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

New England Patriots: Five Takeaways From 26-16 Season Ending Loss

January 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen (34) runs the ball ahead of Denver Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (45) in the first half of the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

When you’re a fan of the Patriots, not ending the season with a Super Bowl victory is a disappointment, regardless of what happened throughout the year. For other teams, making it to the AFC Championship game would be constitute a good year, but in Foxboro, the 2013-14 season was a failure.

The Broncos outplayed the Pats in every facet of the game, including quarterback, where Peyton Manning came up big, out-dueling Tom Brady. Denver totaled 507 yards of offense, while holding New England to only 320. Aqib Talib going down in the second quarter was a huge loss for the Pats, as it forced Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan into extended playing time, where they struggled against Denver’s receivers.

Here are five takeaways from the loss.

1. Secondary Exposed Without Talib

Peyton Manning had a phenomenal game, completing 32 of 43 passes, for 400 yards and two touchdowns. Losing Aqib Talib really hurt New England, as they just weren’t able to stop Denver after he went down. I believe that Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan are solid football players, but they stunk up the joint today, and it was a big reason why the Broncos are headed to the Super Bowl. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker combined to catch 12 balls for 207 yards, including one Thomas touchdown. Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory didn’t have a horrible game, but they didn’t make any big plays, which the Pats desperately needed as the game progressed.

2. Pass Rush Does Nothing

A big key coming into this game for the Pats defense, was getting pressure on Peyton Manning. If they were able to disrupt his rhythm in the pocket, they had a shot at slowing down his offense. Zero sacks, and zero quarterback hits doesn’t really spell out a good game for the pass rush, as their inability to get to Manning was a big factor in not being able to stop Denver. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich were nowhere to be found in the passing game, which honestly surprised me. I thought that they would show up big today, mainly because New England needed them to play well. But I couldn’t have been more wrong, as they turned in possibly their worst performance of the year.

3. Third Down Defense

7-13 on third downs for Denver. That’s all I’m going to say.

4. Running Game Goes Quiet

After a solid month of raving over the Pats new-found running game, it went dormant today in Denver. New England ran the ball a mere 16 times, going for only 64 yards. LeGarrette Blount had five carries for six yards, while Shane Vereen led the team, as he carried the ball a whopping four times, going 34 yards. Part of what happened definitely has to do with how Denver’s defensive front played, but I was surprised at how quickly the Pats went away from the ground game. Not having the threat of running the ball really hurt them later, something that was eerily similar of past playoff failures.

5. 2013 Team Was Special

I know that most people won’t be able to see it right now, but this New England team was special. They overcame a ridiculous amount of injuries, pulled off comeback after comeback, and did it all with a group that had the talent of an 8-8 team. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick put together two of the best campaign’s of their respective careers, and I hope they receive the praise that they deserve throughout this offseason. Getting to the AFC Championship just showed how resilient this group was, and it was fun watching them all year long. If this team had the talent to equal their heart, they would be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in two weeks.

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Tags: Aqib Talib New England Patriots Peyton Manning Tom Brady

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