusting accordingly. Look at last week…

Carolina gashed Jacksonville for 285 yards rushing including 176 for my early MVP vote Christian McCaffrey. The Colts kept the potent KC offense sitting on their hands Sunday night while rushing for 180. San Francisco’s two-headed rushing attack had 275 yards against the Browns, while Arizona ran over Cincinnati to the tune of 266 yards on the ground. Think Bill Belichick may have been ahead of the curve once again?

Issues in the Running Game Start at Tight End:

After the lackluster game by the offense in the 35-14 win over the Giants, the lack of a consistent running game has really hurt the offense. The box score of the Patriots rolling up over 400 yards of offense and over 100 on the ground belies the fact that they were struggling for much of the night, especially on the ground. 

Naturally, the abuse gets piled on the head of Sony Michel [“He sucks, he blows” ring a bell?]. But while we can point fingers at Michel’s lack of quickness in getting to the hole at times, you can’t fault him when he’s being consistently hit behind the line of scrimmage.

The offensive line hasn’t been great by any stretch of the imagination, but a big part of the issue is at tight end. The Patriots were spoiled the past few years having Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen in the blocking role at tight end. They were like having an extra tackle out there. They drafted Ryan Izzo in the 7th round [250th overall] last year, and that was supposed to be his strength. But being put out on the edge hasn’t been anywhere near good enough. 

Look, comparing him to Gronkowski isn’t fair, we know that. But one stat that leaps off the page is this. The Patriots have run 18 outside zone runs this year. It is a staple of their offense…in the past. Gronkowski and Allen were outstanding at blocking in these. Those 18 runs this year have resulted in just 21 yards this year. Izzo and Matt LaCosse just aren’t getting it done. He’s constantly overmatched out there. Last week LaCosse and Izzo were better, but they took a step back against the Giants.

And now LaCosse is hurt again. He has been snakebit by injuries this season. The runs inside, between the tackles, have been much better, Michel’s big runs against Washington and his final big run against the Giants come to mind. Brandon Bolden has chipped in here as well. 

While everyone is clamoring for the Patriots to trade for a wide receiver [and with the injuries it may happen, more to that below] bringing in a blocking tight end, and yes, Dwayne Allen is available, maybe in the cards. They could still trade for one too.  

Wide Receiver Depth, Becoming a Show-stopping Issue:

The Patriots have a little bit of time to do some self-scouting they normally do during the bye week, but thanks to the TNF schedule have some time to do so again.  Julian Edelman has been banged up for the past few weeks but has toughened it out Phillip Dorsett has a hamstring injury where he missed nearly all of the Redskins game as well as this week. Josh Gordon injured his knee on Thursday and although it looked ugly, we’re told he didn’t injure it “significantly”. 

This left the Patriots with a hurting Edelman and two rookie UFDA wide receivers [Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski] as the only wideouts remaining. With the Monday night game coming in eight days, we still have no idea about the availability of either Gordon or Dorsett, but smart money suggests Gordon won’t be ready. 

And if both are out, that leaves the cupboard dangerously thin. One injury to any of the three listed above and they won’t have enough WRs to fill out their “11 personnel” package. They need to get healthy and still get some help there. 

The rumor mill has beaten the Stefon Diggs story to death and while others are beating the AB return to New England, that has a less likely chance of happening than the Patriots bringing in an Army guy. Rumors continue to swirl around A.J. Green and Emmanuel Sanders. Of those, Sanders would be the best, most logical choice. The Patriots liked him enough a few years ago to sign him to an offer sheet. He’s in the last year of a contract with a team with a real chance of being 1-6 by Thursday. He’d be a seamless fit in the offense if they can pry him away from Denver. But John Elway knows they need help and he’ll try to squeeze them for everything he can. 

However, help IS on the way. N’Keal Harry the Patriots 1st-round draft pick can begin practice on Wednesday. And he’s eligible to return two weeks hence. If Dorsett and Gordon can return soon, the coaches may opt to wait it out and have Harry help out the passing game. We’ll see how this plays out. 

Jakob Johnson to IR, Another Big Blow for the Offense:

Wait! What? Did I just hear myself say that? If I said back in June during minicamp that losing Jakob Johnson in early October would be a big blow to the Patriots offense, I can only imagine what my timeline would like. “You’re outta yur mind, you loosah!” But here we are.

After losing James Develin to a neck injury, the Patriots turned to Johnson who has looked good thus far but in the Giants game, he suffered a shoulder injury, that, according to Jim McBride of the Globe will put him on IR. The team is now lacking a fullback. And that is a big blow. 

No team relies on their fullback as much as the Patriots do. They rely on their fullback to open holes in the running game. So, what do they do from here? Well, they can sign one, and while there aren’t a ton of fullbacks out there, I’m sure they could bring one in for him to learn the offense. Or the answer may be internally answered. 

The team used Izzo a few times in that role on Thursday night. His size would lend itself well to that role…plus he already knows the offense. But with tight end bare already with LaCosse always hurt it may require more help. Enter Brandon Bolden. While he has nowhere near the size of a Develin/Johnson-type, he can add more in short-yardage as a ball carrier and pass receiver than those two plus he’s already on the roster and there isn’t much he can’t do.  

NFL Schedule Week 6, Who Are Your Winners:

How are you feeling about the games this week? We have a post on our PatsFans Forum where our readers can predict the slate of games for that week. I did it on our weekly Sunday column here and will post it up below. Here is the link if you’d care to pick your own: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/

Last Week: 8-7
Season: 47-30-1

TNF New England over NY Giants 1-0 

Carolina over Tampa Bay [London]
Washington over Miami
Philadelphia over Minnesota
Kansas City over Houston [Mahomes isn’t 100%, shootout]
New Orleans over Jacksonville
Seattle over Cleveland
Baltimore over Cincinnati
LA Rams over San Francisco
Atlanta over Arizona
Dallas over NY Jets
Tennessee over Denver
SNF LA Chargers over Pittsburgh
MNF Green Bay over Detroit

Bye Week – Buffalo, Chicago, Indy, Oakland 

Early Thursday Night Football pick Kansas City over Denver

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills on the Bye, A Likely Landing Spot for A.J. Green? Maybe:

The Buffalo Bills are 4-1 and on their bye week. They’ve had an impressive start to the season, with their only loss to the Patriots at home. Their defense has been top-notch and impressive but offensively, they’re in need of some help, as their division rival Patriots at the wide receiver position. While many people have A.J. Green on the Patriots radar, he could also be on the Bills’ and even more so. 

