By Traci McCartney // @traciamc
Denver has always been a daunting place to play a football game unless, of course, you’re the home team. But the Broncos don’t look like the championship caliber team they normally are. There have been lots of changes since Peyton Manning retired and although the defense is pretty much intact, the offense is lacking, especially at the quarterback position.
Still, coming into this game the Broncos were 3-1 at home. Tom Brady’s Patriots have been 3-4 in Denver in the regular season, and an abysmal 0-3 in the playoffs, so this game wasn’t a sure thing for the 6-2 Patriots coming off of their bye week. But the Patriots played well in all three phases of the game and completely dominated the Broncos. At the end of the 4th quarter, Tom Brady was taken out and recently acquired Brian Hoyer subbed in. As the Broncos’ fans filed out of Sports Authority Field, chants of “Brady! Brady! Brady!” could be heard in the celebratory voices of the remaining Patriots’ fans.
With this victory, Tom Brady became the winningest road quarterback with 86 career road wins. He threw for 266 yds with a 74% completion percentage. But as he will always remind anyone who asks, it’s not about him, it’s about the team.
It should be noted that the offensive line really did their job, allowing for the offense to be successful. LaAdrian Waddle was in for right tackle Marcus Cannon and did a good job containing Von Miller. The line, tight ends and fullback James Develin made solid contributions blocking and Brady was sacked only once on the night (a missed block by running back James White) for a 6-yard loss.
With Chris Hogan out, that left Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett at wide receiver, who contributed 126 yds of offense. With the signing and activation of Martellus Bennett from Green Bay, the Patriots had 4 tight ends active, and they used all of them.
Rob Gronkowski was stellar in blocking and receiving, tied with Brandin Cooks for most receiving yards in the game at 74. In the 1st quarter, Gronk had an Edelman-esque catch at the goal line that was ruled incomplete. On review of the play, it looked like he had gotten his hands under it and controlled it as he rolled over, and Gronk himself said he was 100% sure he caught it.
He was so confident when the coach asked him if he was sure, he said he was, leading to Belichick asking for the call to be reviewed. There wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call (Belichick mentioned that his idea of investing in goal-line cameras might help calls like these), so the ruling on the field stayed as an incomplete pass. Martellus Bennett had 3 receptions for 38 yards and Dwayne Allen caught his first pass as a Patriot for a touchdown.
With Martellus Bennett back, Mike Gillislee was a healthy scratch Sunday night, but the remaining running backs made their marks. James Develin only had 2 carries for 7 yards, but had 3 receptions for 11 yards, one of which was a touchdown. Rex Burkhead had 10 carries for 36 yds but also had 1 receiving touchdown. Dion Lewis was the leading rusher, rushing for 55 yards, but both his and Burkhead’s special teams play were integral to the win.
When the Patriots went 3 and out on the first possession of the game, Denver muffed the punt, and Jacob Hollister, rookie tight end out of Wyoming, was there to recover the fumble. Two passes of 10 and 14 yds to Rex Burkhead put the Patriots in the end zone and up 7-0.
The Broncos managed to score a field goal on the next possession, but on the kickoff, Dion Lewis took the ball from 3 yds deep in the end zone and returned it all the way back for a touchdown. In the second quarter Rex Burkhead blocked a Denver punt to give the Patriots a short field from the Denver 30 yd line.
This led to a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, putting the Patriots up 20-6. Gostkowski had a perfect kicking game, making both field goal attempts and all 5 PATs. Kickoff and punt coverage was excellent, containing the Broncos, holding them to a return long of 28 yds.
The defense allowed only 16 points. They didn’t have any sacks, but they kept Brock Osweiler on the run all game. He completed 18 of 33 passes for 221 yards, but a couple of the long receptions were Osweiler getting rid of the ball and Emmanuel Sanders being in the right place at the right time. Malcolm Butler seemed to struggle a little covering Sanders who finished the day with 6 receptions for 137 yds.
Stephon Gilmore, in his first week back, did well covering Demaryius Thomas, holding him to 44 yds on 5 receptions, allowing one touchdown – the only touchdown scored by the Broncos. Safety Patrick Chung intercepted Osweiler in the fourth quarter for the only interception thrown by either quarterback.
Next week the Patriots take on the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City. #VamosAMexico
Talk Patriots with Traci on Twitter // @traciamc
Follow us on Instagram @ourturffootball