|11.25.13 at 2:56 am ET|
FOXBORO — The fumble crisis is getting out of control for Stevan Ridley. He knows full well he has to find a way to stop fumbling – and soon – if he wants to hold onto his job as lead running back with the Patriots. He admitted as much after his latest calamity Sunday night.
On the Patriots first drive of the night, with the Patriots driving into Broncos territory, Ridley lost his fourth fumble of the season. Making matters worse, when Wesley Woodyard popped his helmet on the ball, the ball flew out and Von Miller was on the spot to scoop it up and rumble 60 yards for the first score of the game.
The Patriots would lose two more fumbles in the quarter and fall behind 17-0 after 15 minutes and 24-0 at the half. But it was Ridley’s fumble that would set the ill tone.
‘It’s really about the team and how they came back from this deficit tonight,” Ridley said afterward. “We were down 24 points and they fought back. For me, I think my team deserves better than what I’m doing out there and putting on the field. It’s been consecutive weeks with putting the ball on the ground and, as a running back, you can’t do that. I’ve said that multiple times. I work too hard to make the small mistakes and I keep setting myself back and setting this team back.
“The offense depends on me and to go out there and get the job done and when I put the ball on the ground they have no option but to take me out and it’s sickening, honestly, I’m frustrated, but it’s part of the game. I think that as a player you’re going to have your ups and your downs, but the main thing is you just have to stay focused and keep your eyes on the prize at the end of the day. I’m not going to get too far down. I’m going to put a little more pressure on myself to go out there and practice and try to change up some things because I can’t keep doing this and it’s sickening.’
LeGarrette Blount also lost a fumble in the first half as the Patriots scrambled for someone reliable to carry the ball. Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen stepped up and combined for 23 carries and 89 yards.
‘It shows the strength of our run,” Ridley said. “We’ve been talking about that since early in camp and for us, we need to have players step up when somebody goes down, so we did some things and shot ourselves in the foot and they did [Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen] exactly what I expected them to do. If they have to go with another guy and those guys stepped up and got it done and that’s what a team is about. And that’s what we have here is two guys that stepped in and played the role exactly how they’re supposed to.’
|11.25.13 at 2:18 am ET|
Following both teams not doing anything with their first two possessions in the overtime period, with just over three minutes left, Patriots punter Ryan Allen booted one inside the Patriots 20-yard line towards Broncos return man Wes Welker. Of the 170 total plays ran in the game, this particular one, thought as of the simplest ones became the play that ultimately decided the final outcome.
Instead of coming up and making the catch, Welker did not, which allowed the ball to bounce in front of him. On most occasions the ball would seemingly bounce harmlessly dead, but on this particular one it skipped into Broncos cornerback Tony Carter‘s leg and Patriots backup safety Nate Ebner pounced on the loose ball, recovering it for the Patriots, which set up Stephen Gostkowski‘s game-winning, 31-yard field goal in the Patriots’ 34-31 win over the Broncos.
‘I felt like there was a lot of traffic, high ball, and basically I didn’t want to get into a situation where someone is running into me or anything else and we ended up with a situation that I didn’t want to happen in the first place,” Welker said. ‘I have to do a better job of getting up there and getting those guys out of the way and making sure it doesn’t hit them.’
Welker noted the call to alert his teammates to get out of the way of the ball, as they cannot see the punt since they are blocking and setting up a potential return, is ‘Peter, Peter’ and acknowledged he may have been a bit indecisive when making the call, leading to the ball hitting Carter.
‘I have to get to him earlier and tell him,’ Welker said. ‘I need to get those guys out of the way if I am not going to make the catch. I was a bit in between and you can’t be that way.’
For Carter, who is in his fifth season and evidently played for the Patriots in 2010, he heard the call but everything happened so fast there wasn’t much he could do.
|11.25.13 at 1:56 am ET|
“It was a little different for sure,” said Welker. “It was great seeing Mr. Kraft. I got a lot of respect for him as a man, as an owner of a team and everything else.”
The former Patriots receiver caught four balls for 31 yards in his first return to Gillette Stadium since signing with Denver this off-season. Before the game, a video tribute highlighting the great moments of Welker’s career in New England was played inside the stadium on the video board.