Buffalo has two good wide receivers in Cole Beasley and John Brown but lacks a viable third option. Beasley is the Edelman of the Bills offense but they lack that big wide receiver on the outside, [Beasley is 5’9, while Brown is 5’10,180]. They traded away Zay Jones this week. 

Green, if healthy, would give them a big, viable target who would instantly upgrade the offense. And, if the rumors of New England being interested are indeed true, it would keep him away from the Patriots while helping Josh Allen.  

Dolphins Take on the Redskins in the Tua Bowl:

When the Miami Dolphins take the field against the Washington Redskins, the fans for both teams will be torn in their loyalties. While both are winless, Washington is 0-5 and Miami is 0-4, their fans will balance their desire to see their team win with the knowledge that the worse record will result in a better position to draft the next big QB prospect, in this case, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.

Miami, coming off of a bye week, is reeling with 11 players listed as questionable. Cornerback Johnson Bademosi, [ankle]; running back Kalen Ballage, [foot]; guard/tackle Jesse Davis, [elbow]; wide receiver Jakeem Grant, [hamstring]; linebacker Trent Harris, [foot]; cornerback Xavien Howard, [knee]; safety Reshad Jones, [ankle]; cornerback Chris Lammons, [toe]; safety Bobby McCain, [hamstring and shoulder]; wide receiver Albert Wilson, who is hoping [calf and hip]; and cornerback Jomal Wiltz, [groin]. 

The Redskins are beat up as well and have already ruled out several players. Tight end Vernon Davis is out of the game [concussion]; safety Deshazor Everett [ankle]; linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons [hamstring]; guard Wes Martin [chest injury]; and tight end Jordan Reed [concussion]. The team also listed tackle Donald Penn on the report, listing him as questionable, with a hamstring issue.

The big question is…other than the fanbases, will anyone be watching this one?

Jets Facing the “Laughably Overrated” Cowboys:

Leave it to Manish Mehta, the Jekyll and Hyde beat writer for the Jets, who proclaims every spring that the Jets will unthrone the Patriots in the AFC East, then calls for the coach to be canned in his next tweet. The 0-5 New York Jets face the 3-2 Cowboys who Mehta calls “laughably overrated”. 

Mehta was saying that “back-half of the 2019 [Jets] schedule is cupcake city.” If there is something the Jets and Adam Gase shouldn’t be doing, it is considering any of their upcoming opponents as cupcakes. 

But that never stopped Mehta from bloviating his usual tripe. He’s putting this one as eminently winnable despite the fact that the Jets rank near the bottom of every offensive category. If the Jets do pull the upset today [don’t hold your breath], then Mehta will go over the top with the Jets-Patriots predictions next week.

________________

“No, we’re trying to cover the receiver, and when he tries to catch the ball we use technique. Jon [Jones] did a pretty good job of that. He got his hands on the ball, but it just popped up in the air and went to Tate. I thought he played the ball well. It’s the National Football League. It was a good throw and they got a favorable bounce on it. We could’ve certainly played it better and done some other things better but Jon was in good position. He did what he was coached to do.” – Bill Belichick being asked about the touchdown pass allowed this week and specifically if Jonathan Jones played it correctly

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Best Of Social Media: Reaction To Rob Gronkowski Retirement From Football

Robert Alvarez
March 25, 2019 at 6:00 pm ET

On Sunday night, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski formally announced over Instagram that he will be retiring from the NFL after nine professional seasons.

View this post on Instagram

It all started at 20 years old on stage at the NFL draft when my dream came true, and now here I am about to turn 30 in a few months with a decision I feel is the biggest of my life so far. I will be retiring from the game of football today. I am so grateful for the opportunity that Mr. Kraft and Coach Belichick gave to me when drafting my silliness in 2010. My life experiences over the last 9 years have been amazing both on and off the field. The people I have meet, the relationships I have built, the championships I have been apart of, I just want to thank the whole New England Patriots organization for every opportunity I have been giving and learning the great values of life that I can apply to mine. Thank you to all of Pats Nation around the world for the incredible support since I have been apart of this 1st class organization. Thank you for everyone accepting who I am and the dedication I have put into my work to be the best player I could be. But now its time to move forward and move forward with a big smile knowing that the New England Patriots Organization, Pats Nation, and all my fans will be truly a big part of my heart for rest of my life. It was truly an incredible honor to play for such a great established organization and able to come in to continue and contribute to keep building success. To all my current and past teammates, thank you for making each team every year special to be apart of. I will truly miss you guys. Cheers to all who have been part of this journey, cheers to the past for the incredible memories, and a HUGE cheers to the uncertain of whats next.

A post shared by Rob Gronkowski (@gronk) on

Since entering the league as the 42nd overall pick in 2010, Gronk compiled
521 catches for 7,861 yards with 79 touchdowns during his time in Foxborough.

Gronk earned five Pro Bowl selections over his career but dealt with
multiple back surgeries, a twice-broken arm and a torn ACL.

