Week 19 Game Recap: New England Patriots 13, Denver Broncos 27
What you need to know
For the first time in quite some time, QB Tom Brady didnít carry his team in a big game. He didnít have much of a chance to make plays because his offensive line did a terrible job of protecting him. Still, the blame for some of the passes he made has to lie with the QB. Brady entered the game with a career playoff record of 10-0.
RB Corey Dillon, who some have speculated has played his last game in New England, closed out his disappointing season with a whimper. Dillon was pretty much a non-factor in the offensive game plan and saw just five more total touches than backup Kevin Faulk.
The WRs were the only bright spot for the Patriots. Deion Branch continued his playoff excellence, with another 153 yards added to his total. And David Givens scored a touchdown for the seventh consecutive postseason game, just one off the all-time record held by John Stallworth of the Steelers.
TE Ben Watson didnít make any catches, but it was his hustle play that will stand out amongst all of the Patriotsí highlights. Watson chased down CB Champ Bailey, from behind during an interception return. Watson forced a fumble at the one yard line on a play reminiscent of Don Beebe chasing down Leon Lett in the 1992 Super Bowl. While it doesnít show up in the typical box score, you can bet that that sort of attitude left a very lasting impression on the coaching staff and fans of New England.
QB Jake Plummer simply did what was needed to win. He didnít make very many flashy plays; he just had a solid football game and outplayed Patriotsí QB Tom Brady.
Itís a bit of a scary proposition for those teams still alive in the playoffs that Denver was able to win a game against the defending champs without getting very much help from the running game. Denver gained less than 100 yards on the ground yet still won convincingly Ė something they were supposedly unable to do.
The Denver defense and special teams, despite giving up a high yardage total, were outstanding. They created turnovers in huge spots of the game, setting up a short field for their offense to work in on numerous occasions. Winning the turnover battle was the primary reason the Broncos won this game.
What you ought to know
|QB Tom Brady, Pass: 20 - 36 - 341 - 1 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 1 - -1 - 0|
The last time Tom Brady lost a playoff game of any kind was during his senior year of high school Ė playing baseball. He entered the game 10-0 in his playoff career, but as with most good things, this streak came to an end. Brady certainly didnít have his best stuff on a day when his team needed him to. Several times, Brady threw over the head of wide open receivers in the end zone for what would have been sure scores. Announcers speculated that the thin air may have had something to do with the fact that Bradyís passes were sailing on him. Still, the thin air doesnít account for several other poor plays by the QB.
He did do a good job of facing up to the relentless Denver pass rush. Try as they might, the Broncos never once managed to sack Brady. He stood in well against the rush, and if there was nothing up top he simply checked down to the open man underneath. Of course, there were a couple of plays on which he didnít do such a good job of handling the rush. One such play was early in the first quarter when Brady misfired on a pass for TE Christian Fauria on fourth down. The TE was open, but Brady zipped it wide of his target for the turnover. On another first down pass, Brady threw a ball over the middle that Denver LB Al Wilson nearly intercepted for what may have been a TD. Another missed opportunity came on a pass intended for TE Ben Watson over the middle. The TE had beaten his man and waiting for Brady to deliver what would have been an easy 22 yard touchdown pass, but Bradyís arm was hit by Trevor Pryce as he threw, causing the ball to fall to the ground incomplete. Yet even with all of these lost chances, the Patriots still had the ball at the Denver five yard line down 10-6 and poised to take the lead late in the third quarter. Yet in a moment that basically ended the New England dynasty, Bradyís pass intended for Troy Brown in the end zone was intercepted by CB Champ Bailey and returned 100 yards the other way to the New England one. Mike Anderson scored on the next play, putting Denver up 17-6 and all but ending the game. Brady did give Patriots fans and his fantasy owners one small glimmer of hope late in the fourth quarter when he completed a 73 yard pass to Deion Branch down the seam, and a subsequent four yard TD to David Givens the next play. But the momentum was short-lived, and Bradyís final pass attempt of the game was a heave down the middle of the field that was picked by S John Lynch. It was appropriate that it would by Lynch to come up with the pick of Brady after the QB uncharacteristically mocked Lynchís celebration of a false start penalty early in the first quarter.
|RB Corey Dillon, Rush: 13 - 57 - 0, Rec: 1 - 9 - 0 (2 targets)|
Dillon was bottled up much of the game, and rarely had any opportunities to really get into a rhythm or flow of the offense. The Patriots had a tough time establishing the run early, and pretty much got away from it entirely in the second half (especially the fourth quarter) when they fell behind by a lot. Dillonís only relatively decent scoring opportunity came late in the third quarter when he was tackled at the five yard line after a run. The next play was the Champ Bailey interception that essentially put the game away.
|RB Kevin Faulk, Rush: 7 - 23 - 0, Rec: 2 - 20 - 0 (2 targets)|
Faulkís main contribution to the game was for negative reasons, as his second quarter fumble helped set up the touchdown that gave Denver its first lead (a lead they would never relinquish). Aside from that, his 43 yards of total offense barely registered in the box score.