“It was very classy of them to do something like that and I appreciate it very much,” the wide receiver said.
One of the big storylines coming into the game was the relationship between he and Bill Belichick. In a pregame interview conducted by Tedy Bruschi on ESPN, the 32-year-old receiver said, “I think so” when asked if he still had a good relationship with Belichick. Welker went on to say he was anticipating, “the most awkward situation that could possibly happen” if he and his former head coach were to interact.
After the game, Welker talked about that interaction which took place on the field following the game where Belichick sought out his former receiver.
“It wasn’t awkward at all,” Welker said. “It was good to see him. I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a coach. He came over and was like ‘good job; we’ll see you all again I’m sure.'”
For Welker, a 10-year veteran, he acknowledged he tried to make this just another game, but it wasn’t easy.
‘I tried to. You try to make it just a regular game, but it’s hard at times,” he said. “You try and go out there and focus and do your job. I’m sure there were more emotions and things like that going into it for sure.’
In his first time back at Gillette Stadium the game could have marked closure on his time in New England, but ultimately it didn’t go as he would have liked and now it’s time for Welker to put the game behind him and move on to another big game against division rival Kansas City next Sunday.
‘It would have been a lot better closer if we would’ve won, but I had a lot of good years here and things like that,” he said. “I feel like I’ve had closure before and I’ve kind of moved on. We have another big game this week against Kansas City and we have to move on to that.’
Ryan Hannable contributed to this article.
|11.25.13 at 12:22 am ET|
FOXBORO — A furious second-half comeback by the Patriots — capped off by a 31-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski with 2:21 left in overtime — allowed New England to pull off the 34-31 win over the Broncos Sunday night at a chilly Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots, who trailed 17-0 at the end of the first quarter and 24-0 at halftime, posted 21 third-quarter points — thanks to a pair of touchdown passes from Brady and a 1-yard run from Brandon Bolden — on the way to a 31-24 fourth-quarter lead. After a late drive from Peyton Manning drive knotted the game at 31, both quarterbacks had a chance down the stretch, but neither could convert, forcing the game to overtime.
Neither team was able to punch the ball in through the early going in the extra session, but after a Patriots punt with just over three minutes left in overtime, Denver’s Tony Carter — a former New England defensive back — accidentally touched the ball on a punt return, and the Patriots recovered the fumble. That set the stage for Gostkowski’s game-winner.
Brady ended up going 34-for-50 with 344 yards and three touchdowns, while Julian Edelman had nine catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski had seven catches for 90 yards and a touchdown, while Shane Vereen had eight catches for 60 yards.
On the other side of the ball, Peyton Manning finished 19-for-36 for 150 yards, two touchdowns and a pick, while Knowshon Moreno had 37 carries for 224 yards and one touchdown, while Wes Welker, in his return to Foxboro, had four catches for 31 yards.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
‘¢ The Patriots were able to turn around an absolutely miserable situation, turning a 24-0 deficit into a 27-24 lead in a blink and making fools of plenty of people in the process. The mental toughness, resolve and heart against a team like the Broncos is incredibly impressive, and can’t be discounted when you’re talking about how this team might perform down the stretch.
‘¢ Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Rob Gronkowski provided the bulk of the offensive production, particularly in the second half. Vereen was able to do an impressive job moving the chains (he did have a rough drop in the second half), while Bolden took over for Ridley (who was benched in the first half after his fumble) and ended up running for 58 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown.
‘¢ There was a moment in the first half where it certainly appeared that the New England defense had reached a tipping point — after all, you can only do so much when your offense keeps turning the ball over and you are going up against the No. 1 offense in the league and you’re without Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Steve Gregory. But the Patriots were able to get some terrific individual work out of some hobbled players like Aqib Talib, Brandon Spikes and Kyle Arrington, all of whom were clearly banged up by gutted their way through the contest but managed to corral Manning and the Denver offense for most of the second half.
‘¢ For one of the only times all season, the Patriots were lights out in the third quarter. Entering Sunday night, New England had been outscored in the third quarter this season 65-36. Against the Broncos, the Patriots flipped it around, coming out and putting up 21 against the Broncos while holding the Denver offense scoreless.