Despite the injuries, Gronk put together a career that all but assures him a place in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Check out all the best reactions from social media to the news below.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BvaGsDcHQ7_/
View this post on Instagram

Icon. #TheGronk

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BvacTxBl8aL/
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https://twitter.com/ESanders_10/status/1109941418150281217?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1109941418150281217&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nbcsports.com%2Fboston%2Fpatriots%2Ftom-brady-react-rob-gronkowski-retirement
https://twitter.com/LeVeonBell/status/1109945245800824832?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1109945245800824832&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nbcsports.com%2Fboston%2Fpatriots%2Ftom-brady-react-rob-gronkowski-retirement
https://twitter.com/BIrvin_WVU11/status/1109944240325431298?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1109944240325431298&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nbcsports.com%2Fboston%2Fpatriots%2Ftom-brady-react-rob-gronkowski-retirement
https://twitter.com/gregolsen88/status/1109949544727494657?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1109949544727494657&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nbcsports.com%2Fboston%2Fpatriots%2Ftom-brady-react-rob-gronkowski-retirement
https://www.instagram.com/p/BvazyFHhVXK/
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Patriots – Broncos Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 10, 2017 at 8:44 am ET

The New England Patriots begin the second half of the regular season when they travel to take on the Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football.  

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC on Sunday, November 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on NBC Boston – 10. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (6-2) are coming off the bye week. In their last game, they defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 21-13. They are banged up and missing several key players.

The Broncos (3-5) return home after an ugly 51-23 shellacking at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles. They’ll be looking to get back on track at the hands of their hated rivals, who they always seem to beat in Denver.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 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 Broncos have met since the beginnings of the old AFL in 1960 and the games have always gone in streaks. However, in Denver, the Patriots always seem to play poorly and have had a rough time getting many victories there. Denver holds an all-time 30-22 advantage in their history and a commanding 23-10 edge at home. Although the Patriots took last year’s meeting 16-3 in Denver.

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 Broncos Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Denver

The Patriots running game has been emerging the past few weeks as they have been tinkering with different looks and formations. Dion Lewis has been the workhorse and figures to see the bulk of the carries again on Sunday. But they will use Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead liberally as well as they try to remain balanced.

The Broncos were allowing only about 72 yards per game on the ground after being gashed last season. However last week against Philadelphia, they were run on to the tune of 197 yards and three touchdowns. Don’t expect a repeat performance of that in Denver. Domata Peko has been an excellent acquisition for them in the running game.

Look for the Patriots to mix things up this week to try to keep the pass rush off balance. Lewis and Burkhead will probably the key runners to watch this week with Gillislee in for any short-yardage/goal line situations. It won’t be a big statistical day for the backs but if they can run enough to keep them honest it will be enough.

Patriots WRs vs Broncos Secondary – Razor’s Edge Denver

The Patriots passing game is averaging 300 yards per game, 2nd best in the league this season, despite Tom Brady being under a lot of pressure every week. Now they’re facing one of the better pass rushing teams in the league with Von Miller and the Denver secondary, the “No-Fly-Zone” which will be a big test for the passing game.

With no Julian Edelman and no Chris Hogan, Tom Brady will have Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Phillip Dorsett on the outside. The running backs, James White, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis will have to pick up some slack in the passing game this week. Denver has allowed just 192 yards per game via the air.

The key this week for New England is the tight ends. Rob Gronkowski will be the target that Brady will try to match up with. Denver’s defense, if it has a weakness is defending the tight ends. Of course, they know the Patriots are short-handed at WR and will try to matchup accordingly. This week we may see more of the rookie tight end, Jacob Hollister, attacking the seams in two tight end sets. The outside linebackers are very good pass rushers but aren’t as comfortable in coverage. Marcus Cannon may not play which means LaAdrian Waddle will be going against Von Miller. Another matchup to watch.

Next up the Broncos offense:

Broncos RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Broncos running game has been up and down this season. When they won three of their first four, the new-found commitment to running the ball was paying dividends. But during their four-game losing streak, the running game has faltered and put too much pressure on their quarterbacks, who aren’t getting it done. The Broncos have a trio of good backs in C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles, and Devontae Booker.

The Patriots have not been good against the run despite seeming to turn the corner in recent games. Against the Chargers, other than one play they set the edge and stuffed the inside very well. But that one play was one where everything broke down and resulted in an 87-yard touchdown run. Such has been the defense for much of this year.

This is the key to the game here. If Denver can’t run effectively enough to make play action passing a factor, and has to put the ball in Brock Osweiler’s hands, then it is a losing proposition for them. Alan Branch and Ricky Jean Francois, filling in for the injured Malcom Brown will have to step up. And setting the edge is extremely important this week.

Broncos WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

Denver’s passing game has been mired in mediocrity because of quarterback play. They still have Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas at wide receiver, former Patriot A.J. Derby at tight end as well as Charles, Booker and Anderson out of the backfield. Broncos QBs have been sacked 28 times and intercepted 12 times.

The Patriots pass defense was historically bad thru the first six games of the season. But they’ve begun to turn things around and the past two games against Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers the secondary has been much improved. The team should get Stephon Gilmore back this week, helping the depth and hopefully Eric Rowe soon.

The key this week from a New England perspective is putting the ball in Osweiler’s hands. If he’s forced to throw in third and long all game long, that is a winning formula for New England. Denver’s pass protection has been shoddy, but the Patriots pass rush hasn’t exactly been superb this season. We’ll see if Matt Patricia dials up some different looks in an attempt to generate some turnovers.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski has had a very solid season. His kickoffs have been spot on to pin opponents deep.  The coverage units have been outstanding and getting better. The return game has been getting a boost by Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis in recent games. Ryan Allen’s average hasn’t been great, but he’s consistently putting punts inside the 20-yard line.

The Broncos Special Teams has been pretty awful. Brandon McManus has missed five field goals out of his first 15 attempts before going 3-3 last week. Their coverage units haven’t been great and this is another area that the Patriots could exploit this week.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be a typical New England game in Denver where they always seem to struggle offensively to put points on the board. In the past five years, the Patriots average scoring 36 points in three home games against Denver and just 18.5 points a game in four away games.

Turnovers are going to be key here, the Patriots have to win the turnover battle. Back in 2015 they were controlling the game when a muffed punt opened the door for Denver to roar back and win the game in overtime. The Broncos offense has struggled to score in their four-game losing streak. Don’t give them any short fields for easy points.

