The Patriots reign of supremacy in the NFL is over. At least for this season. They weren't dominated, or beaten by a much more talented team. They were outplayed. They were outplayed because they made mistakes and their opponent capitalized. It was the oppositte of New England Patriots football.
The Pats first drive started off well enough. A 2 yard run by Dillon then a 9 yard catch by Branch for a 1st down. Evans caught a 3 yarded then Dillon was stopped for 1 yard. A false start penalty turned a 3rd and 6 into a 3rd and 11. That's a huge difference. Brady threw an incomplete and Miller punted the ball away.
The Patriots defense started playing well. They stopped Anderson for only 1 on first down. After a false start penalty, they allowed a 10 yard catch by Lelie, but stopped Anderson on 3rd and 4 and forced the punt.
Brady missed Fauria then hit Branch for 9 yards. Corey Dillon crossed midfield for 11 more yards on 3rd and 1. Then Mankins had a false start. Brady threw a screen to Dillon for 9 yards, then Faulk ran for 4. On 3rd and 2, Faulk got the handoff but only got 1. On 4th and 1, the Patriots lined up in a power formation but changed to a spread. Denver adjusted nicely, blitzed, and forced Brady to make an off target throw to Fauria. The play call was questionable and the execution was terrible. Had they gotten the 1st down, they might have gotten into field goal range and amy have even gotten into the end zone. Instead, they turned the ball over on downs at the Denver 36. They also could have pooched it and tried to pin Denver back.
Plummer started the drive with a pass to Lelie for 5 yards. He then scrambled for 6 more. Bell got his first carry for 3 more to midfield. Plummer threw an incomplete, and then hit Rod Smith for 5, but was shy of the 1st down. The Broncos punted and pinned the Patriots down on our own 4 yard line. The field position battle had gone froma stalemate to a decidely Denver advantage.
Brady missed Branch on 1st and 10 then Dillon got 5 on 2nd. Brady threw incomplete to Givens on 3rd and 5. The Patriots punted but Denver was offside so the Patriots punted again. It was a 5 yard penalty on 4th and 5, but it was a long 4th and 5 so the penalty didn't give us a first down. We re-punted and Denver got the ball back on their 37.
Plummer hit Leli for 15 yards to our 48. Anderson ran right for 4 more then was stuffed on 2nd and 6. The first quarter ended. Plummer hit Rod Smith for 15 yards on 3rd and 6. The Broncos were picking on Hobbs and they wouldn't stop for the remainder of the night. On 1st and 10 from our 29, Plummer hit Lelie for 3 yards. Plummer threw incomplete on 2nd and 7. On 3rd and 7, Plummer threw incomplete. The Broncos were penalized for holding. The Pats could have declined the penalty and make it 4th and 7 from the 26, forcing Denver to attempt a 43 yard field goal, or they could have accepted it, pusehd Denver back 10 yards (which would have made it a 53 yard attempt if Denver didn't convert, certainly not that far for Jason Elam in Colorado's thin air), and made it 3rd and 17. The Patriots would pay for their arrogance. Plummer hit Putzier for 24 yards to our 12. Bell ran for 8 more, then 1 more. On 3rd and 1, Plummer attempted a QB sneak but it was stuffed. The Broncos went for it on 4th down but didn't covert.
The Patriots got the ball back and didn't allow any points after the long 3rd down conversion, but they got the ball back on their 3. The drive was essentially an effort to get the ball away from their own goal line. Dillon ran right for 2 yards. He then went up the middle for 2 more. Mankins was called for a false start that erased 3 of those yards. It went from 3rd and 6 from the 7 to 3rd and 9 from the 4. That doesn't sound like much but it changes the play calling. Faulk got some room for Miller and ran 5 yards to the 9. Miller punted it to the Denver 44. The Broncos were definately winning the field position battle.
Plummer hit Anderson for 14 yards, then Smith for 11. Anderson was met at the line by Bruschi for a gain of 1. Plummer threw a pass towards Lelie but Samuel made a great play and intercepted it. The play was originally ruled an incomplete but the challenge reversed the play and made it an interception. The Patriots would start from the 11.
