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Patriots cornerbacks rise to occasion in win over Broncos

11.25.13 at 3:47 am ET
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FOXBORO ‘€“ Going into Sunday night’€™s game against Peyton Manning and the explosive Denver offense, much of the talk was about if the Patriots would be able to stop the Broncos passing attack with a depleted defense, especially in the secondary.

The Patriots already were without four starters on defense, and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Alfonso Dennard were banged up. Talib returned last week against Carolina after missing a month with a hip injury but didn’€™t look the same as he did earlier in the year, and Dennard had minor surgery on his meniscus just over a week ago, forcing him to miss the Carolina game. Both players were listed as questionable and were game-time decisions, but they did play and were part of a secondary that played a major role in the Patriots’€™ 34-31 overtime win.

The Broncos entered Sunday averaging an NFL-best 350.4 passing yards per game, but that didn’€™t mean anything to the Patriots, as they limited Manning to 150 yards on 19-of-36 passing with two touchdown passes and forced a crucial interception in the second half. It was Manning’s fewest passing yards as a member of the Broncos.

‘€œThey’€™re a tough offense to play against. It’€™s hard to hold them down yardage wise, hold them down point-wise, but I thought we hung in there and battled,’€ coach Bill Belichick said. ‘€œI thought our corners, they deserve a ton of credit. Talib, [Kyle] Arrington, Alfonso, they’€™re all, nobody is 100 percent in that locker room, they’€™re all banged up, they fought through it, just wanted to go out there and complete. Devin [McCourty], Duron [Harmon], then we have Marquice [Cole] at the end, jumped in there, Logan Ryan. Those guys, they just went out there and competed against a great group of receivers.’€

The corners had challenging matchups, as Arrington lined up across from Wes Welker in the slot and Talib shadowed Demaryius Thomas the entire night. Arrington held Welker to just four catches for 31 yards, while Thomas finished with four receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown but didn’€™t make his first catch until the fourth quarter.

‘€œWe just tried to go out and make plays,’€ Talib said. ‘€œWe tried to take it one play at a time, man. We take it from practice to the game, just one play at a time. [If you] mess up, just forget about it, on to the next play. That’€™s just how we try to play.’€

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Read More: Alfonso Dennard, Aqib Talib, Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan

Bill Belichick takes a chance to start overtime and it pays off

11.25.13 at 3:30 am ET
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FOXBORO — More than a few onlookers were scratching their heads when Bill Belichick won the coin toss to start overtime and actually chose to give the ball to the most potent offense in football.

Now, this is certainly no surprise to start a game as Belichick has often chosen to defer to the second half to start a game. But when you’re talking about giving it to Peyton Manning when a touchdown would end the game, it’s a gamble.

But it was a calculated gamble that paid off when Wes Welker couldn’t read the wind late in overtime and didn’t catch a punt. Instead, he allowed up-man Tony Carter to touch the ball after it hit the ground. That set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 31-yard game-winner with 1:56 left in overtime, giving the Patriots an unbelievable 34-31 win.

All of that wouldn’t have been possible if the Patriots defense didn’t come up big and stop Manning on the first drive. But after the Broncos reached the Patriots 45, they self-destructed and moved backwards on an Eric Decker pass interference call.

The Broncos were forced to punt. Chalk one up to Belichick. His decision to take the wind, howling out of the north all game long at 25 MPH on a brutally cold night, went from unorthodox to uncanny.

“The wind, it was a strong wind,” Belichick said. “We just had to keep the out of the end zone, obviously. I just felt like the wind would be an advantage if we could keep them out of the end zone on that first drive. We were able to do that. The wind was significant in the game, it was definitely significant.”

Was Peyton Manning surprised Belichick gave him the ball to start overtime?

“No. That’s what they do sometimes,” Manning said.

Rob Gronkowski was happy with the decision.

‘€œGreat decision,” Gronkowski beamed. “He is our coach [and] we’€™re behind him with everything, especially Coach Belichick. Whatever he has, we’€™re behind him. So it was a great call because we won.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, nfl

Stevan Ridley on his fumble crisis: ‘It’s sickening’

11.25.13 at 2:56 am ET
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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.

‘€œIt’€™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.

‘€œIt 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.’€

Read More: LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots, nfl, Shane Vereen

Tony Carter on fateful punt: ‘One of those freakish things that happened’

11.25.13 at 2:18 am ET
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FOXBORO ‘€“ After 72 minutes and 62 points in another instant classic between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, it appeared the Patriots and Broncos were going to play to the dreaded tie.

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.

‘€œI 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. ‘€œI 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 ‘€œPeter, Peter’€ and acknowledged he may have been a bit indecisive when making the call, leading to the ball hitting Carter.

‘€œI have to get to him earlier and tell him,’€ Welker said. ‘€œI 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.

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Read More: Broncos, Nate Ebner, Patriots, Ryan Allen

Wes Welker: ‘I’ve got a lot of respect’ for Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick

11.25.13 at 1:56 am ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” A disheartened Wes Welker spoke to the media about his return to New England following the Patriots’ 34-31 comeback victory over the Broncos at Gillette Stadium.

“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.

‘€œI 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.

‘€œIt 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.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Broncos, Patriots, Robert Kraft

Snap Judgments: Patriots escape with wild 34-31 overtime win against Broncos

11.25.13 at 12:22 am ET
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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.

Halftime analysis: Broncos 24, Patriots 0

11.24.13 at 10:05 pm ET
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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.

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