Look for Brady to target his running backs a lot in this one to try to neutralize the Denver pass rush. James White and Rex Burkhead could figure prominently in this one. Look for Osweiler to make a mistake or two, as he’s been prone to do. This one won’t win any style points this week and could easily go the other way, but the Pats are on to Mexico with a 7-2 record.  Patriots 20-13

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.

Patriots Report Card, Week 15 Win Over the Broncos

Steve Balestrieri
December 19, 2016 at 11:38 am ET

Blount Sets Pats Record as the Defense Shuts Down Denver

The Patriots dominated the game after the first quarter yesterday and shut down the Denver Broncos using good, solid defense and an efficient, quick running winning 16-3. While it won’t win many style points, it was a satisfying, team win with very good performances in all three phases of the game.

With the victory, the Pats clinched the AFC East for a record 8th straight year and for the 14th time in the past 16 years. And what made the victory even sweeter was that it can against a heated rival and in a stadium where they’ve had trouble winning for 56 years. Coupled with the fact that they put a big dent in Denver’s playoff chances makes the win even more satisfying.

The Patriots are 7-0 on the road and 12-2 overall, they hold the top seed in the AFC and control their own destiny in terms of home-field advantage in the AFC.

So, although we had to take a couple of weeks off from our report cards, it is time to get back to it. Before hitting the All-22 coaches’ film, here are our grades for the week. We’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: C+
Tom Brady didn’t have his greatest game, and certainly didn’t light up the stat sheet going just 16-32 for 188 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He started the game 0-6, not completing a pass in the first quarter.

This was part of that was part of the game plan where the Patriots didn’t want to have to rely on the passing game to win today. Instead, the plan was on to control the clock and line of scrimmage with the running game.

Brady moved extremely well in the pocket, stepping up or sliding to avoid pressure. He made a couple of really, nice throws to Julian Edelman. The first when the Pats faced a 1st and 20, he dropped the ball deep down the sideline where #11 did a toe-tap before going out of bounds. Later he dropped another dime over the outstretched arms of the defender to Edelman for a big first down.

So, after a rough start, Brady did just what they set out to do. The offense was conservative by design and they never relinquished control once they got it.

Running Backs: B+
LeGarrette Blount wasn’t a big part of the game plan that everyone thought he’d be. The Broncos speed in the back seven negated the advantage of having the big man bulldoze his way thru the pile. He had meager stats on the day with just 31 yards but again, that was partially by design. The Patriots for this game opted to go with the quicker and shiftier Lewis. Blount, however, did get the only touchdown of the game and it set a new franchise record for rushing touchdowns (15) which he’ll probably add to in the next two weeks.

Dion Lewis had a career day getting 95 yards on 18 carries. He was the perfect answer for the Broncos dime package. They’d bring in six defensive backs to counter the pass and Brady would hand it off to Lewis. He had his heaviest workload of his Patriots career and looks like a perfect complement to Blount with the postseason approaching.

James White wasn’t anywhere nearly as effective as we envisioned in this game in our pregame matchups. Although the Patriots tried to get him heavily involved early, he was ineffective including a couple of big drops which short-circuited drives. But he nearly broke a long touchdown reception later in the game when a shoe-string tackle was all between him and the end zone.

What a difference it has been having James Develin back this season. He rarely shows up on the stat sheet, he did make a catch for 14 yards today, but the holes he opens in the running game are invaluable. Phil Simms on the telecast equated Develin to a tackle and showed him pancake Sylvester Williams the Denver nose-tackle.

Wide Receivers: C
The Patriots other than Julian Edelman didn’t target the wide receivers much. That is a testament to the respect they have for the Denver corners. The conservative approach cut out the possibility for a turnover and wasn’t pretty at times but it worked.

Julian Edelman isn’t the biggest WR, nor the fastest, but there aren’t many with more heart or tougher. Edelman is fully healthy now and has always made a living of going in dangerous places making the tough catches in traffic. He made six catches for 75 yards but that sideline catch between two defenders where he toe-tapped before going out of bounds was a beauty.

Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell each had only one catch and were targeted just three times combined. Hogan had a tough drop that killed a drive. We were expecting a bit more from those two in the game

Tight Ends: B
Martellus Bennett only had two catches for 35 yards but it was the big one for 34 yards that set the team up for a field goal in the fourth quarter that helped put the team away.

Bennett did a good job of run blocking today and with him starting to get healthy, he should become a bigger factor in the passing game.

Matt Lengel got just a few snaps in but got a tongue-lashing from Bennett on one play. Presumably for lining up in the wrong place.

Offensive Line: A+
What else can we add about the offensive line? Remember the AFCCG last January? Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware wreaked havoc on Brady as the OL was bullied, bashed and beaten on nearly every snap. Well today it was the Pats offensive line who did the pushing around. The Patriots ground out 139 tough yards in the running game to control the clock and the tempo.

Marcus Cannon and Nate Solder were flat out excellent. Miller and Ware had zero sacks, zero tackles for loss, and zero QB hits. Cannon has been going thru a rejuvenation this season with Dante Scarnecchia but even the most die-hard fans circled these last two games against Baltimore and Denver as the big tests. Well, he aced them both. Game ball to Cannon.

There were a couple of ticky-tack holding penalties on David Andrews and Joe Thuney, especially considering the mugging that Denver’s OL was getting away with early in the game.  But overall this was a truly dominant effort. Redemption game for the OL.

Defensive Line: A
The Patriots defensive line dominated in the trenches again. Denver rushed for just 58 yards on the day and averaged 3.4 yards per attempt. Alan Branch who has been excellent all season and Malcom Brown were stout at the point of attack. Brown chipped in with a sack.

The edge rushers, Trey Flowers, Jabaal Sheard, and Chris Long had an outstanding day. Flowers chipped in with two sacks, his sixth and seventh of the year. He’s peaking at just the right time. And oh, by the way, remember the worry warts who were proclaiming the doom of the Pats defense without Chandler Jones? Jones is in the middle of another late-season swoon. In Jones’ last four games he’s gotten zero sacks.

