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Notes and Observations, AFC Championship: Patriots Come Up Short Against Broncos

The picture sums it up as the Broncos out worked the Patriots all game. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

For the second consecutive season the Patriots lost in the AFC Championship game. A team that was once so successful in the postseason, has now suffered three consecutive disappointing losses in a row. The one major thing in common in all three of those games is the poor play of the offense. The stat line for Tom Brady looks a lot better than it really was, and it was his overthrows that cost the team too many possessions. All the blame doesn’t go on  Brady, as the game plan was questionable and the offensive line had a sub-par game at best. In reality “who’s to blame,” doesn’t really matter because the fact is they lost. Those Super Bowl wins get further away every year, and Brady gets closer to retirement as well.

– That stat line for Brady reads 24 for 38 for 277 yards and two touchdowns, one passing and one rushing. Statistically speaking it was better than last week against the Colts. The stats clearly don’t tell the whole story as Brady didn’t look sharp. The overthrow of a wide open Julian Edelman is the obvious play that everyone will remember. Edelman had Mike Adams beat for what could have easily been a touchdown. Instead Brady overthrew him by a couple yards and momentum stayed with the Broncos. That play was a key moment in the game as it could have been a 7-3 score in favor of the Patriots, instead they went to halftime down 13-3.

– The worst part of this is that Brady is now going to deal with all the talk that he’s washed up. Of course the past three years of been disappointing because we’ve grown accustom to winning championships. The fact is Brady did more with less this year than anyone could have imagined. He dealt with the loss of both his starting tight ends and had a wide receiver corps of undersized between the numbers guys. It wasn’t until the last few weeks of the season and postseason where the running game really came on, and yesterday there was no running game to speak of. We all expect Brady to go out there and pull off the win every time out. Unfortunately it hasn’t been in the cards as of late.

– A lot of blame goes on the offensive line. A group that was really playing well down the stretch powering a dominant run game, they were out worked in the trenches all game. A lot of credit goes to Denver’s defensive line, as they played aggressively all game. The run game could never get started as most of the time LeGarrette Blount was being met at the line or in the backfield. I was hoping they would switch to Stevan Ridley exclusively, as the plays he ran were getting positive yards much more consistently. With the score the way it was the game plan went to pass first and the run game was abandoned. There was no rhythm to speak of and it was a very flat effort for the second straight year.

– For what it’s worth Julian Edelman did turn out a pretty strong performance with 10 catches for 89 yards and a touchdown. It is going to be an interesting offseason as far as Edelman is concerned. I believe he is someone they need to sign. It is obviously a similar situation to Wes Welker last season, however Edelman is younger and I don’t believe they can afford to reset the offense on Brady again. Edelman proved that even with the extra attention from defenses he could still produce. He is one of the better wide receivers in the league and it would be a mistake letting him go.

– Speaking of Wes Welker, he’s all the rage right now because of the pick hit on Aqib Talib that knocked Talib out of the game. I don’t think he intended to injure Talib, football’s a contact sport and injuries happen. I do think it was his intent to perform an illegal pick that should have been flagged. The fact is Michael Hoomanwanui was flagged for the same thing on a play with a whole lot less contact. Some people in the media are trying to compare this play to the play where Edelman leveled Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The difference on the two plays is Edelman blocked Rodgers-Cromartie after Austin Collie already had the ball. Welker leveled Talib before Demaryius Thomas caught the ball. It really is a shame that Talib went down on an illegal play.

– It definitely wasn’t the refs fault the Patriots lost. They played poorly in all aspects and were outplayed all game. The big problem I have with the officials is their inability to call a game evenly. It happens the other way around too, the Patriots get plenty of calls they shouldn’t get. That’s all part of the problem. Too often the refs let the game get away from them. It happened in the NFC Championship as well on the fumble that never was, where Navarro Bowman blew out his knee.

– For the past two AFC Championships Aqib Talib has finished them watching from the sideline. He is undoubtedly the best player in the secondary and clearly makes them better when he’s out there. As is shown by the fact Thomas went off once Talib was on the bench. The injuries are very concerning but I still think they need to keep him. Injuries can happen at any time as we know from this past season, a cornerback like Talib is worth the risk.

– The defense got picked apart at times, but at the end of the day they held a Peyton Manning led offense to only 26 points. Usually you’d expect Tom Brady and his offense to be able to score more than 26 points. The offense’s inability to sustain a drive led to the defense being on the field far more often than they should have. The biggest problem they had on defense was losing the battle in the trenches. The front seven generated no pressure on Manning. Even when he bobbled a snap for a few seconds, he still had the time to collect himself and deliver the pass for the first down. If you give Peyton that kind of time he’s going to find an open guy more often than not. Which is exactly what he did.

– Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins played well again. There was the one play where Manning went over Collins to find Julius Thomas on a big gain late. Other than that Collins was solid in the run game and continued to play decently against the pass. Hightower showed that he can be a replacement for Brandon Spikes, who more than likely won’t be back next season. Hightower is a similar player but a big plus is his improvements in the passing game. He was asked to do a lot in only his second season which is why the future is still bright for him. He gained a lot of experience, and a linebacker corps of Mayo, Hightower, and Collins looks pretty good for next year.

– It is no doubt frustrating that they haven’t been able to win another championship in the past few years. Still the fact that this team was one win away from a Super Bowl is nothing short of incredible. Everything this team went through this year would have made most teams crumble. Good teams went through far less and performed far worse, see Atlanta Falcons. You could see it in Belichick’s press conference that he felt awful that these guys couldn’t pull it off. This team was special and Belichick really enjoyed them as a team. Every week no matter what they were up against they fought tooth and nail and won more than a few games they had no business winning. If there is one positive to take out of this, it’s that they are just a few pieces away from winning another one.

– Rob Gronkowski is the one obvious guy that needs to be healthy in the postseason. He is so dynamic that he completely changes the way the offense plays. They should just keep him out until the playoffs. They’ll win the AFC East again and probably contend for a first round bye without him. Might as well just rest him and use him when he’s needed the most.

– Early offseason thoughts are to sign Edelman and Talib. If they can get Blount back for cheap money I’m all for that as well, but you can bet they won’t overpay for him. The draft will be interesting as there a couple obvious needs. A big play threat wide receiver is what everyone will be calling for. Aaron Dobson still has plenty of upside of being a down the field threat. He gained plenty of experience this year and a whole offseason to prepare will benefit the young player. I think they will go after another sizable wide receiver in the draft, but I don’t think it will be until the third round. Look for them to draft another tight end for obvious reasons. Ryan Wendell will be a free agent as well, and same as Blount if they can bring him back for a low price he’ll be back. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t come back, and they look to the draft for an offensive lineman as well.

– Another year without a Super Bowl. The bright side is you can bet they’ll be right back in the AFC Championship game again next year. Hopefully they can stay healthy next year, and for once we can see a healthy Gronk in the postseason. It was a wild ride watching this team this season and it reminded us all of the early years. Sadly it didn’t end the same way, but with this team there’s always a chance the next season. I want to take the time to thank anyone and everyone who’s taken the time to read these, I truly do appreciate it. Thanks to everyone at Sports of Boston for allowing me a forum to do this as it is enjoyable win or lose (much more enjoyable when they win). Just know that pitchers and catchers report in a few weeks.

About Steve Bastek - @sbastek12

Graduate of Bridgewater State University with a BA in Communication studies. I've been a Boston sports fan all my life and enjoy having the opportunity to write about it.

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