On 1st and 10, Brady nailed a wide open Andre Davis for 51 yards to the Denver 38. After an incomplete, Branch had a 13 yard reception. Faulk ran up the middle for 3 yards. That was followed by 2 incompletions and the Patriots were forced to kick a field goal. Vinatieri hit a line drive from 40 yards out. 3-0 Patriots.
The Broncos went 3 and out and punted from their 46. It was a good one as Tim Dwight fair caught it at the 6 yard line. Once again, Denver was in control of field position.
The Patriots still had some momentum. They had the lead and the defense had just forced a 3 and out. Brady hit Givens for 21 yards up to the 28 yard line. Dillon then had a nice 8 yard run on 1st and 10. On 2nd and 2 on the 36, Faulk got the carry. He got 3 yards for a 1st down but defensive end Courtney Brown forced his first fumble of the season and fell on it, giving the Broncos the ball at the New England 40. It changed the tide of the game in a big way.
The Broncos got incredibly lucky. On 1st down, they went for a homerun ball to Lelie in the end zone. Asante Samuel covered him perfectly, playing the ball while Lelie tried to push off. A VERY late flag was thrown by the ref on the opposite side of the field and pass interferance was called. The play looked clean and if anyone was to be penalized on the play, it should have been Lelie. The Broncos got a 1st and goal on the 1 and Mike Anderson punched it in with ease. 7-3 Broncos.
The pass interferance call was complete and total bullshit. However, the Broncos shouldn't have even had the ball on our 40. We should have had it. We also didn't put up much of a fight on the goal line. I know it must have been demoralizing to endure such a bad call, but that is no excuse.
There was 1:42 left i nthe 1st half and the Patriots got the ball back with time to put up another score. They didn't have the ball for long. Ellis Hobbs, who began returning kickoffs in the middle of the season, fumbled the ball. Sauerbrun, the punter and kickoff kicker for Denver, forced the fumble. Hobbs should be embarrassed by that. The Broncos fell on it at the 39 yard line.
Putzier caught a 5 yard pass, then Bell ran for 2. After an incomplete, Elam kicked a 50 yard field goal. 10-3 Broncos. In less than a minute of game time, the Patriots went from driving and up 3-0, to going into the locker room down by a touchdown.
The Broncos got the ball to begin the 2nd half and the Pats forced a 3 and out. We got the ball back on our 28 after a 13 yard return by Dwight.
Dillon ran for 3 on 1st down, then Brady hit Graham for 18 yards to the 49. After an incomplete, Brady hit Givens for 14. Faulk ran up the middle for 5 yards, then Dillon was stuffed for no gain. On 3rd and 5 from the Denver 32, Brady hit Branch for 10 yards. Faulk got 2 on 1st down, then Givens caught a 6 yard pass to make it 3rd and 3. Brady threw incomplete on 3rd and 2 from the 14. A running play would have been nice there, if you ask me. We might not have gotten it, but we may have gotten close enough for a QB sneak and we've all seen how good Brady is at those, this season. We were forced to attempt a field goal and Vinatieri hit a 32 yarder. 10-6 Broncos.
The Broncos moved the ball on their next drive, mostly on a 19 yard pass play to Rod Smith. On 3rd and 6, the Patriots got to Plummer and Vrabel sacked him for a loss of 7. Sauerbrun punted to our 8 but Dwight was able to return it to the 22.
