It has been over 24 hours since the New England Patriots made their dramatic 24 point comeback against Peyton Manning’s Broncos, but it still feels like it just happened a few minutes ago. It was easily the best game of this 2013 season, and it could possibly go down as one of the best of the past decade. Following the conclusion of the contest, I gave four quick thoughts on what I took away from the game. But a game of this magnitude deserves more than one measly article, so here are a few more takeaways from Sunday night’s comeback.
Nov 24, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) tackles Patriots running back Stevan Ridley (22) in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
1. What To Do At The Running Back Position?
The Patriots are loaded with talent at running back, as they have four really good backs that they can trot out on any given play. However two of those backs, Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount, fumbled the ball away early in this win, which led to them not seeing action for the rest of the contest. Brandon Bolden filled in just fine for them, but the talent difference between Bolden and Ridley is obvious. Ridley ran for over 1,200 yards last season, and he is easily the most talented runner on this team. But Belichick and company can’t afford to have him fumble every single game, which leaves him in a difficult position. I personally think he is worth the risk, as his overall skill-set is very impressive. He has enough power to bowl over most linebackers, his quickness and speed are extremely underrated, and he obtains what is probably the most important trait for a good running back to have, which is excellent vision. All of these things make him a must start running back, but the fumbling has to stop, which is why he may see his snaps get decreased as we move towards the playoffs.
Shane Vereen is another talented player coming out of the backfield, but most of his damage is done through the air, and on third downs. Vereen is one of the most explosive players in the NFL, but I don’t think he is best suited to play as an every-down back. It will be interesting to see what Belichick does with this group going forward, as this decision could determine if New England is still playing in February.
Nov 24, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) and New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib (31) jump for a pass during fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
2. Secondary Shut Down High-Octane Broncos Attack
Coming into this game, the Denver offense was ranked first in the NFL in passing yards. No team seemed capable of slowing them down, and nobody expected the banged up Patriots secondary to do so. But as they have done so often over the last decade, the Pats came up with a nice surprise for us, holding the Broncos to 132 total passing yards. That number is a little skewed, as the Broncos ran for 280 yards in the contest, but never the less, holding a Peyton Manning led offense to less than 150 passing yards is impressive. Aqib Talib locked up Demaryius Thomas for most of the game, Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan both did extremely well on Wes Welker and Eric Decker, while the two safeties, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, pretty much kept everybody else on lock. There weren’t many wide open guys for Manning to throw to, and Chandler Jones certainly didn’t help him, as he was in on Peyton all night long. What makes this performance even more impressive, was they did it without Alfonzo Dennard for most of the game, as well as starting safety Steve Gregory (who didn’t play at all). Once these two guys return to the field 100% healthy, this secondary may be able to finally play to its full potential, which will be a scary sight for other AFC squads.
Nov 24, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) spikes the football after a touchdown during the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
3. Multiple Weapons Emerging On Offense
After the Patriots lost Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead, Brandon Lloyd, and Rob Gronkowski (for a time), it seemed like the 2013 Patriots offense was destined to have a tough year. And for the first part of the season, this appeared to be happening. Things were a mess, and frustration began to emerge in Foxboro. But after three solid offensive performances, this offense looks like the offense of old. There are a lot of different weapons for Brady to throw to, and because all of them have the ability to beat man coverage, New England is able to move the ball down the field at will. Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Aaron Dobson all have shown that they can produce on any given week, making this offense really dangerous. Defenses can’t simply shut down one guy, and expect to slow this unit anymore. Brady has a lot of toys to play with, and I expect this group to continue their sudden improvements, as the playoffs inch closer.
Nov 24, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno (27) runs against New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty (32), defensive tackle Chris Jones (94), and linebacker Brandon Spikes (55) during second quarter at Gillette Stadium Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
4. Run Defense Must Improve
I detailed this yesterday, so I went ramble on for too long, but even though they were in the nickel package for most of the game, this group was gashed on the ground far too often by a Denver team that hadn’t run the ball particularly well coming into the game. Most of the blame has to fall on the injury gods, as they have not been very kind to the Patriots this season. Their top two defensive tackles are gone for the season, as well as starting linebacker Jerod Mayo. This has left two rookies to fight on the inside, and while Chris Jones and Joe Vellano have played very hard this season, they just lack the talent to stop the run in the middle. Isaac Sopoaga didn’t play very much in this game, which may indicate that he is dealing with some unknown injury, but this entire front six (Pats played almost all nickel in this game, which leaves only six guys up front) played pretty bad on Sunday, and adjustments must be made.
May 3, 2013; Foxboro, MA USA; New England Patriots rookie Jamie Collins walks onto the field to meet with the media during rookie minicamp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
5. Unsung Performers
The big stars will get most of the attention for this win over Denver (and deservedly so), but there are two guys that I think deserve a lot of praise for their play in this win.
Jamie Collins and Will Svitek both played huge roles in the game for New England, and if it weren’t for their efforts, the outcome of this game may not have come out in the Patriots favor. Collins was the Pats second round pick in this past years draft, being highly touted as an explosive, versatile athlete. He showed off both of these traits on Sunday, playing as a coverage linebacker, as well as rushing the passer a few times. He kept pace with the Broncos tight ends all game long, while also coming up with a huge pass break-up on Wes Welker late in the game. I really hope that Belichick decides to play this kid more often going forward, because I guarantee that he will make some impact plays in the near future.
Will Svitek was forced into the game early in the first quarter, after starting right tackle (who was originally a backup) Marcus Cannon went down with an ankle injury. Svitek had only been used in emergency situations in the past, so we really did not know how he would react to playing in a game like this. But he responded very well, holding his own against the Denver defensive line throughout the night. If Cannon is out for an extended amount of time, Svitek showed that he is more than capable to hold down the right side, until Cannon is able to return.