WHAT WENT WRONG
‘¢ In the early going, just about everything went wrong for the Patriots. New England couldn’t get any sort of offensive traction, thanks in large part of their six first-half fumbles (three of which were lost). The Broncos turned those turnovers into 17 first-half points, and added a touchdown on top of that to make it 24-0 going into the break. You can blame the defense, but you also have to understand that it was consistently put in a bad situation by the offense, which continued to turn the ball over. Regardless, the slow starts have become a real issue for the Patriots — including the 24 points they got in the first half against the Steelers, they have averaged 10 points in the first half of their last three games. You can’t be consistently successful if you continue to dig such a sizable hole right out of the gate.
‘¢ Fumbles. The Patriots lost three of their six (SIX) first-half fumbles, with Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brady all coughing up the ball. It was the fourth lost fumble of the year for Ridley and second of the year for Blount — neither of them played after their turnover. It will be interesting to see what happens to Ridley going forward. He’s been dogged with ball security issues over the last year-plus, and if Bolden continues to run like he did in the final three quarters against the Broncos, he could be in danger of losing his job as lead back.
‘¢ Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon went down in the first half with an ankle injury and did not return.
|11.24.13 at 10:05 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Two quarters are in the books here in frigid Foxboro, and it could not have gone much worse for the Patriots, as New England is down, 24-0 at halftime. Here are a few quick notes:
‘¢ The Patriots were unable to get any sort of offensive consistency working — New England had three first-quarter turnovers with fumbles from Stevan Ridley, Tom Brady and LeGarrette Blount — which allowed the Broncos to take a quick 17-0 lead. (The Patriots actually ended up with six first-half fumbles.) Brady ended the first half 10-for-16 for 81 yards. Shane Vereen was the lone bright spot for the New England offense with four catches for 32 yards. On the other side of the ball, Peyton Manning was 8-for-14 for 61 yards with one touchdown, while Knowshon Moreno had 18 carries for 107 yards.
‘¢ It marked the first time the Patriots were held scoreless in the first half since Dec. 24, 2011 against Miami.
‘¢ To start the game, the Patriots defense opened with Aqib Talib on Demaryius Thomas and Kyle Arrington on Wes Welker. Jamie Collins got the start at linebacker in place of Brandon Spikes, who has struggled as of late with a knee issue. (Spikes entered the game roughly midway through the first quarter.) Denver got one first down, and then had to punt the ball away after a Manning for Welker pass play came up short on third down.
‘¢ The Patriots were looking very good out of the gate, making it all the way down to the Denver 40 thanks in large part to the running game. (Vereen was able to convert a pair of third-down chances.) Then, Stevan Ridley was popped by Wesley Woodyard on a play up the middle and lost the handle. Von Miller had a 60-yard return to put the Broncos on the board, 7-0 with 9:54 left in the first quarter. It was the fourth lost fumble of the year for Ridley.
‘¢ Things got even worse for the Patriots on their next two series: on the first series, Marcus Cannon was beaten badly by Miller, who sacked Brady and forced a fumble. A few plays later, Moreno punched it in from two yards out to make it 14-0 with 8:54 left in the first quarter. On the next sequence, Blount — ostensibly getting reps in place of Ridley, who could be seen cooling on the sidelines without his helmet — coughed up the ball. The Broncos couldn’t reach the end zone, but still managed to cash in with a 27-yard field goal with just under three minutes left in the first quarter.
‘¢ Things went from worse to even worser when Manning and the Broncos went on one of those soul-sucking drives that took 11 plays and 70 yards, consuming 4:28 — it ended with a touchdown pass from Manning to Jacob Tamme to make it 24-0.
‘¢ To add insult to injury, the 40-second clocks and game clocks went down in the first quarter — they were active early in the second quarter.
‘¢ Cannon suffered an ankle injury, and his return is questionable, although it’s likely his pride was bruised after Miller spent a large portion of the first half maneuvering around him. Will Svitek then came in at right tackle.
|11.24.13 at 7:16 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is active and will play Sunday night against the Broncos after reportedly having a minor procedure on his knee. Also active for the Patriots is Aqib Talib, who is nursing a sore hip.
