|Notes and Observations Week 15: Patriots Blow Out Dolphins 41-13; Clinch AFC East||Connelly’s Top Ten: Patriots Defense, Special Teams Carry Home Team||Fantasy Football Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em: Week 15||Right Idea? Red Sox Bring in Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson|
The Patriots defeated the Broncos 31-21 on Sunday at Gillette Stadium to lock down their first home victory of the season.
The Broncos started off with the ball after winning the toss. Peyton Manning looked good in his return to Gillette as he led the offense down the field. Manning connected with Demaryius Thomas for what could have been a huge catch and run. However Patriots’ cornerback Sterling Moore was able to punch the ball out and recover it to stop the Broncos in their tracks. The Patriots were not able to capitalize on the early turnover as they punted four plays later.
The Patriots were the first to score as Tom Brady led a near perfect drive down the field. The drive was capped off with a short touchdown pass to Wes Welker, his first of the season, to give the Patriots the early 7-0 lead. On the drive Brady completed all five of his passes, four of which were thrown to Welker.
Manning did not go quietly as he returned the favor with a terrific drive of his own. Manning marched down the field converting on multiple third down plays. A Devin McCourty pass interference call then set the Broncos offense up at the one yard line. Manning then executed a quick one yard pass to Joel Dreessen, who did his own version of a Gronkowski spike.
On the next offensive possession Brady continued his dominance. Once again the Patriots moved down the field, this time Brady complete six of his seven attempted passes. The offense was set up with a terrific catch by Brandon Lloyd on a slant towards the middle, landing on the one yard line. Shane Vereen then trotted into the end zone to give the Patriots the 14-7 lead.
Manning and the Broncos took over and once again looked to be moving effectively down the field. Faced with a third and short, the Patriots defense stepped up as Jerod Mayo stormed up the middle of the offensive line and sacked Manning to force a fourth down.
The ensuing punt pinned the Patriots at their own two yard line. Faced with a 3rd and 14 deep in their own territory, Tom Brady dumped the ball off to Danny Woodhead who marched down the field on a 25-yard catch and run to give the Patriots a first down. The Patriots continued to march down the field as Brandon Bolden busted off a big 24-yard run. Set up on the Broncos one yard line it seemed as though a late half touchdown was inevitable, but Von Miller busted into the backfield to stop Bolden. Stephen Gostkowski converted the field goal to give the Patriots the 17-7 lead at the half.
After both offenses stalled on their first drives of the second half, the Patriots embarked on a 16 play drive that ate up over six minutes of clock. Once again the drive was saved by Danny Woodhead. On 3rd and 17 Brady handed it off to Woodhead and he weaved through the defense for a 19 yard gain and the first down. At the one yard line Brady then snapped the ball and stuck it above the defense and over the goal line for the score.
On the first play of the Broncos next drive, Rob Ninkovich sacked Manning and forced a fumble. The ball squirted out and Vince Wilfork fell on it for the recovery. After a few plays Stevan Ridley was able to punch the ball in with a diving effort to give the Patriots the 31-7 lead.
The Broncos answered with a 10 play drive of their own. Manning went 7-9 on the drive highlighted by a 38-yard pass and catch to Demaryius Thomas. The drive ended with a two yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker to make the score 31-14.
The Patriots defense showed up big with a 17 point lead. On 3rd and 1 Devin McCourty came up and made huge stop on rookie running back Ronnie Hillman to force a 4th and 1. Manning attempted a quick pass to Willis McGahee but he dropped it, turning the ball over to the Patriots with just over 10 minutes left to play.
In a questionable decision the Patriots went for it on 4th and 5 in Broncos territory instead of trying to pin the Broncos back with a punt. Brady was sacked, fumbled the ball, and the Broncos recovered at midfield. Manning then moved down the field quickly and connected with Brandon Stokley on a short touchdown to bring the score to 31-21 with 6:43 left in the game.
After Stevan Ridley coughed the ball up, Manning led the Broncos deep into New England territory. However the Patriots’ defense once again stepped up as Ninkovich forced a fumble from McGahee and Jermaine Cunningham fell on it for the recovery. A key third down reception from Welker, and a big first down run by Bolden helped to run the clock out to end the game.
- I’ve said it all season that this defense is out to prove a point. Faced with all the hype of the reignited Brady-Manning rivalry they showed up huge to make things difficult on Manning and the Broncos. Tavon Wilson received the first start of his NFL career and he did not disappoint. He showed an aggressive nature by taking part in 10 tackles, and played well in coverage. On one of the few plays the defense was beat, Sterling Moore forced a fumble. They have been making key sacks and forcing turnovers early in the season which is a great sign for a young defense. The scary thought is that they will only get better with time, barring any unforeseen injuries.
- I know this isn’t rocket science but when Tom Brady is on this offense is just about unstoppable. The first two scoring drives Brady completed 11 of the 12 passes he attempted. He was controlling this game at the line of scrimmage, utilizing the no huddle offense to perfection.
- The running game in particular is why Brady was able to dictate this game from the line of scrimmage. Ridley had 151 rushing yards and a score, Bolden had 54 yards, Vereen had a touchdown, and Woodhead had 47 yards rushing and a clutch 25 yard reception that converted the 3rd and 14. Woodhead, arguably, won that game for the Patriots by converting those two long third down plays. Both drives resulted in points. With the strong running game Brady is able to call plays based on what the defense is showing, and so far the offense has been exploiting weaknesses well. This reminds me of the 2004 offense with Corey Dillon. Not saying any of these backs are comparable to Dillon, but the combination of Ridley, Bolden, Woodhead, and the occasional dash of Vereen, Brady can call any play he wants at the line of scrimmage.
- Onto the passing game. Brandon Lloyd has shown the ability to catch any ball thrown in his general area. He doesn’t have to be scoring on 40 yard bombs to make an impact, the fact that Brady can throw in the middle of the field as well as the outside make him so much more dangerous.
- I said last week the conspiracies about Welker should come to an end, and this week solidified that claim. He had 13 receptions, 104 receiving yards, and a touchdown. That’s all that needs to be said.
- This offense may be one of the most gifted we have seen in the Belichick/Brady era, and that’s saying something. They have put up impressive offensive showings the past three weeks against defenses that are supposedly good. All that is without Aaron Hernandez. When Hernandez comes back I feel sorry for the defenses that have to plan for this offense. These are the good ol’ days.
Tags: Brandon Bolden, Brandon Lloyd, Brandon Stokley, Broncos, Danny Woodhead, Demaryius Thomas, Devin McCourty, Eric Decker, Patriots, Peyton Manning, Rob Gronkowski, Shane Vereen, Stephen Gostkowski, Stevan Ridley, Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Willis McGahee