The Denver Broncos v. New England Patriots game went along pretty much as I expected, particularly once the Broncos got some points on the board. They forced the Patriots to pass, and then the defense laid back their ears and came after Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The second half, the Broncos went conservative after their opening drive (read: "several three-and-outs, when one score would have put the game away"), and that very nearly cost them. You don't let Brady get his rhythm, no matter how many injuries they're fighting. You also don't have to HELP matters with so many silly penalties (I would hate to have to face Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan in meetings this week when they review THAT subject!).
Still, it was a very satisfying win. It was a game that, frankly, the Broncos wouldn't have won last year. This team is maturing rapidly, and they're gaining large measures of confidence by what they've done since the debacle in Miami.
I'll predict one thing, though: you're going to hear a bunch of "experts", particularly on the east coast, take the tack of "the Broncos only won because of all the injured Patriot players". Maybe, maybe not; but there are no asterisks next to the "W" column in the books. I'll take a 5-1 record any day.
This would have been a better grade, had they kept up the pressure in the second half. The offense's inability to convert third-down situations nearly cost the Broncos dearly. Still, quarterback Jake Plummer had another very good, mistake-free, game, and the Broncos finally found the long ball in their arsenal. Running backs Tatum Bell (he's my player of the game) and Mike Anderson both had very good games. The tight ends could have had a bigger impact (I still feel the Broncos don't use them enough, particularly in two-tight-end sets). Wide receivers Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie both had excellent games. And a particular pat on the back to fullback Kyle Johnson. In 2 touches, he scores a touchdown (a GREAT catch) and gets a crucial first down. He just flattened some people while leading Anderson into the end zone for the touchdown that was called back to the 1/2 yard line, and made some other excelling run blocks as well. Not a bad day's work.
One other thought about Bell: it sure looks like the Redskins game may have been his breakout game. He's running with authority, and he's not putting the ball on the ground, unlike last year.
Brady isn't a three-time Super Bowl winner for nothing. You can't expect to bottle him up for sixty minutes often. I felt like the defense let up somewhat by mid-third-quarter, and had to wake up and come alive again for the final drive - and that shouldn't have been necessary. The defensive line, particularly Trevor Pryce and Courtney Brown, had a tremendous game. It's so gratifying to see a Denver front-four putting pressure on a quarterback, especially one with as quick a release as Brady. The defensive backs acquitted themselves very well again, although they did play soft again for half the game. Cornerback Lenny Walls did a great job defending some passes, he's coming back to his last-year form. And, of course, no discussion of the defense would be complete without mentioning the linebackers. Big worry here: Champ Bailey's status. It seemed on the sideline that the shot they took of him showed him really hurting. Maybe it was a cramp, the way they were exercising his leg, but I'm afraid maybe he came back too soon.
On the other hand, who would have predicted the Broncos rookie cornerbacks would be doing so well without him on the field, especially playing the quarterbacks they have?
Special Teams: B
A much higher grade was deserved here, except for the fact that time and again, the kick return team drew flags that put the Broncos in very poor field position, and Darrent Williams seemed to be uncertain at times exactly what he should do (Fair catch? Let it bounce? Catch it?). Punter Todd Sauerbrun showed again why he's so vauable - he was booming kicks
Overall, a good game plan. I think today, Shanahan got the best of the Pats' Bill Belichick. Denver did exactly what they needed to: pound and pound and pound with the running game, even if it didn't get much at first. That helped set up the play-action and long passes really well. The defensive plan was excellent, particularly throughout the first 2/3 of the game. One
thing really puzzled me, though: why in the WORLD would you have the Pats re-kick after that penalty in the second half, instead of taking the first punt at the 20? That cost the Broncos 13 yards in field position.
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