Broncos Can Thank Miami For Pats Defense

Len Pasquarelli writes that more than three years after being embarrassed when the Dolphins busted out the Wildcat offense, Patriots coach Bill Belichick avoided a repeat of history. Denver blew through New England's defense on the first series with its unorthodox offense, but Belichick & Co. reassessed the defensive gameplan and put the clamps down on Tim Tebow.

 ATLANTA -- For years now, the people closest to Bill Belichick know him to be an avowed Bon Jovi guy. But we're betting that in last week's run-up to the Denver game on Sunday, a meeting with the NFL's top-ranked rushing offense and its reigning quarterback phenomenon, the New England coach preferred The Who as the background noise in the Patriots' locker room.
   You know, as in, "Won't Get Fooled Again."

   On Sept. 21, 2008, the Patriots and Belichick were embarrassed at home by the Miami Dolphins and an offensive gimmick that, for a while at least, turned into the latest rage in the league. In a 38-13 loss, the Pats were bamboozled by the Wildcat offense the Dolphins sprung on them. New England had no answer that day as the Dolphins ran over around and through the Patriots' defense to the tune of 216 yards, with tailback-turned-single wing quarterback Ronnie Brown rushing for four touchdowns and, adding insult to injury, throwing a touchdown pass.

   Thirty-nine months after that debacle, Belichick and the Pats weren't about to be hoodwinked by another unconventional offense.

   Oh, sure, the Broncos rushed for 252 yards on Sunday, the most real estate the team has ever totaled on the ground in a loss. But anyone who watched the Patriots' 41-23 victory can readily understand The Who reference. Knocked on their heels by the Broncos and Tim Tebow for a little more than a quarter, the Patriots regrouped and reassessed, tweaked the defensive game plan far better than they ever did against the Dolphins three-plus years ago ... and didn't get fooled again.

   "It took us a while," noted defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, one of the surviving victims from the Miami nightmare of 2008. "But once we got it together, talked about it on the sideline and made some adjustments, we were fine."

   Fine, indeed.

   On their first three possessions, which concluded with two touchdowns and a field goal, the Broncos rushed for 172 yards on 16 carries featuring Tebow and the zone-option read offense that has stupefied opposition defenses the past two months. The Broncos put together drives of 80, 80 and 64 yards in jumping to a 16-7 lead, and had six rushes of 10 yards or more and five of 19 yards or more. The Pats' defense was being gashed by Tebow, Willis McGahee, Lance Ball and Jeremiah Johnson, and it certainly looked like a repeat of the 2008 bashing.

   But the New England offense took over, registering 27 straight points, with Tom Brady shredding the Denver soft secondary coverage. And almost as important - cue Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon - the Pats' defense stepped up big-time as well.

   End Mark Anderson, who had a monster game in registering three tackles, two tackles for losses, two sacks and two more quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and a recovery, allowed that "things were a little rough" at the beginning of the game, but suggested that once the Patriots implemented some adjustments, played with more discipline and became accustomed to the tempo of the Denver offense, the results were far different.

   "You can practice and practice against something, but sometimes until you see it and get used to the speed, and understand how it works, it's going to make you look bad and get a little embarrassed sometimes."

   After the first three Broncos series, during which the New England defense allowed 224 yards, there was no more embarrassment. The Pats surrendered only 169 yards the rest of the way, and 89 of those yards came on one fourth-quarter series after New England had grabbed a 34-16 lead. The Broncos rushed for 80 yards on 15 attempts, a respectable 5.3 yards per carry, but that was still less than half of the 10.8 yards per rush New England had yielded in the first 16 minutes of the game.

   Until the meaningless 89-yard touchdown drive in the final quarter, New England had permitted the Broncos just one possession of more than three snaps and none of more than 23 yards. Somewhat remarkably, the Patriots actually performed far better after end Andre Carter, arguably the team's most productive lineman this year, was lost to a season-ending quadriceps injury.

   "We went back to some of the old stuff," said Wilfork, referring to the switch to the old standby 3-4 front that had been Belichick's trademark for years. "And it paid off pretty well." As he did last season, Wilfork played both nose tackle and end in the 3-4, and the tweaks confused the Denver blocking scheme. And Tebow, too.

   Said Tebow: "They adjusted really well."

   None of that is to suggest that Tebow won't bounce back from just his second loss as a starter, or that the Broncos' zone-option running game will quickly go the way of the Wildcat offense and be rendered just a curiosity. For now at least, the Broncos and head coach John Fox are committed to Tebow and the current offense, and the successes of both could prompt scouts to at least alter the model of what they seek in a quarterback prospect.

   But for one afternoon, perhaps recalling the disaster of three years ago, Belichick and the Pats weren't fooled again.

   Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, The Who proclaimed.

   On Sunday, the Old Boss had some new answers, as he typically does.

Photo Gallery: Patriots 41 - Broncos 23
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