Patriots' Changing Defense Could Bode Well

The Patriots ever-changing defense could actually help them as the postseason approaches.

Switch in defense helps in win over Broncos

   The New England Patriots didn't show us anything we didn't already know, but they deserve credit Sunday for showing resilience on the road in a hostile environment against the Broncos in a game that appeared to be getting out of hand.

   Coach Bill Belichick and his staff, particularly safeties coach Matt Patricia, decided early to switch from a 4-3 to 3-4, which helped slow Denver's running game en route to a 41-23 victory in Denver.

   The win gave New England its third consecutive division title and put the team on the fast track toward clinching at least a No. 2 seed in the AFC. The Steelers entered Monday night needing to win at San Francisco to stay atop the conference (they own the tiebreaker based on their win over New England earlier this season).

   "We're 11-3. We're in a good place," quarterback Tom Brady said. "We've got to take care of business against Miami this week. As soon as the game's finished, it's on to the next one. That's the way we approached it all year, and that's the way it's got to be."

   Though they won't admit it, the Patriots had to be fired up due to all the excessive pre-game hype surrounding Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, so much so that Vince Wilfork mocked Tebow's signature sideline genuflection, which has become known as "Tebowing."

   "Yeah, I Tebowed," Wilfork said. "I'm pretty sure I won't be the last one (to Tebow), and I wasn't the first one."

   For now, though, the Patriots are the first team to slow the Tebow express; Denver had won six consecutive games entering Sunday, but the Patriots held him to 11-of-22 passing and forced him to fumble twice; the turnovers helped turn the game on its ear.

   Up until that point, the Patriots had no answer for the Broncos' running game and were running out of solutions. The "bend but don't break" Patriots showed up again Sunday and helped New England escape with a gut-check win despite nearly giving up 300 rushing yards.

   "That was a real good win for our football team," Belichick said. "We fought back and made plenty of plays in all three phases of the game. I'm just really proud of the way they responded to the challenge. They stepped up and played good football. I'm really happy about the win. They did a great job this week."

   Now the Patriots must win their remaining two games and hope the Steelers lose at least once to ensure the road to the Super Bowl will have to go through Foxboro. There are still problems to solve, but the Patriots showed tenacity Sunday, and it's a good sign moving forward.


   --The Patriots clinched their third consecutive division title Sunday and qualified for the playoffs for the 19th time in franchise history.
   Additionally, the Patriots have advanced to the postseason 13 times in the 18 seasons Bob Kraft has owned the team, and only six times in the previous 34 years.

   --With 53 yards in Sunday's win, TE Rob Gronkowski pushed his 2011 total to 1,141 yards. He's the 18th tight end in NFL history to finish with 1,100 or more yards in a single season.
   Gronkowski only needs 34 yards to break Ben Coates' single-season franchise record of 1,174 yards. The NFL record for yards by a tight end is 1,290, set by Kellen Winslow in 1980.

   --QB Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes in Sunday's win, giving him 13 games with at least two touchdown passes this season.
   The NFL record for the most two-touchdown passing games in a single season is 15 by Dan Marino in 1984; Brady fell shy of that record with 14 two-touchdown games in 2007.

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