Branch was having a solid game late in the fourth quarter when he suddenly streaked downfield for a 73 yard reception that took him to the four yard line. Branch appeared headed for the end zone, but Denver defenders took a good angle and prevented him from scoring on the play. Still, he led all players in receptions, yards, and targets, and was clearly the #1 choice of Tom Brady all game long. He had an earlier scoring opportunity wasted when Brady overthrew him in the end zone. Branch had beaten his man, but Bradyís pass sailed wide and out of bounds.
Givens has quietly compiled quite a postseason resume. He hauled in yet another touchdown, his seventh consecutive postseason game with a score. The NFL record is eight, held by Steelers Hall of Famer John Stallworth. Aside from the TD, Givens showed great hands in several big spots throughout the second half and was definitely Bradyís fall-back option when all else broke down around him. Givens appeared to be shaken up on a play late in the fourth quarter, but we donít anticipate it being anything newsworthy.
Davis made a great play on a 51 yard reception against CB Champ Bailey early in the game, but wasnít thrown to again the rest of the night.
Brownís game will be remembered more for his miscues than anything else. With New England trailing 17-6 and coming off a big third down stop, Brown muffed the punt return away to the Broncos. They took over at the New England 15 after the recovery, and Rod Smith scored three plays later to make it a 24-6 game. Brown was also the intended target earlier on the Champ Bailey interception that helped put the game out of reach. In the fourth quarter, Brown came close to scoring once again when he beat his man down the seam for what should have been an easy 26 yard touchdown pass, but Bradyís pass attempt sailed high over his head incomplete.
Graham caught the only pass that went in his direction, but he was mostly a non-factor in the game.
Watson had one ball thrown to him, and had Tom Brady had about a half second more time to throw, itís likely that Watson would have scored on the play. He had beaten his man across the field and had nothing but end zone ahead of him when Brady began to pass. But the QBís arm was hit as he threw, and the attempt fell at Watsonís feet. Of much bigger importance as far as Watsonís performance was the job he did in running down Denver CB Champ Bailey during Baileyís interception return. The All-Pro CB was a couple of yards from the end zone when he slowed down, apparently believing that no one was chasing him. Yet Watson never gave up on the play, and ended up catching Bailey from behind. The ball was knocked out of bounds, and New England challenged that the ball went through the end zone and should be a touchback. Replay did not show conclusive evidence to overturn and the officials ruled that it went out at the 1. Denver scored on the very next play anyway, but Watsonís hustle play typifies what the Patriots have been about during this run. The never-say-die attitude was certainly on display during Watsonís play, and it no doubt impressed his coaches and fans to see him go all-out on a play that was seemingly over.
Vinatieri, usually the most reliable kicker in the NFL during the postseason, had a huge miss when he pushed a 43 yard field goal wide right early in the fourth quarter. Obviously, no team hinges its season on the performance of its kicker, but that missed field goal was likely the play that really convinced many Patriots fans that this simply wasnít their year. Though they were able to march downfield and score a touchdown later, the missed field goal really seemed to take a lot of wind out of their sails.
For the most part, New England did a decent job of slowing the Denver run game. In holding the Broncos under 100 yards, one must say that they did their job. And itís very true that both Mike Anderson touchdowns were more a fault of the special teams and pass defense rather than a fault of the run defense. But still, this unit didnít so much dominate as they focused. Meaning, the defensive game plan was built around not letting the Denver runners get untracked. They accomplished this goal, at the expense of allowing Jake Plummer loads of time to throw and pick them apart all game long. Whatís more, the Patriots run defense didnít always make the plays. While they were solid for much of the game, several missed tackles on Mike Anderson on a second and seven run late in the fourth quarter really brought about the Patriotsí doom. Anderson should have been wrapped up for a one yard loss to set up a third down and eight. Had New England then forced a stop, itíd have still been a two possession game. As it was, they couldnít bring Anderson down and he broke through to the four yard line. Rod Smith scored on the next play, the Broncos went up 24-6, and the rout was on.