Sheard had a fantastic game with a sack, two QB hits and was playing like a beast on the edge, consistently having his way with RT Donald Stephenson.

Linebackers: A
The Patriots’ other move this season that was lambasted was the trade of Jamie Collins to Cleveland. While the jury will be out on that one until the season is over, no one can argue with the production the team is getting out of Kyle Van Noy.

He’s neither the athletic freak nor a Pro-Bowler but what he is, is a damned-good addition to the Patriots defense. Van Noy can do a bunch of things, cover the running backs either in the flat or on wheel routes, rush the passer and help on the tight ends.

He covered an early wheel route in the end zone perfectly, which forced the Broncos into settling for a field goal. He also read a screen pass in the flat and flew up to nail the play in the backfield for a loss. He blitzed up the A-gap a few times as well.

Dont’a Hightower was his usual stout presence in the running game. He was questionable in this game due to a late addition to the injury report for a knee injury but was more than up for the task.

Shea McClellin even got into the act…on offense as a decoy. It was that kind of day.

Secondary: A
The Patriots secondary had a very solid game and it begins with the play of Malcolm Butler. Butler was lined up with Emmanuel Sanders and with over the top help, he relegated him to the side of a milk carton until he caught a couple of passes in garbage time late in the 4th quarter.

Eric Rowe and Logan Ryan matched up with Demaryius Thomas and had very solid outings, for the most part taking away the deep ball and forcing Denver to take the underneath stuff.  Trevor Siemian had a nice 1st quarter but after that, the defense, specifically the secondary adjusted and he and the Broncos passing game was held in check.

Ryan turned the game on the first play of the 2nd quarter. Facing a third and short, Siemian tried to hit Sanders on a quick out pattern at the Patriots 4-yard line. Ryan read it perfectly and jumped the route, easily intercepting the pass. He returned it 46 yards to the Denver 46. Brady then led a drive to put New England up for good. It was a 14-point turnaround.

Devin McCourty had another terrific game as the QB of the back seven. His thunderous hit on Thomas jarred the ball loose on a 4th down attempt late in the game.

Special Teams: A
Stephen Gostkowski is no longer in a slump, he went back to the scene of his frustration like Cannon and helped erase some of the sting of his miss last year. He was 3-3 on field goals, right down the middle and good on his only extra point.

Ryan Allen once again did a terrific job of pinning the Broncos deep in their end. Allen’s only short punt was muffed by Jordan Norwood where Jonathan Jones was alert and recovered the ball leading to the Patriots first field goal.

The coverage units were solid although the return game was stuck in neutral. But they didn’t have any slipups this week. Edelman was back fielding punts as Cyrus Jones was a healthy scratch…not surprisingly.

Coaches: A
Bill Belichick’s game plan to use the running game wasn’t a surprise. What was, at least a little bit was the use of Lewis’ quick running instead of battering the Broncos with Blount. It worked very well and the offense controlled the clock and the tempo. Denver’s defense couldn’t tee off on Brady at all.

Josh McDaniels called a very solid game for the offense with the exception of one drive with just eight minutes left. He eschewed the running game for three straight passes which was a head-scratcher considering the success they were having at running the ball. But overall, he did exactly what they set out to do.

Matt Patricia who was under fire just a few weeks ago, has got the defense playing super situational football. After Denver moved the ball well in the first quarter, Patricia adjusted the defense and they shut them down and out from that point onward. Patricia has found roles for all of his players and not only are they comfortable within the system, their level of play has increased as they play much faster and instinctive now.

We’re on to the Jets…

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.

Five Patriots Players to Watch Against the Broncos

Steve Balestrieri
December 17, 2016 at 9:41 am ET

The Patriots are alone at the top of the AFC and travel to Denver to take on the Broncos at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. This will be the third trip to Denver for the Patriots in the last 13 months. The situation is quite like a year ago when the Patriots visited Denver at 10-0 and the Broncos were two games back.

This meeting is a bit later in the season and unlike a year ago, the Broncos are a team desperate for a win. At 8-5, they need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Presently they sit in the #6 seed with the tiebreaker over Miami. But tough games remain against the Chiefs and Raiders so they’ll need to seal the deal at home.

The Broncos have the #1 pass defense in the league and will be looking to use their vaunted pass rush against Tom Brady and slow down the Patriots passing game. Their edge rushers Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shane Ray are productive and had big games against Brady twice last year.

The Patriots are 11-2 and the offense didn’t seem to miss Rob Gronkowski when they faced the #1 defense in the league last Monday night. Against the Ravens, the Patriots rolled up 496 yards of offense and 30 points. They’re hoping to carry that over against the team that beat them twice in 2015.

Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Sunday:

QB Tom Brady: Brady has pretty much had his way most every team in the NFL, and that includes Denver. But not on the road, Brady is just 2-7 against the Broncos in Mile High. This has been a rivalry dominated by the home teams. In the last ten games between the two, the home team has won 9 of 10.

Brady is sure to know this and will surely be thinking about the heartbreaking loss last year in the AFC Championship Game where a two-point conversion with just 12 seconds left failed, which would have sent the game into overtime.

But the future Hall of Famer knows what’s at stake this week. With a win, the Pats clinch a first round bye and deal Denver a serious blow to their playoff hopes. A win on Sunday won’t erase a lot of bad memories in Denver, but it will go a long way in doing so.

Running Back James White: With much of the focus this week and justifiably so on LeGarrette Blount, it may be White who holds the key to attacking Denver’s defense. The Broncos haven’t been good against the run this season and Blount and Dion Lewis will bear most of the heavy lifting there. But in the passing game is where White may open things up for Brady thru the air.

Denver will be minus Brandon Marshall on Sunday, and fellow inside linebacker Todd Davis is hurting too. The Patriots will look to spread out the Broncos defense on passing downs and find mismatches by isolating White and Lewis on the linebackers. With the backs keeping the Denver defense honest, they’ll have to respect the run this time around and won’t be able to just pin their ears back and rush the QB.