Brady hit Troy Brown on 1st and 10 for 33 yards. Branch then got 26 more on the next play. The Patriots offense looked like it was finally clicking. They were picking up blitzes and finding empty spots in the coverage. Brady hit Givens for 9, then Dillon ran for 5 and the 1st down. It was 1st and goal from the 5 when Deion Branch had a false start penalty. The penalty was bigger then it appeared, if you ask me. Those last 10 yards are the hardest to get because the defense only has 10 yards of field and 10 yards of end zone to cover. On 1st and goal from the 10, Brady hit Branch for 5. He then missed Givens in the end zone. On 3rd and goal, Brady got greedy and threw to Troy Brown. Champ Bailey, one of the best CBs in the league, was covering Brown like a rug. He picked it off and it was off to the races. He ran 100 yards before foolishly slowing up. Ben Watson nailed him and the ball popped out of Bailey's hands and out of bounds. It looked like it went out of bounds in the end zone which would have been a touchback for New England. However, it was ruled a fumble at the 1 and there was inconclusive evidence to overturn that. There simply weren't any overhead cameras in the end zone that was 95 yards away from where the play started. It was a questionable call, but the Pats couldv'e avoided it by not throwing the interception to begin with. It would have been a nice boost for the Pats to get that touchback, though. It wouldv'e moved the ball, 75 yards back from where the play started, but it would have taken some wind out of the Broncos. Instead, Denver all too easily ran it in around Larry Izzo and the Patriots defense. 17-6 Broncos.
We weren't in terrible shape to start off the fourth quarter. We were down by two scores with 15:00 left to play. We had moved the ball on Denver's defense with the pass and we had Brady, Branch, Givens, Brown, Davis, and Watson as offensive weapons. We still could have won it.
Dillon got a 1st down on a 17 yard run to begin the 4th. Brady then missed Davis but hit Faulk twice for 14 and then 6. On 2nd and 4 from the Denver 25, Dillon was stuffed for no gain. Brady then threw incomplete to Brown. Vinatieri missed a 43 yard field goal and the Broncos got the ball back. It wasn't the end of the world, though. There was still 12:48 left on the clock and Denver hadn't been able to run the ball that well on us unless the ball was on the 1.
Plummer missed Smith to begin the drive, then he hit Leli for 17 yards to midfield. Anderson ran for 6, then 2. On 3rd and 2, Plummer was sacked by Seymour near the line of scrimmage. A holding penalty was declined. Sauerbrun punted the ball. Brown was back to return it for the first time that night. Brown has been the return man whenever the ball is expected to be punted behind the 20 yard line because Brown has better catching ability than Dwight. He called for a fair catch, but he muffed it. He wasn't able to recover it, but Denver was.
Anderson ran for 3, then 8. On 1st and goal from the 4, Plummer threw to Smith in the end zone. 24-6 Broncos.
The game wasn't totally over, though. Brady hit Branch for 73 yards to begin the enxt drive. He then hit Givens for 4 more yards. In 0:33, the Pats cut a little off the Denver lead. 24-13 Broncos.
The Pats defense had to stop Denver from getting a 1st down. It was a 2 score game and there was 8:00 on the clock still. However, Plummer and the Broncos offense caught the Pats off guard and Rod Smith caught a 42 yard pass. Anderson ran for 6, then 3, then 2 and a 2nd Bronco 1st down. Bell was stuffed, then Plummer ran for 3. Bell ran for 5 on 3rd down. Elam came in and kicked a 34 yard field goal to make it a two touchdown game. 27-13 Broncos. They not only made it a 2 touchdown lead, they also took 4:45 off the clock. Had they not been able to get a 1st down, they might have taken half of that off the clock.
With 3:14 on the clock, the Patriots needed a big play once more. They didn't get one. Brady threw an incomplete, then an interception as he threw into triple coverage. The game was over.
Anderson ran for 4, then 18. The 1st down was all they needed. Plummer kneeled three times and the clock ran out on the Patriots season.
Playoff football is like a game of chess. It is more physical than chess, but the concept is the same. Two teams of near equal strength position themselves, try to wear down their opponent, wait for a mistake, then capitalize on it. That is how we won those three Super Bowls. We didn't make too many mistakes in the previous 10 playoff victories. When we did, we made up for them with big plays. We also cpaitalized on our opponent's mistakes. We also put ourselves in position to capitalize on those mistakes. It was the exact oppositte in Denver last night.
This game, like the October meeting between these two teams, was a game of big plays. Here are the plays that lost us the game. Some are obvious, some aren't as obvious.