With the team selling out on the run so much, it was inevitable that Denver would be able to have some success moving the ball through the air. Especially when the Patriots couldnít get any kind of pressure whatsoever on Jake Plummer for most of the game. Plummer picked apart the New England secondary with ease just about every time he needed to. There were several third and long conversions, and the Patriotsí pass defense kept giving up big plays when they could least afford to. The biggest play on the negative side was probably the first play from scrimmage following New Englandís first touchdown. They had just cut the lead to 24-13 with eight minutes left to play and were poised to make a comeback. Yet on the very first play for Denver, Rod Smith somehow broke free down the sideline for a 42 yard gain that pretty much killed the Patsí chances. For CB Asante Samuel, it was a tale of two plays. The first was a very nice interception along the sideline where he did a fantastic job of keeping his feet inbounds to make the play. The second was a 39 yard pass interference penalty on Ashley Lelie in the end zone that set up Denverís first touchdown of the game. One could feel a momentum swing, even at that early point in the game Ė almost as if Denver had exposed the one big weakness of the Patriots defense and were poised to do it again.
|QB Jake Plummer, Pass: 15 - 26 - 197 - 1 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 7 - 8 - 0|
While it wonít show up in the statistics so much, Plummer played a very good game under the circumstances. Of the 27 passes he made (one was on a play resulting in a penalty); only two can be characterized as bad passes. Granted, one was a throwback to the days when Plummer used to fling the ball all over the field, but still it was his only poor decision on a day when his team simply needed him to be efficient. And that he was. His offensive line deserves much of the credit for giving him loads of time to throw, but he still had to make the plays. With New England intent on not letting the run game beat them, the outcome of the game lay in Plummerís hands more often than not. And, more often than not, he made the plays when they needed them. He was very confident and sure of what he was doing on just about every play, and never allowed himself to be rattled no matter the situation. Case in point: On a sequence of plays early in the game, the following events unfolded -- Plummer was stuffed on a QB sneak at the New England goal line on third and inches. The next play, he forced a poorly thrown fade pass to Ashley Lelie that fell harmlessly incomplete in the back corner of the end zone. Later in that second quarter, a badly thrown pass down the sideline was intercepted by CB Asante Samuel. Samuel was initially ruled out of bounds, but after a New England challenge the ball was ruled an interception. Very telling is that on Denverís very next offensive play, Plummer was right back to throwing in Samuelís direction. And Plummer was very nearly picked by Samuel once again, but the CB couldnít hold onto this one. Yet rather than allow these events to get the better of him, Plummer regrouped and began firing precision passes all over the field. He set up a long interference on Samuel with a deep pass to Ashley Lelie later in the quarter, and played a smart and efficient fourth quarter to keep his team in the lead.
Anderson had more fantasy success than counterpart Tatum Bell, but that was mostly thanks to two separate one yard touchdown runs. The Broncos seemed to really get away from the run by the middle of the second quarter, but the reality is that New England was focusing so much energy on stopping the run that it almost made it impossible to do so. Of course, with so much attention being given to Anderson and Tatum Bell that left multiple passing options to exploit, which Denver gladly did. Fantasy owners donít care how Anderson got it done; just that he got it done. And he benefited greatly from two plays in particular. The first was a long pass interference penalty on Patriotsí CB Asante Samuel, which put the ball at the 1 yard line. The second play was a 100 yard interception return by CB Champ Bailey, which also set the ball down at the one. In each situation, Anderson took the ensuing handoff into the end zone for a touchdown. It wasnít a phenomenal game for Anderson yardage-wise, but itís about what Anderson owners have come to expect from him in that regard.
Bell had very few opportunities for success, and wasnít put in very many positions to do much with the football. His long gain on the day went for just eight yards, and his role in the offense was very limited as New England focused much of their defensive energy on stopping the run. Bell was taken down at the five yard line and then later at the two on consecutive runs early in the second quarter. That was the closest he got to scoring.