Look for White to move in motion and be split out wide at times, giving Brady a look at how the Broncos coverage will be set up. If they’re forced to start using a safety on him, it will open single coverage for one of their wide receivers.

Safety Devin McCourty: The Patriots defense has been much better the past month especially in the passing game and this week the secondary will be facing a pair of very prolific receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. The Denver passing game hasn’t been as vertical as we’ve seen in years past but it is still a very viable one with those two receivers. And the Pats final line of defense is McCourty.

Against the Ravens last week, he picked off a deep Joe Flacco pass to Mike Wallace and the Patriots would love to see more of that this week. But with each of the receivers’ ability to go deep, McCourty will ultimately see time against both.

The Patriots game plan every week is to take away the big, chunk plays and make the opponent slowly make their way down the field. Against a young QB like Trevor Siemian who has struggled lately, this strategy will be even more important. McCourty will have a big say in how effective their strategy will be with his performance this week.

Right Tackle Marcus Cannon: The Patriots right tackle is having a career best season in 2016, but he too can recall the nightmare of the AFC Championship Game in January. Von Miller had 2.5 sacks and rode roughshod over not just Cannon but anyone who was in front of him that day. Cannon would love to turn the tables on him this season and not only setting the outside edge but opening holes in the running game as well.

Denver is second in the NFL in sacks with 38, one behind Carolina but is the most efficient pass rush team. One way to slow down Miller, Ware, and Co.? Running the football. And Cannon has been very good at opening holes from Blount to run through this season.

Cannon was just rewarded with a nice contract extension for the Patriots. Here’s an opportunity to show he’s earned it by keeping Brady upright this time and paving the way for a Patriots ground attack that should be much more effective than the last two times they faced this defense. This will be Cannon’s biggest test of the year…so far.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy: The Patriots made a trade for the misused former 2nd round pick from the Detroit Lions this fall and he’s been rewarding them with some stellar play recently. After the trade of Jamie Collins to Cleveland, the team was searching for a replacement of his production and they found it with a combination of Van Noy and Shea McClellin.

As he’s found a comfort level in the defense, Van Noy’s production has increased. He can do a bit of everything. While McClellin is generally on the field for running downs, Van Noy has taken over in coverage and for the most part has been very good. He’s also adept at rushing the passer and can bring a lot to the table.

Facing a Denver team that has struggled to run the football in 2016, Van Noy should see plenty of snaps against the Broncos on Sunday afternoon. He should see some coverage on TEs Virgil Green and A.J. Derby and it wouldn’t be surprising if he blitzes a few times up the A-gap as they mix things up with their pass rush against Siemian.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.

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.

Patriots – Broncos Keys, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 16, 2016 at 8:09 am ET

The New England Patriots head out to the Mile High City as they take on the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:25 p.m.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ -TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Phil Simms as the color analyst. Tracy Woolfson will work 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 (11-2) beat the Ravens 30-23 on Monday Night Football. Tom Brady threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns as the Patriots rolled up nearly 500 yards of offense. Shea McClellin blocked a punt and LeGarrette Blount topped the 1000-yard mark for the season and picked up his league-leading 14th rushing touchdown.

The Broncos (8-5) lost in Tennessee to the Titans 13-10. The loss was Denver’s third in the last six games and now they face New England, Kansas City, and Oakland in their final three games as they try to make the playoffs.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 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 Broncos are meeting for the 52nd time since 1960 when the AFL first opened. No place has been tougher to win for the Patriots since they entered the league as they’re just 9-21 on the road. The series has been dominated in recent years by the whoever is playing at home. The home teams have won 9 out of the past 10 games with the only victory on the road was the Pats in December 2011 defeating the Tim Tebow led Broncos.

Denver took both games last year, a 30-24 overtime win in Mile High in November and 20-18 in the AFC Championship Game, where a missed extra point by Stephen Gostkowski turned out to be the difference in the teams not going to overtime.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots 2016 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of Denver

Steve Balestrieri
December 15, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Patriots Can Hurt Denver’s Playoff Hopes With a Victory

The Patriots go back out on the road and travel to their own house of horrors when they take on the Denver Broncos at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday.  The Patriots obviously never cared for the thin air of Denver as they’ve traditionally played some of their worst football when visiting the Rockies. They’re hoping to change that trend with a big win this week.

The Patriots (11-2), defeated the Ravens 30-23 on Monday Night Football. Although they dominated Baltimore thru much of the game, a pair of costly special teams’ gaffes allowed Joe Flacco and the Ravens to get back into the game. However, Tom Brady shook off a slow start and was brilliant. He passed for 406 yards and three scores, his last a 79-yard clinching beauty to Chris Hogan to put the game away.

The Patriots kept a three-game lead of the Miami Dolphins who beat Arizona but lost QB Ryan Tannehill, at least for a few weeks. The Pats own the top spot in the AFC with a game lead over the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders, both 10-3. The Patriots can seriously hurt Denver’s playoff chances with a win on Sunday.

The Broncos (8-5), are struggling right now, having split their last six games following a maddening trend of win-loss and are in danger of missing out on the playoffs. Denver’s last three games of the season are at home against the Patriots, at KC and then home against the Oakland Raiders. No one has a tougher schedule down the stretch.

Here are our Five First Impressions of the Broncos:

Broncos Defense Has Had to Carry the Team: Denver’s defense which carried them to a Super Bowl win in 2015, is still incredibly tough against the pass and has carried the team thru a somewhat difficult season this year.

The Broncos are the #1 defense against the pass allowing just 183.5 yards per game. The pass rush with bookend edge rushers Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shane Ray are second in the league in sacks with 38. They have more interceptions (12) than touchdowns allowed (10), through the air.

With an offense that has sputtered at times this year, the defense, while still top notch, has developed some trouble spots. And although their pass defense outside with Aqib Talib and Chris Harris is outstanding, there are areas that opponents, (the Patriots), may be able to exploit. Check back with us later today for our All-22 film study on how the Pats may decide to attack.