12:24 1st quarter - Neal false start penalty turns a 3rd and 6 into a 3rd and 11, Patriots fail to convert, are forced to punt.
5:30 1st quarter - Brady throws incomplete to Fauria on 4th and 1, Denver gets the ball and an edge in field position.
2:45 1st quarter - Sauerbrun pins the Patriots at the 4 yard line with a 41 yard punt, Patriots forced to dedicate their drive to moving the ball away from their goal line.
2:30 1st quarter - Dillon gets 5 yards on 2nd and 10. A gain of 6 would have eventually resulted in a 1st down after the offside penalty on the punt.
13:35 2nd quarter - Patriots accept a holding penalty on 3rd and long. Denver doesn't score on the drive, but the Pats get the ball back on their 3, and are forced to dedicate another drive to moving the ball a few yards forward.
13:26 2nd quarter - Patriots give up 24 yard pass to Putzier on 3rd and 17. The Broncos drive continues and is able to pin the Patriots in the shadows of their own goal posts.
9:28 2nd quarter - Mankins called for false start on 3rd and 6 from the 7. It pushed the ball back 3.5 yards and changes the play calling. The Pats don't convert the 3rd and 9 and the Broncos get the ball back on their 44.
4:01 and 3:57 2nd quarter - Brady throws incomplete to Watson and Branch in Denver territory, forced the Pats to kick a field goal.
2:48 2nd quarter - Sauerbrun has another great punt, pinning the Pats at their 6 yard line.
2:00 2nd quarter- Faulk fumbles on the 39 yard line. Broncos recover.
1:51 2nd quarter - BS pass interferance call, Broncos get 1st and goal from the 1.
1:45 2nd quarter - Not even a semblance of a goal line stand by the Patriots.
1:42 2nd quarter - Ellis Hobbs fumbles kickoff return, Broncos kick field goal.
2:12 3rd quarter - Deion Branch flagged for a false start on 1st and goal from the 5. 1st and goal from the 5 is a lot easier than 1st and goal from the 10.
1:03 3rd quarter - Brady throws a pass to Champ Bailey, Bailey returns it 100 yards to the 1. Watson knocks the ball loose and it appears to go out of bounds but there is inconclusive evidence to overturn it.
0:47 3rd quarter - Once again, no goal line stand, Anderson walks in pretty much untouched.
13:17 4th quarter - Dillon stopped for no gain on 2nd and 4 from the Denver 25.
12:57 4th quarter - Brady can't connect with Brown on 3rd and 4 from the 25.
12:53 4th quarter - Vinatieri misses 43 yard field goal to the right.
10:21 4th quarter - Troy Brown muffs a punt, Broncos recover.
10:10 4th quarter - Anderson gets 3, then 8 to make it 1st and goal. Pats defense again doesn't look good defending their end zone.
8:00 4th quarter - Plummer hits Smith for 42 yards, gets a 1st down, and gets close to field goal range.
5:46 4th quarter - On 3rd and 1 from the New England 26, Anderson gets his 3rd straight carry for a gain of 2.
3:08 4th quarter - Down by 2 TDs, Brady throws a desperation pass into triple coverage. John Lynch catches it, effectively ending the game.
Denver scored 24 of their 27 points off of turnovers. We were only able to force one turnover and we only got 3 out of it. Had Faulk not fumbled, we probably would have punted. Had Hobbs not fumbled, we might have gone down field and kicked a field goal. Had Brown not muffed a punt, we probably would have punted.
Our defense played well, except after turnovers. They didn't allow any long scoring drives until they got worn out at the end of the game. They sucked in the red zone but were forced to defend it because the offense and special turned the ball over or because the refs made a terrible call. The only time the defense and the defense alone allowed the Broncos to get into the red zone, they stopped Denver on a 4th and 1 and got the ball back.
Brady did not have that great of a game. He threw for 341 yards, but he also threw 2 INTs. He had 16 incompletions and a lot of those were inaccurate throws on his part. He was under an extreme amount of pressure from Denver's blitzers, but that also means he had open men to throw to. It wasn't as if Denver was being surprising with their blitzing, everyone knew they were going to blitz. They disguised WHO was blitzing, but only on one play did they disguise the blitz altogether.
