vs Broncos: Report Card
By Site Staff
PATRIOTS REPORT CARD VS DENVER BRONCOS - playoffs
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Forget Brady's fat passing yardage total. He was off target all night, including on a 51-yard connection to Andre' Davis that was slightly underthrown. Brady set the tone by throwing behind Christian Fauria on fourth down on the Patriots' second possession. He also short-hopped balls, and his end-zone interception was inexcusable. In his defense, the Broncos again put a lot of pressure on him despite not recording a sack. The Patriots had to move the pocket to slow down Denver's pass rush -- something they almost never do.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- RB Corey Dillon averaged 4.4 yards per carry (57 yards on 13 attempts) with a long run of 17 yards. Yet the Patriots really didn't accomplish much on the ground, scratching out 79 yards and three first downs. RB Kevin Faulk's second-quarter fumble was a killer, and he was not a factor when he held onto the ball either (seven carries for 23 yards).
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- QB Jake Plummer threw for only 197 yards. In the Patriots' 10-game playoff win streak, eight of the opposing quarterbacks had totaled at least 210 yards against them and three of those had gone over 300 yards. Denver's longest passing play -- a 42-yard hookup with Rod Smith -- came midway through the fourth quarter when the Patriots were selling out against the run, figuring the Broncos (up 24-13 at that point) would try to kill some clock. Despite two sacks, the one negative here was the lack of a consistent pass rush, although the emphasis appeared to be on coverage, not blitzing.
RUN DEFENSE: A -- The Patriots effectively neutralized the Broncos' second-ranked ground game, limiting Denver to 96 yards on 32 carries (a 3.0-yard average). Mike Anderson (19 carries for 69 yards, 3.6 average) scored on a pair of 1-yard runs, but his long gain of 18 yards came in fourth-quarter garbage time. The Patriots' vastly improved run defense down the stretch of the regular season was not a mirage.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F -- An abject failure. Lost two fumbles on returns. Committed three penalties. Blew a 43-yard field goal. It doesn't get any worse than that.
COACHING: B -- Hard to give a grade because the five turnovers were not part of the game plan. Defensively the approach was solid, as was the execution. The decision to accept a 10-yard holding penalty in the first half instead of forcing a field-goal attempt nearly backfired when the Broncos converted a third-and-17, although the Patriots turned them away with a goal-line stand. Calling a defensive timeout following CB Ellis Hobbs' fumbled kick return late in the first half was a wise settle-the-troops move. And a flea-flicker to Branch was a key play on what could have been the go-ahead drive in the third quarter, were it not for CB Champ Bailey's interception. In the end, the players let the coaches down in this one.
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