The New England Patriots pulled off one of the most improbable comebacks of all time this past week, rallying from a 24 point halftime deficit, to beat the Peyton Manning led Broncos in overtime. The first half was a brutal one, and there wasn’t much that went right for this group. However they flipped a switch after halftime, and finished the game in a dominating fashion.
Here are the grades.
Passing Offense: B
This unit produced 324 passing yards in this game, most of them coming in the second half. With all of his weapons finally healthy, Tom Brady has finally been able to rip up defenses like he used to, which he did to a fine effect on Sunday. Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Shane Vereen, and Kenbrell Thompkins combined to catch 30 passes, which went for 316 yards, and all three of Brady’s touchdowns. Danny Amendola was rather quiet (three catches, 17 yards), but he is capable of getting open against man coverage, and his time for a big game will come once again. The Patriots made the Broncos pay for their man coverage, as all of their top receivers have the ability to win one on one matchups, as evidenced by their 300+ yard outing. Brady was sharp in the second half, and he further strengthened his case for the ‘best of all time’ title, with this comeback win.
The offense line struggled a bit in this one, especially left tackle Nate Solder. Solder was beaten all night long by Von Miller, who simply had a “Von Miller” type of game. Solder is a good tackle, and this one game shouldn’t derail what has been shaping up to be a phenomenal 2013 campaign. The Pats gave up three sacks on the night, two coming from Miller, and one coming from defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. This occurred on a play where New England ran some play-action, and right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Will Svitek simply let Vickerson go. Obviously this was not supposed to happen, but mental mistakes like this do happen, but hopefully the Patriots clean them up, as we move towards the playoffs.
Rushing Offense: B-
The Patriots had a decent night on the ground, going for 116 yards on 31 carries. But what killed them was two early fumbles by Stevan Ridley, and LeGarrette Blount. This forced both of them out of the game, giving most of the running back duties to Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden. They both played well, getting solid yardage, and most importantly, hanging onto the football. The offensive line didn’t provide giant holes for them to run through all night, but their performance wasn’t awful. Denver’s defensive front is one of the top fronts in all of football, which in my opinion, makes this 116 yard performance look pretty good for New England.
Passing Defense: A
Holding Peyton Manning to under 150 yards passing is a great accomplishment, regardless of how many yards Denver ran for. The Pats mixed their coverages up, switching from man to zone all night, which made it hard for the Broncos to effectively move the ball through the air. Aqib Talib did a fine job on Demaryius Thomas, matching him blow for blow as the game progressed. Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington held Wes Welker to four catches all game long, making this passing attack seem a “normal”. Devin McCourty continued his great play this season, keeping everything in front of him, and his partner Duron Harmon, had a decent game as he continues to play in place of the injured Steve Gregory. A major weak point of this unit has been the linebackers in coverage, but the Patriots made some adjustments on Sunday, going with Dane Fletcher and Jamie Collins as the two nickel linebackers for a good portion of the game. Both of them are much better in coverage than Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower, highlighted by their exceptional athleticism (particularly Collins), and knowledge of who to cover when New England goes to a zone defense. I hope that Bill Belichick and company continue to use these two guys more often in the future, especially when playoff football rolls around.
The pass rush was once again spotty, with the only consistent bright spot coming from defensive end Chandler Jones. Jones was in on Manning all game long, and while he only got one sack (10.5 on the season), he definitely made a big impact on the Denver passing attack, which we will need to continue to see him do, as he develops as a pass rusher.
Injury Note: Alfonzo Dennard played most of the first half, before he landed awkwardly in the end zone late in the second quarter, and he never returned.
Run Defense: D
This game was probably the worst I have seen the defensive front of the Patriots play all season long. Granted, they were in the nickel for the majority of the game, but that is no excuse for giving up 280 rushing yards (5.8 yards a carry). Everybody is at fault here, but I am going to heap most of the blame on the two rookies, Chris Jones, and Joe Vellano. Now I really like both of these players. They have played hard all year, and having them come onto the field as backups would be a perfect situation for them, and the team. But because of injuries, they have been forced into starting action, and their simple lack of talent has cost New England. Neither of them got off of their blocks very well against Denver, and time after time the Broncos offensive line moved them back a good three or four yards after the snap, opening up huge running lanes for the Denver backs. I know Vellano and Jones are doing all they can, but Belichick will have to come up with something to slow down opposing rushing attacks when the Pats go to the nickel, otherwise we may see another early exit in the playoffs.