We averaged 4 yards a carry, but that stat is about skewed. We only had 20 real carries as a team. 21 if you count the Brady kneel down at the end of the 1st half, which I don't count. Throw in Faulk's fumble and the running aspect of our offense just wasn't that good. Dillon was stuffed for less than 3 yards on 7 of his 13 carries. Last year, he would improve as the game went on. Last night, he didn't. We didn't have any power run game and it showed on a lot of 3rd and short situations, as well as that 4th and short. I would have liked to see Heath Evans get a carry here or there just to establish the threat of a power run. Faulk's day on the ground was worse then Dillon's. He averaged just over 3 yards a carry and his fumble was the first big momentum swing against us in the game.
The receivers had a good game. Branch had an impressive 153 yards and was a favorite target for Brady with 8 receptions. Givens had 54 and a TD. Davis only had that big one for 51 and Brown only caught one ball. In fact, Brady didn't do a great job of distributing the ball. Branch and Givens combined for 13 receptions and the rest of the team only had 7. Ben Watson didn't catch a single pass.
Our special teams were not that good. We had good coverage teams, but our return team was lacking. Hobbs and Brown each put the ball on the ground in special teams play. Miller was forced to punt out of the end zone a few times but he never got off any big kicks that went 60 or so yards in the mountain air. Sauerbrun was able to pin us back a few times and it essentially killed drives before they even started. Vinatieri also missed a field goal. We didn't have any big plays on special teams which had been a trademark of ours over the past few seasons. All year, we didn't have too many big plays like blocks or TD returns or turnovers forced.
Our defense played well enough for us to win the game. They stopped the Denver running game and held the Broncos to 96 on the ground. They got some pressure on Plummer and sacked him twice. They also picked him off. They couldn't shut down Rod Smith, though. He had 6 grabs for 96 yards and a touchdown.
A telling stat is where we started our drives and where Denver started them. In the 1st quarter, we started at our 25, our 35, and our 4. Denver started at their 26, 36, and 37. In the 2nd quarter, we started at our 3, our 11, our 7, and our 11. Denver started at their 44, their 38, our 40, and our 39. In the 3rd quarter, we started at our 28, 22 and 29. Denver started at their 22, 20, and our 1. In the 4th, we started at the 23 and the 11. Denver started at their 33, our 15, their 23, and their 39. On average for the game, we started at our 17. Denver had an average starting position on their 45 yard line.
Offensively, we outgained Denver by 134 yards. But they had a head start of 28 yards on average for each posession. We also had 82 yards in penalties (39 of which came from that BS interferance call). We never allowed a sack, we had more yards per carry, and more yards per throw. We lost because we screwed up in big plays. It is that simple. Denver won because they capitalized on big plays.
So, the run is over. For now. This team isn't looking to break up, but they might lose yet another coordinator in Eric Mangini. The Jets are looking at him to be their new head coach. The team has some holes to fill, but not many. I think we need a shutdown cornerback. Having a guy like Ty Law allowed us to shut down receivers like Marvin Harrison. We could have used a guy like Law to help against Rod Smith. We also need an inside linebacker. We need a blocking and power fullback. We might have that in Evans, but Bellichick doesn't seem to think so and he would know better than I.
Next season, our schedule looks like this: We'll play Houston, Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, and Denver in Foxborough. We'll play Jacksonville, Tennessee, Green Bay, Minnesota, and Cincinatti on the road. The Jets will be bad but probably not as bad as this year. The Bills will be just as bad. The Dolphins will be better. We should go 5-1 within the division again, splitting with Miami.We should win at least 5 of our non-divisional games. We do have some tough ones, though. Indy, Chicago, Jacksonville, Denver, and Cincinatti will all be tough games, but I think we can win 3 of those.
On the bright side of all of this, won't it be nice not to have the 32nd pick in the draft?