Report Cards: Patriots - Broncos

The Patriots improved to 11-3 after defeating the Denver Broncos 41-23 on Sunday.


  PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus -- Tim Tebow grabbed most of the headlines leading up to this game, but Tom Brady was once again a showstopper Sunday, completing 23 of 34 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns. The Broncos did all they could to take Rob Gronkowski out of the game, so Brady went to his other tight end, Aaron Hernandez, who finished with 129 yards and a touchdown, proving once again his favorite receiver is the open receiver. Even Chad Ochocinco joined in on the fun with his first touchdown catch of the season and first with New England.

   RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Patriots had most of their weapons intact Sunday and they wisely spread the wealth. Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis combined for 122 yards. Woodhead was a fixture in the shotgun set, rushing for 70 yards and a touchdown, while Green-Ellis and Ridley helped the Patriots chew time off the clock down the stretch.

   PASS DEFENSE: C -- There were other problems, but the secondary once again looked pedestrian for the majority of the game against a quarterback not known for his accuracy, arm strength or ability to stretch the field. Tim Tebow completed only half of his passes, but most of them went to Demaryius Thomas, who caught seven passes for 116 yards. The Patriots had no answer for the 6-3 wideout; had Denver chosen to throw more -- or perhaps earlier in the game -- the numbers might've been more eye-popping.

-- Until Willis McGahee left the game with an injury, the Patriots looked awful against the run. Between Tebow, McGahee and Lance Ball, the Broncos rushed for 252 yards, most of them in the first half. The game changed when McGahee went down, though some credit should be given to the Patriots for wisely switching to a 3-4 front defensively.

   SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- A foolish play by Quan Cosby trying to field a punt deep in his own territory and a heads-up recovery on the subsequent fumble by Dane Fletcher gave the Patriots a last-second field goal at the end of the first half. The rest was elementary, two field goals by Stephen Gostkowski.

   COACHING: A -- Though it might seem like it was a no-brainer, the Patriots knew at some point they'd have to switch up the coverage defensively in order to stop the bleeding. With the run defense getting gashed, the Patriots switched to a 3-4 front, which was their base defense for years until their veteran linebackers began retiring one by one. The move paid dividends; the Patriots finished strong despite what the final numbers indicated.


   PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Demaryius Thomas must be loving the Broncos' air attack right about now. He was targeted 13 times Sunday while posting his second 100-yard performance in three weeks. But the rest of Denver's skill-position players combined were thrown to just 10 times. Tim Tebow is doing a better job at executing pocket throws and hitting some intermediate routes, but he has to disperse the ball better overall.

   RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus -- Things couldn't have started any better for Denver, which in the first quarter put up the most yards in a single quarter (167) in any NFL game since 2000. But Willis McGahee got hurt, three turnovers hurt even more, and a big deficit made the offense one-dimensional. Denver finished with 252 rushing yards on 31 attempts. It marked the first time ever that a Broncos team ended with 250-plus on the ground and lost. Denver had won the previous 16 teams it reached that mark on the ground.

   PASS DEFENSE: D-minus -- Tom Brady worked the ball around with surgical precision, hitting nine different targets on his 23 completions. Seven of the nine had at least one reception of 12 yards or more. Brady's done the same numerous times on the way to his eventual enshrinement in Canton, but the disconcerting part for the Broncos was the numerous breakdowns in coverage leaving receivers wide open and a spate of missed tackles that led to numerous yards after the catch.

   RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The Patriots have quick-strike ability with the passing game, but they sustained drives with the run Sunday, carrying the ball 20 times for 83 yards in the second half while playing keep-away. New England had three rushing TDs overall in piling up 141 rushing yards, its fourth-highest total this season. Even Brady got into the act with his first rushing score this season.

-- A muffed punt before halftime led directly to three points. A bad snap punctuated Denver's first TD drive. Another botched catch on a kickoff started a drive at the 8. The special teams have shown marked improvement this season, but other than Britton Colquitt's punting, the Broncos had an off day.

-- The Broncos saw their six-game winning streak end at the hands of a team perhaps destined for the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC. No crime there. But once again, one of the leading passers in the NFL shredded the secondary, which is disconcerting. And once New England adjusted to Denver's running game, Tebow and the passing game couldn't expose a weak secondary.

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