PATRIOTS REPORT CARD VS. BRONCOS
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Tom Brady threw for 320 yards and a touchdown but those stats are very misleading because a lot of those yards came late in the game when the Broncos defense was allowing short passes to be completed. Brady struggled getting the ball to his receivers for the third game in a row. He was forced to throw 55 times and with the receivers the Patriots have, that's not a recipe for success. Chad Jackson was inactive for this game and Doug Gabriel made some plays late in the fourth quarter. However, this passing game looks to be in serious trouble. Right now, opposing defenses have no respect for the Patriots receivers and unless that changes, Brady will continue to be under heavy fire every week.
RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- The Patriots were rolling along on the ground until they ran into the stifling Broncos defense. Denver held the New England rushing attack to a measly 50 yards on 21 carries for an average of 2.4 yards per attempt. Broncos linebackers Ian Gold and D.J. Williams combined for 17 tackles and did a good job of staying in their lanes so Laurence Maroney couldn't cutback and get extra yards. Corey Dillon left the game early with an injury but it didn't matter. The Patriots offensive line got pushed around all game long, as the Broncos defense did a tremendous job of tackling and filling the running lanes.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- The Patriots did a pretty good job early on against the Broncos passing game. They were able to keep Jake Plummer in the pocket and didn't allow him to use rollouts and bootlegs to hurt them. However, late in the first half, Plummer found Javon Walker for a 32-yard touchdown that put the Broncos ahead 10-0. Walker beat cornerback Ellis Hobbs on the play. Walker struck again in the fourth quarter when the Broncos were backed up deep in their own territory. He beat Asante Samuel and James Sanders for an 83-yard touchdown pass that put the game away. Plummer finished with 256 yards and the two touchdowns to Walker. The Patriots continued to blow assignments and miss tackles in the secondary. If New England doesn't sure up their pass defense by next week, they could be in for a world of hurting.
RUSH DEFENSE C-minus -- The Patriots entered this matchup only giving up 75 yards per game on the ground. Still, as the usually do, the Broncos managed to run the football on Belichick's defense. Denver racked up 144 rushing yards, with Tatum Bell responsible for 123 of those yards on 27 carries. The Broncos guards, Ben Hamilton and Cooper Carlisle, surprisingly pushed the Patriots defensive front back over and over throughout the game. Denver neutralized Vince Wilfork and the New England linebackers kept getting beat at the point of attack. The Broncos proved to be much more physical than the Patriots in the trenches.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- For the second straight game, rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski had a field goal attempt blocked. There was some uncertainty about whether or not the kick against he Jets was low but there was no question this time around. While there was a lot of pressure put on by the Broncos, the ball didn't come off Gostkowski's foot well and that allowed Domonique Foxworth to get his hand on it. Josh Miller hit four kicks inside the 20-yard line and averaged 43.7 yards per punt. The return game was again non-existent. The Patriots might as well not even have anyone returning the football because they don't go anywhere when they get it. The punting and kick coverage units have been solid this season but one more missed field goal by Gostkowski could cause a wide spread panic throughout New England.
COACHING: D -- Once again, Mike Shanahan and the Broncos appeared to be one step ahead of Bill Belichick and his coaching staff. Belichick said earlier in the week that he expected the Broncos to blitz, yet they hardly blitzed at all. Instead, Denver focused on shutting down the Patriots running game. For whatever reason, Belichick has success against every coach in the NFL except for Shanahan. The defensive play calling did nothing to change the tempo of the game. The Broncos dictated the action from the opening snap. Some of the Patriots players, most notably Brady, didn't even look like they wanted to be on the field. New England was unprepared and outcoached by the Broncos and it showed by their awful performance on the field. This team has played three games thus far and they're lucky not to be sitting at 0-3. Belichick better get the Patriots focused by next Sunday or the Bengals will blow them out.
See also: Broncos Report Card