Tom Brady and the Patriots passing offense will face their biggest test of 2016 on Sunday and they’ll need to get everyone involved if they want to come away with the victory on the road, where the Patriots are 6-0.

Denver Can Be Run on This Week: The Broncos defense has taken a big step back in their rush defense from a year ago. In 2015, Denver opponents rushed 408 times for 1337 yards and only 10 rushing touchdowns for an average of just 3.3 yards per rush.

In 2016, Denver’s opponents have rushed 390 times for 1654 yards with 12 touchdowns and a much higher 4.2 yard per rush average. Last week, the Tennessee Titans controlled the line of scrimmage and rushed for 180 yards in the 13-10 win in Nashville.

The Broncos were third against the run in 2015, but have fallen all the way to 29th this year allowing 127.2 yards per game. This week should see a heavy dose of LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis in the running game for the Patriots. With linebacker Brandon Marshall hurting with an injury, he may miss this week’s game. That would be a significant loss for Denver, especially considering the struggles going on in the rush defense.

Siemian Still Learning On the Job: The Broncos entered 2016 with questions at the quarterback position as Trevor Siemian and rookie Paxton Lynch didn’t have a heck of a lot of experience. Siemian’s numbers aren’t bad, he’s completed 61.2 percent of his passes with 230 completions of 376 passes for 2730 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a QB rating of 89.2.  Denver is currently 19th in passing offense in 2016.

Siemian has some outstanding weapons to use in the passing game, with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and has found youngster Devontae Booker out of the backfield as well. Thomas leads the team with 76 catches for 925 yards and five scores while Sanders has 75 catches but leads the team in yards with 958 with five touchdowns.

Without the deep passing game that hallmarked the Broncos offense the past few years, Siemian is capable of moving the ball and garnering yardage, but can he put up enough points to keep up with playoff teams? The Patriots may get after him a bit and try to disguise some coverages to make him hold the ball longer this week.

Running Game Has Struggled: The Broncos running game, once again a strength down the stretch in 2015 has left them wanting this season. Denver’s running game is mired in 27th place averaging just 93.8 yards per game, down 10 places from 2015.

With C.J. Anderson lost for the year, Denver has turned to Devontae Booker as their bell cow running back. He’s been underwhelming for the most part, gaining just 511 yards on 149 carries with three touchdowns. He’s averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. The team recently brought in Justin Forsett who was jettisoned by Baltimore earlier this season. Forsett played for Gary Kubiak in Houston and it is hoped that he’ll help jumpstart the moribund running game.

The Patriots have played better defense lately by being able to make their opponents one-dimensional offensively and it started with shutting down the run. With Alan Branch and Malcom Brown inside, there’s no reason to think they can’t do so again this week.

Special Teams May Play A Big Role: The Broncos special teams’ have struggled at times with their consistency in 2016, something that may come into play on Sunday. Who can forget the muffed punt last season? With the Patriots holding a two-touchdown lead, Chris Harper muffed a punt and it sparked a huge Denver comeback which culminated with an overtime win for the Broncos.

Kicker Brandon McManus has been perfect inside 40 yards this season but beyond that he’s just 9 of 13. Rookie punter Riley Dixon has averaged 41.2 yards net per punt. Rookie Kalif Raymond provided a spark in the punt return game against the Jaguars.

With the Patriots kicking game solidified in recent weeks, this is an area that the Patriots must feel good about. But the continued struggles for Cyrus Jones will have them searching for answers this week. Once again this year, the special teams play a big role deciding which of these two teams comes out victorious.

Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on PatsFans.com.

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.

Patriots, Broncos Keys to the AFCCG, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
January 22, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The New England Patriots need one more win to get back to the Super Bowl with a chance to repeat as champions. But to do so, they face a familiar nemesis in the Denver Broncos.

The game will be televised by CBS with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on the call. The game will also be on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak doing the play-by-play and analysis. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. ET

The Patriots defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round 27-20 as Tom Brady threw for 302 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski. The team welcomed back Julian Edelman and his presence ignited the short passing game. Edelman missed the final seven games but had 10 catches for 100 yards on Saturday.

The Broncos made a big fourth quarter comeback and defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-16. Trailing 13-12, it appeared as if the Steelers were driving for clinching touchdown when a fumble turned the game around. The Broncos scored the next 11 points in the final four minutes to pull away for the win.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our playoff edition of the “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give a quick break down on some of the key match-ups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Broncos will meet for the 51st time in their history, the most the Patriots have faced an opponent that has been outside their division. The Patriots never seem to play their best football in the altitude there as they’ve been 9-20 in Denver since the early days of the NFL. There was one stretch from 1984 -1998 that the teams met 11 times, nine of them in Denver and the Pats lost them all.

The two teams met in November in Week 12 with the Broncos taking a 30-24 win in OT.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots 2015 Playoff Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Broncos AFCCG

Steve Balestrieri
January 19, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The Patriots travel out to the Mile High City in Denver to take on a familiar opponent, the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game for the second time in three years. Both teams won in the AFC’s Divisional Round while at home.

The Broncos came back from a 4th quarter deficit with 11 points in the final four minutes to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-16 on Sunday evening. Capitalizing on a recovered fumble where it looked like the Steelers were about to put the game away, they drove for a go-ahead touchdown and then added a field goal after the Steelers turned the ball over on downs.

The Patriots beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Foxboro 27-20 as Tom Brady threw for 302 yards and two touchdowns breaking KC’s 11-game winning streak. New England took the opening drive and drove for a touchdown in the game’s first four minutes and never looked back. And forcing them to play from behind was instrumental in the Pats success. Kansas City during their entire 11-game winning streak, trailed for a total of nine minutes

The game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and will be televised by CBS and will have their announcing crew of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms 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.

An interesting tidbit about tickets for this week’s game comes from the Denver Post: Tickets for the AFC championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots game will go sale to the general public at noon Monday, the Broncos announced Sunday. …

Tickets will only be sold to those with a billing address in the Rocky Mountain region, including Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, western Kansas and Wyoming. Sounds like the good folks in Denver are worried at seeing a ton of Patriots fans for the game.