The wily veteran showed he still has some flash left in him with yet another huge game in front of the Denver faithful. In addition to catching Jake Plummerís only TD pass of the game, it was Smithís 42 yard catch and run late in the fourth quarter that really broke the backs of the Patriots. Denver had just taken over at their own 23 with eight minutes left to play and the Patriots having just come off their first touchdown drive of the game. On the very first play of Denverís possession, Smith took off wide open down the right sideline and hauled in a pass from Plummer. Smith then made a couple of open field moves before finally being taken down after a huge gain. The play not only took extra time off the clock; it changed field position and really put a damper on any momentum New England may have enjoyed from the TD drive.
Lelie was heavily involved early in the game, but in very atypical fashion. Rather than being sent on deep routes, Lelie was mostly targeted underneath and in the short passing game. He was even targeted on an ill-advised fourth down fade pattern in the back corner of the end zone, a pass which fell incomplete. Midway through the second quarter, Lelie drew a long pass interference penalty against CB Asante Samuel, a call that was questionable at the time because A) Samuel appeared to be trying to run down the ball, and B) The pass may have been uncatchable. That penalty led to the first Mike Anderson score. Lelie later beat his man down the seam on a subsequent drive and was open in the end zone for what could have been a score, but the ball was just a bit too far in front of him. It did appear that he could have adjusted his route better to make the grab, but in any event the pass fell incomplete. For such a high number of targets thrown to him, Lelieís game was yet another disappointment in what has been a most disappointing season. That said, he displayed nice hands on several of his grabs and at least finished with respectable numbers. Only two of Lelieís 12 targets came in the second half, though it should be noted that Plummerís pass attempts dropped from 19 to eight from the first half to the second.
Putzier had an early 24 yard reception on a third and long situation down the sideline, but couldnít duplicate his big gain on a later play in the third quarter. Putzier beat his man down the right sideline and Plummer laid a perfect pass in his hands, but the big TE was unable to hang onto the football.
Elam nailed an early 50 yard field goal late in the second quarter to give Denver a 10-7 lead, a lead they would never relinquish. The kick was barely good from that distance, and was certainly aided by the thin air of Denver. He later connected with ease from 34 yards out.
Denver was helped greatly by the fact that the Patriots mostly abandoned the run early on after having little success. New England ran the football just 20 times with their running backs, with the vast majority of what little production they got coming in the first half. Once Denver extended the lead to 17-6, the Patriots really put the run game on the shelf.
Statistically, it may not appear that the Broncos pass defense was all that effective. After all, they allowed Tom Brady and the Patriots to throw for 341 yards through the air and didnít sack the Pats quarterback once. Yet next to the turnovers, the Denver pass defense is precisely the reason this team was able to win the game. They hurried and hounded Tom Brady pretty much the entire game and never let him get into a rhythm. While there were several hiccups along the way (including two pass plays of over 50 yards), the team stymied the Patriots whenever a big play was needed. They forced New England into an early fourth down turnover in the first quarter which really helped set the tone for the rest of the game. And the Broncosí best defensive player, CB Champ Bailey, made perhaps the single biggest play of the day when he returned a Brady interception 100 yards the other way. New England trailed 10-6 and faced a third and five situation at the doorstep of the Denver end zone. On a pass intended for Troy Brown, Bailey stepped in front and made a great grab of the ball and took it the length of a football field in the opposite direction. Yet despite going 100 yards, Bailey did not score a touchdown on the play. He picked the ball one yard deep in his own end zone, and when he was about five yards from scoring, Bailey slowed down just enough that Patriot TE Ben Watson was able to run him down from behind. Watson stripped the ball and knocked it out of bounds at the 1 yard line. So had Bailey continued running for just a few more yards, the Broncos defense could have put up a very quality fantasy game. Bailey was lucky that the ball was ruled out of bounds, because replays showed that it may have actually crossed the plane of the goal line, which would have resulted in a touchback and Patriots football. Bailey tried explaining after the game that he simply ran out of gas, but itís difficult to believe that a world-class athlete who is on the level of Bailey can run 95 yards with ease but canít seem to handle those last five yards. He is rightly being lauded as the hero of the game, yet that play, in addition to being beaten twice earlier in the game for huge gains, could have easily made him the goat if Denver had lost. The Broncos caught a couple of breaks in the game, mostly courtesy of some rare poor play from Tom Brady. Several times Brady overthrew open receivers for what would have been scores, and the last interception (by S John Lynch) was a gift on a heave down the middle of the field to no one in particular. LB Al Wilson, who was shaken up late in the contest but was seemingly fine, nearly intercepted Brady early in the game when he jumped a receiverís route. Had he come up with the ball, there is a good chance heíd have waltzed into the end zone for a TD.