AFC Championship Game Review: Broncos End Patriots Season 26-16

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January 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) passes against the Denver Broncos in the first half of the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

FIRST QUARTER:

 

New England received to start the game in the uncomfortable warmth of the Colorado winter. On the first play, running back Shane Vereen was in the backfield before LeGarrette Blount was brought in on second down. The first drive of the game was interesting as New England went three-and-out but both passes thrown by quarterback Tom Brady were at Denver quarterback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, completing the first down pass for five yards. Considering Brady threw his way once in week twelve, it was surprising to see him go after him twice on their first drive.

 

Denver got the first break of the game as Peyton Manning somehow corralled a bad snap that he bobbled three or four times and then found Eric Decker on a crossing route. The Broncos went right back to the crossing route to Decker again as Alfonzo Dennard had gone off the field after getting popped by his own teammate. Denver was clearly determined to throw the ball on their first drive of the game as they only ran twice.

 

Both teams punted away their first drives, although Denver had a few conversions for first downs on the drive and crossed the 50 yard line. There was a good team effort by New England on second down to stop a wide left stretch play by the Broncos. The defensive end held the edge and Dont’a Hightower cleaned up Knowshon Moreno for a big loss in the backfield. Good coverage by rookie cornerback Logan Ryan on third-and-nine to force a punt.

 

New England oddly went deep on third-and-three to wide receiver/safety/special teams specialist Matthew Slater.  While the call was not surprising, the fact it was Slater on the deep route that seemed to be going to trickery rather than just converting a third down. Two drives and two three-and-outs for New England.

 

The Broncos made a big play with the screen game as Knowshon Moreno got a big gainer of 18 as the play-action and setting the screen up worked to perfection.  After two strong individual plays by rookie linebacker Jamie Collins set up a third-and-ten, Manning converted by finding Demaryius Thomas for 29 yards as safety Devin McCourty was caught out of position. The next play the Broncos found Eric Decker for 19 yards to set-up first-and-goal. After an incompletion and a stuffed run (Collins again), Manning misfired on third-and-goal and the Broncos had to settle for three points.

 

Quarterback Tom Brady finally made a play as he again went after Rodgers-Cromartie and got 24 yards to running back Shane Vereen lined-up wide outside as Rodgers-Cromartie went for the interception. Again New England went deep and just missed a wide open Julian Edelman going right to left deep downfield. A converted third down to Julian Edelman for 18 yards down the sideline brought the Patriots into Denver territory. A third-and-ten to Austin Collie was a yard short but went back on an offensive pass interference penalty on Michael Hoomanawanui.  Although that was bad for New England as it moved them well back, it was worse for Denver as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie needed help getting off the field.

 

The first quarter ended with the Broncos sniffing out the wide receiver screen to Edelman on third-and-twenty leaving New England at the Denver 39 yard line and a fourth-and-sixteen.

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