In one of the most anticipated games this week, we saw a rematch of the 2016 AFC Championship game between the Patriots and Broncos. New England traveled to Denver to face off against Trevor Siemian and the Broncos. The Broncos came into this game with an 8-5 record and barely holding on in the AFC wild card race while the Patriots came in as the AFC’s number one seed at 11-2 and were looking to lock up the AFC East once again for the eighth consecutive season. Tom Brady and the Patriots came in and did exactly that as they made quick work of the Broncos, including shutting them out for the lack three quarters of the game for a final score of 16-3.
Brady came into this game as the front-runner for MVP by some (if not most) major media outlets. Going up against the best pass defense in the league, Brady struggled. He would start off the game going 0-6 on passing attempts before ending the game with 16 completions on 32 attempts for 188 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions overall. Brady wasn’t as heavily relied on in this game and found trouble when he was against the extremely tough Broncos secondary including former Patriot and star cornerback Aqib Talib. Brady would make throws when needed and helped keep the offense going but he was clearly limited by this defense. The Broncos caused him to make some bad throws and simply not being able to complete tosses to his play-makers due to their terrific pass coverage.
Besides Julian Edelman (12 targets, six receptions, 75 yards receiving), only Martellus Bennett had more than 25 yards receiving (34) for the Patriots. The Patriots playmakers were held in check today because of the Broncos lock-down pass defense as James White would finish with only three receptions for 24 yards on eight targets. Wide receivers Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell finished with a combined 32 yards on two receptions while Dion Lewis and James Develin would finish 22 yards on three receptions. Luckily for New England, they had their run game to rely on today.
The run attack by the Patriots was more successful, finishing with 136 yards and a touchdown on 39 total carries (3.5 yards per carry). Lewis led the way for the team, finishing with 95 yards on 18 carries for a great 5.3 yards per attempt average. It set a new career high for Lewis in rushing attempts after he had 15 in his game as a Patriot back in 2015. He didn’t look at all like a player who was only a few games into his season following two knee surgeries as he was hard to tackle and very shifty at the line of scrimmage. LeGarrette Blount would take a back-seat to Lewis, who finished 31 yards on 17 attempts (1.8 yards per carry) and a touchdown.
It was still a great game for Blount as he extended his NFL lead with 15 rushing touchdowns this season and broke Curtis Martin’s previous record of 14 rushing touchdowns in a single season. He also surpassed 5,000 career rushing yards in what proved to be a momentous game for him. White saw a little bit of action as well, finishing with 11 yards on three carries while Brady also had one rush for negative one yards. The Patriots did have three fumbles (two from Brady, one from Lewis) but recovered all three of them in another turnover-free game for New England. Overall, it wasn’t one of New England’s best offensive performances of the season but considering they were facing one of the best defenses in the entire NFL in Denver, it was a solid performance.
The Patriots had a terrific day overall on defense, holding the Broncos to only three points and scoreless over the last 51 minutes and 47 seconds of the game after a mid-first quarter field goal conversion. Outside of the first few series of the game, the Patriots held the Broncos in check for the rest of the game. Denver would finish with 303 yards of net total offense. Against a weaker offensive line, the Patriots were able to get four sacks on Siemian with Trey Flowers having two of them and Jabaal Sheard and Malcom Brown both finishing with one apiece. The Patriots also didn’t run as many heavy pass rush sets in this game as we had seen in the past few as they played more conservative with more players dropping back in coverage.
It was good day in pass coverage for the Patriots as they locked down the Broncos passing attack for most of the game. They would finish with an impressive five pass break-ups (Logan Ryan, Devin McCourty, Alan Branch, Patrick Chung and Eric Rowe all finished with one each) and kept the Broncos play-makers in check after some shaky plays in the first quarter of the game. They only allowed four plays of more than 20 yards all day as New England made sure to let very few big plays get by them. While the Broncos offense isn’t known for being one of the top in the league, it had picked up in the passing portion over the past few games coming into today.
Trevor Siemian came out slinging on offense, making some nice deep throws and showing decisiveness especially on third downs. But he would plateau after Logan Ryan would intercept him inside the Patriots red-zone towards the end of the first quarter. Siemian would finish the day with 282 yards on 25 of 40 passing for one interception and no touchdowns. He did do a good job of spreading the ball around though as nine different players had a reception today, including seven receptions and 91 yards on 11 targets from Demaryius Thomas. The Broncos did have three other players with at least 35 yards receiving in Emmanuel Sanders (48, three receptions), Jeff Heuerman (40, two receptions) and A.J. Derby (35 yards, four receptions).
Siemian also had the running backs involved in the passing game with Justin Forsett (four receptions, 16 yards) and Devontae Booker (two receptions, 16 yards) combining for nine targets. Jordan Taylor, Jordan Norwood and Virgil Green would round out the rest of the receiving box score with 36 yards on three receptions combined. The passing offense looked to be progressing well at the beginning of the game but it quickly stalled out and was barely able to string plays together in the second half.
The running game of Denver’s wasn’t much better as they finished with 58 yards on 17 carries (3.4 yards per attempt) and no touchdowns. Forsett led the way with 37 yards on 10 carries while Booker struggled with 17 yards on six carries. Forsett was doing well early on but like the rest of the Broncos offense, it fell off the map after the first quarter. Booker took a back-seat role to Forsett, who is on his third team this season. Booker would also finish with only a long of five yards today as he continues to fall on hard times after C.J. Anderson’s season-ending knee injury. All in all, this Broncos offense had a rough go today against the steady Patriots defense and are now in desperation mode just to ensure a wild card spot after winning last season’s Super Bowl.
Denver’s defense against the pass performed as advertised, holding Brady to only 188 yards passing and a 50% completion percentage. They had only two sacks but had five quarterback hits and three tackles for a loss. They would also finish with three pass deflections and forced two fumbles as well (Brady had two but one was on a botched snap). Unfortunately for them, their offense couldn’t do their part in scoring points despite their defense holding the Patriots to only 16 points. That is actually New England’s second lowest point total of the season outside of week four’s shut-out loss to the Bills.
On special teams, the Patriots did well after having a disaster last week with two bad fumbles. Jonathan Jones would recover one of the two Broncos fumbles on special teams while they forced Norwood to fumble another one. Stephen Gostkowski would also convert all three of his field goal attempts, now hitting his last 16 of 17 tries. Brandon McManus was forced to be a bystander after a first quarter field goal conversion as he did not get another field goal attempt nor a PAT attempt.
To sum up this game, it wasn’t necessarily a pretty one on either side, but the Patriots would escape with a nice win on the road against the reigning Super Bowl champions. They have clinched their eighth straight division title and have clinched a first round bye for the playoffs. They are now in the driver’s seat for the AFC and are actually undefeated on the road this season (7-0) with only one game left away from Gillette (week 17 against the Dolphins). The Patriots continue to look impressive on offense despite some injuries and their defense continues to step up after some early seasons struggles. New England will look to continue their dominant ways on Saturday at home against the slumping New York Jets.