Here are our five first impressions of the Broncos:

Forget the Hype or Ignore the Noise in this one: The mainstream media is falling all over themselves in trying to make this “Brady vs Manning XVII” or some other nonsense. As if the question is still an open one…that book was closed long ago.

Manning is a complimentary piece now and the offense no longer revolves around him airing it out 40-45 times a game. If truth be told, Bill Belichick and the Patriots would love nothing more than to force Manning into HAVING TO throw all game long. That is a game the Patriots would feel they would be best served to win.

The legacy pieces for Manning were already well into play on Sunday as the lead-in to the Divisional Game was less about Pittsburgh and Denver and more about hailing the conquering hero. Since Saturday, think back how many times you’ve heard, “With a win on Sunday, Tom Brady will have the opportunity to win back-to-back Super Bowls.” In fact, no one has done it since…Brady did in 2003 and 2004. And we haven’t heard it in the mainstream …once.

We have seen from multiple sources that Monday was the 1-year anniversary for Deflategate. One thing you won’t hear on Sunday that it will be 30-day anniversary of the HGH story released by Al Jazeera that Manning played a part in, especially from his buddy Nantz at CBS.

But back to Manning, his arm even in the near 50 degree temps on Sunday still struggled to hit those outside throws with any velocity. Good news for Denver has the extended weather forecast at being near 50 again on Sunday. Manning remains a very smart signal caller and has the experience to recognize a lot of pre-snap reads that can lead to an audible at the line.

This isn’t “Brady vs Manning XVII” but Brady vs the Denver defense. More to that in a bit…

Forget the regular season numbers, Denver is a running team now: The Broncos were a poor running team until Manning was sat down and Brock Osweiler brought in. That brought wholesale changes to their formations and the commitment to running the ball that has paid dividends.

While the Broncos averaged 107.4 yards rushing per game on the season, those numbers were much better in the second half of the season. During six of the last seven games Denver has rushed for more than 100 yards. During the final seven games the Broncos averaged an impressive 134.8 yards per game on the ground. If not for the Oakland game where they were stymied for just 34, that number would have been 151.6.

Coach Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme along with running backs Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson have excelled for Denver down the stretch. This will be a key area to monitor as the game moves closer.

During the first meeting prior to Dont’a Hightower going down with an injury, Denver rushed 15 times for just 43 yards, a 2.9-yard average per rush attempt. After Hightower went out Denver rushed 15 more times for 132 yards, an 8.8-yard average per rushing attempt with three touchdowns including Anderson’s 48-yard scamper in OT. The big Patriots linebacker will be a key cog in stopping the run this week.

Denver’s Defense Will Look Different with Ware on Sunday: Missing in the first matchup between the two teams was bookend pass rusher DeMarcus Ware who was out with a back ailment. He and Von Miller led the Broncos pass with 7.5 and 11 sacks respectively as the team was tops in the NFL in that category with 52.

They also get a good push from interior DL Derek Wolfe who notched 5.5 sacks of his own in just 12 games this season. Wolfe was suspended for the first four games of the year for violating the league’s rules policy on performance enhancing drugs and then parlayed that into a four-year contract extension worth $36 million with $17 million guaranteed. Money well spent.

Denver had the fourth overall defense in terms of points allowed with 18.5 in 2015, was third best against the run allowing only 83.6 yards per game but was #1 in terms of total yards (283.1) and Yard passing (199.6). Wade Phillips unit has been the cornerstone of this team all season.

The secondary is deep and active, led by Chris Harris, Aqib Talib as well as safety T.J. Ward, the hard-hitting presence who plays right up to and many times over the line. While they didn’t generate a ton of interceptions, the secondary has the ability to blanket opponents and shut them down, coupled with their pass rush.

Special Teams Was a Big Factor in Win Over Pittsburgh: While many will point to, and rightfully so as the Steelers fumble as the turning point in that game Sunday, the Broncos STs delivers a large share of the credit as does the failure of Pittsburgh’s for keeping that game close.

Kicker Brandon McManus single-handedly kept the Broncos in the game with four field goals and later put the game away with a fifth. He was all the scoring the Broncos would get for 23 consecutive playoff drives until the late touchdown on Sunday. While the Steelers punting unit couldn’t deal with the gusty winds blowing in Mile High, Britton Colquitt had no such issue and won the battle of field position easily.

Denver’s coverage units are very solid and their punt coverage team allows only a 6.1-yard average. Who can’t forget the muffed punt by the Patriots’ Chris Harper in November that Denver was right on top of and it turned a 21-7 Patriots lead into an eventual loss.

Their punt returners Emmanuel Sanders as well as Omar Bolden are dangerous. Bolden gashed the Steelers for a 42-yard punt return on Sunday that led to a field goal. But he hurt his knee on Sunday and may not be available for Sunday’s game. The Patriots STs will have their hands full on Sunday.

Broncos Solidify Offensive Line Just in Time for Playoffs: Denver much like New England has had injuries to their offensive line. They’ve had to mix and match with their backups and the results weren’t always the best.

But on Sunday the debate as to who would start for the Broncos at right tackle was answered…and emphatically as Michael Scoffield not only started but played all 74 offensive snaps against the Steelers. While he got flagged for one holding call, he was solid in the game and did a good job in the running game.

Left guard Evan Matthis who was hurt and coming off the bench down the stretch for the last three games of the season, also started and played all 74 offensive snaps. But a question that does remain is where is Vernon Davis?

The tight end who John Elway traded for has had issues learning the offense and played in just 11 snaps during the final two regular season games. Against Pittsburgh, Davis played only a single snap signaling that he is now the third TE on the depth chart behind Owen Daniels and Virgil Green. While there’s still a chance that we’d see Davis against New England, it seems that this move was one of those low-risk, high-reward moves that just didn’t pan out.

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.

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.

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