By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots put a stamp on their victory over the Denver Broncos 45-10 on Saturday night in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. By blowing out Denver and having this one effectively over by halftime, the Patriots ruined all the headlines that were already written by the negative media hoping for a Broncos win or even a close loss.
Oh they’ll still be beating that negative drum as the 3-14, or was it the 14-3 Patriots rolled over the team and Tim Tebow, who had shredded the Pittsburgh Steelers defense that was #1 in the NFL entering Wildcard Weekend. We’ll hear about how “Tebow isn’t this” or “Denver is that”….trash. You play the teams on your schedule and this is the playoffs. No caveats this week.
So with that, here are Three Things to take away from the win:
It was Brady Time on Saturday:
Although much was made of Tebow all week, to the point of where you couldn’t turn on any of the sports shows without mention of Tebow every five seconds, and the press were all in on this story and ran with it, neglecting one slightly important fact. The QB on the other side of the field was pretty good in his own right. Winner of three Super Bowls, 2 NFL MVP awards and a proud, competitive S.O.B. every time he steps on the football field whether it be practice, regular season game or the playoffs.
With press credentials issued for The New Yorker, People Magazine, GQ and the Time it’s a safe bet to say they were in Foxboro to do a story on Brandon Spikes or Brian Waters. But then again, I always read People for my football background information before writing a story. Think they may have went away disappointed.
Tom Brady is a lock for the Hall of Fame and perhaps one of the top five QBs ever to play the game. But this week, he was a total non-entity. One wondered if it was Matt Cassel was starting again for New England. Think it bothered Brady? You bet it did. And it showed, Brady was on a mission Saturday night and the Broncos were left wondering what happened. Brady threw for 243 yards and 5 TDs….in the first half.
Brady ended up going 26-34 for 363 yards and tied the NFL record with 6 TDs passing and the offense could have gotten even more. Brady came out sharp and all the talk of the slow starts was history as the Patriots took only 5 plays and less than 2 minutes to go down and take a 7-0 lead. The writing was on the wall for Denver’s defense and it would get worse as the game went on. As I wrote in a pre-game article, it was Brady’s Time.
Patriots Defense Played its Best Game of the Season:
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the win was the play of the Patriots defense. Yes, THAT 31st ranked defense. The secondary’s coverage was tight all night, even when Tebow had the time to throw, there was no one open to throw to. The Patriots game plan was to stuff the run to the outside and come at the Broncos in waves and they did that superbly. Rob Ninkovich, who had a nightmarish first quarter in Denver just a few weeks ago, was immense, perhaps playing his best game of the year.
Having a healthy Brandon Spikes and Pat Chung was the big story of this game and the results speak for themselves. Both played extremely well and the defense overall played by far, its finest game of the season. Chung was flying all over the field and provided solid coverage (did I just say that about the Patriots secondary?)
Spikes played perhaps his finest game in a Patriots uniform, being an imposing physical presence in the middle and his instinctive play really set the tone all game, he too was all over the field and having both he and Chung back can’t be discounted.
Tebow completed only 9 of 26 for 136 yards, a far cry from his big game the week before. But it wasn’t just a numbers crunch; it was the way the defense played that was so impressive. Denver had 14 plays on the night go for negative yardage.
The Patriots game plan changed the way the defended Denver’s option, in Denver the first man went after Tebow. In New England, the first man took the outside threat, basically forcing Tebow back to the inside and the Patriots flow to the ball was outstanding. As well as the technique of keeping their shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and not getting turned. This just shows some of the outstanding coaching by Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia and the rest of the Patriots defensive staff.
With all due respect to Dick LeBeau and the Pittsburgh staff, this is how you game plan to stop Denver’s offense. With the 31st ranked defense to boot. Now they’ll face a much tougher test next week, but right now the Patriots are going to the AFC Championship Game …at home. And the defense stepped up in a huge way, regardless of who the opponent was.
Patriots Tight Ends versatility is the key:
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez had superb regular seasons lining up all over the field and basically providing matchup nightmares for whomever they played. Against Denver they showed another facet of their versatility. Lining up inside, outside, in the slot and even in the backfield.
Hernandez lined up as a running back and had some outstanding runs including a nice 43 yard run to the left on the Patriots first possession, where Denver had no idea what to expect. He added a 17 yard touchdown reception where he put a beautiful move on the safety around the five yard line before hitting the end zone. Hernandez had five rushes for 61 yards and had four receptions for 55 more.
Gronkowski had another stellar night. His first touchdown was a fantastic display of concentration as Brady threw the ball to the deep left corner of the end zone. Gronkowski seemed to be overthrown but got a hand on the ball and as he went to the ground and still was able to pull the ball in. The Gronk finished with 10 receptions for 145 yards and three touchdowns and nearly had a fourth when Brady lofted a nice touch pass down the sideline for 28 yards to the Denver four yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter.
With the outstanding games by Hernandez, Gronkowski and earlier in the day with Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham, this has been a banner year for tight end play. And it shows the versatility that these players possess. And it is going to be very hard to stop them as they have the physicality, athleticism and speed to thrive in the playoffs.
While speaking about the offense, a lot of credit has to go to Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien. With all the talk of him being distracted by his new job as the Head Coach of Penn St., he put together an excellent game plan on attacking the Denver defense. And 45 points, and 509 yards of offense is testimony of that.
If people are going to stop the Patriots offense either next week or beyond, it’s going to have to be by pressuring Brady, the Patriots offense has too many weapons at its disposal to double up one guy or even two because they will come at you in so many different directions.
Tune in Monday for Patriots 4th & 2, our weekly blog talk radio podcast by writers from PatsFans.com. Hosted by Russ Goldman and staffed with Damien Jarrett, Derek Havens and I, we bring a great conversation of Patriots football along always with some of the very best writers in New England who cover the Patriots as our guests.
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