For the Broncos, the biggest news concerns tight end Julius Thomas, who is inactive with a knee injury. Thomas has become one of Peyton Manning’s biggest targets in the passing game, with 45 catches for 590 yards and a team-leading 10 touchdowns.
The Patriots officially announced their inactives for Sunday night: safety Steve Gregory, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, defensive end Jake Bequette, linebacker Steve Beauharnais, defensive lineman Marcus Forston, wide receiver Josh Boyce and offensive lineman Chris Barker. Here’s what the decisions mean for the Patriots from a game-plan and personnel standpoint:
Linebacker Steve Beauharnais: The rookie out of Rutgers has provided depth at linebacker and on special teams over the course of the season, but picks up another healthy scratch as the Patriots are looking to beef up the secondary and will likely play a ton of nickel and dime against pass-happy Denver.
Defensive end Jake Bequette: The second-year lineman out of Arkansas has been passed on the depth chart by Andre Carter and Michael Buchanan.
Offensive lineman Chris Barker: The rookie has essentially taken a redshirt year ‘ it marks his seventh healthy scratch to this point in the season.
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui: The dependable tight end suffered a knee injury in last week’s loss to the Panthers, and did not practice all week. Look for Matthew Mulligan to see an uptick in snaps as a result of Hoomananwanui’s absence.
Wide receiver Josh Boyce: The rookie receiver out of TCU was active for the first time in several weeks against the Panthers in a limited role, but the Patriots likely are looking for as many extra defensive backs as possible this evening.
Defensive tackle Marcus Forston: Like Bequette and Beauharnais, a need for more defensive backs against the high-powered Denver passing game necessitates Forston getting bumped in favor of someone like a Green, Marquice Cole, Tavon Wilson or Nate Ebner.
Safety Steve Gregory: The veteran, who was on the field over the course of the week in practice, suffered a thumb injury in the recent win over the Steelers. While he looked good and spoke optimistically about returning to face the Broncos, he’ll be on the shelf for another week. Expect Duron Harmon to see the bulk of the snaps in his place.
|11.24.13 at 5:45 pm ET|
The temperature at kickoff is expected to be 20 degrees but with winds howling out of the north at 25 MPH, wind chills will hover around 2 degrees for most of the night. The wind will be blowing in from the open (north) end of the stadium and could factor heavily into not only the passing game but the kicking game as well.
The game figures to be one of the coldest in the history of Gillette Stadium and could make many think back to the AFC divisional game with Tennessee on Jan. 10, 2004 when the Patriots had to hold on for dear life for a 17-14 win over Steve McNair and the Titans. That night, the game – also played in primetime for TV – was held in Arctic conditions.
The temperature at kickoff was 4 degrees with a wind of 15 MPH creating a wind chill of minus-14. That game still remains the coldest home game in Patriots history.
Tonight’s game is on NBC television and NBC announcer Cris Collinsworth will surely bring up the coldest game of his career. On Jan. 10, 1982, Collinsworth’s Bengals beat Air Coryell and the San Diego Chargers, 27-7, in a legendary AFC championship game know as the “Freezer Bowl.” That game was actually played in the sunlight of Riverfront Stadium but the sun did little to provide comfort. The temperature that day in Cincinnati was minus-9 at kickoff with winds swirling outside, making it feel like 59 degrees below. It remains the coldest game ever played.
The “Ice Bowl” between the Packers and Cowboys was actually colder in terms of real temperature (-13) but the wind chill was officially only 48 below. Peyton Manning has not had much success playing in the cold. He is 2-5 in his last seven games played under 30 degrees, including the playoffs. But his numbers show he’s not as terrible as the record suggests.
In Manning’s last eight games under 40 degrees, he is on a streak of seven straight games where he completed at least 70 percent of his passes. He has completed 177 of 243 passes (72.8%) for 2129 yards, with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and a 105.5 QB rating. He is 4-4 in those eight games and his offenses have averaged 26.5 points per game.
The winds were so strong that they forced the Patriots to cancel a pre-game ceremony in which they unveiled an American flag that covers the entire field.
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