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Snap Judgments: Patriots hold on to beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos

10.07.12 at 7:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The anticipated duel between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning never materialized Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, as the New England defense held Manning in check through the early going while the Patriots offense built 31-7 lead and held on in the second half for the 31-21 win. Here are a few notes:


‘€¢ When it comes to slowing Manning, the game plan Sunday was the same as it was in 2003: keep him off the field. The Patriots executed that part of the game plan to perfection, as for the second consecutive week, the Patriots were able to run the ball consistently, grinding out the clock and controlling the tempo throughout the contest.

As a result, Manning spent large parts of the game cooling his heels on the sidelines as New England put together multiple scoring drives of 10-plus plays on the afternoon. (Between the 5-minute mark of the second quarter and the 5-minute mark of the third quarter, the Broncos ran six plays.) On the day, New England was 11 of 17 when it came to third-down conversions, and set a new franchise record with 35 first downs in the game.

‘€¢ The Patriots got another impressive performance from their running game, as Stevan Ridley finished with 151 yards on the ground. (Sunday marked the first time since 1978 that the Patriots have had back to back 200-yard rushing games — they had 247 last week against the Bills.) Meanwhile, fellow backs Brandon Bolden (14 carries, 54 yards) and Danny Woodhead (7 carries, 47 yards) performed nicely in complementary roles.

‘€¢ Again, with no Aaron Hernandez in the lineup, Brady and Wes Welker were in terrific sync throughout the afternoon. Welker — who was matched up on defensive back Chris Harris for much of the game — had nine catches in the first half alone, and ended up with 13 catches for 104 yards on the afternoon. The Patriots also got excellent performances in the passing game from Rob Gronkowski (4 catches, 35 yards) and Brandon Lloyd (3 catches, 34 yards). On the afternoon, Brady ended up 23 of 31 for 223 yards and one touchdown.

‘€¢ Defensive star of the game? Let’s go with defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who has 10 tackles, three forced fumbles (two against the Broncos) and a pair of sacks (one Sunday against Denver) in his last two games. He talked after the win against Buffalo about stepping up and improving his game — he’s certainly done that the last two weeks.


‘€¢ Even though it was fairly obvious for much of the afternoon the Broncos were all about passing the ball, there were a handful of occasions where the New England defensive backs struggled to contain Manning and the Denver receivers. Manning ended the day 31 of 44 for 345 yards and three touchdowns, with the bulk of the passes going to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (9 catches, 188 yards).

‘€¢ One guy who did struggle at times in coverage was cornerback Devin McCourty, who yielded a touchdown pass on a nifty catch by Eric Decker in the third quarter, was flagged for a pass interference call that set up Denver’s first touchdown of the game at the start of the second quarter and allowed a big fourth-quarter pass play to Thomas that got the Broncos into the New England red zone.

‘€¢ At various times, the Patriots lost the services of several difference players, including McCourty, linebacker Tracy White and offensive linemen Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer. None of the injuries appeared to be serious, but White and Mankins were among those who were unable to finish the game.

Key Moments: Rob Ninkovich forces pair of fumbles

10.07.12 at 7:30 pm ET
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For the Patriots, the key moment in Sunday’s 31-21 win over the Broncos came with five minutes left in the third quarter. Following a 16-play, 80-yard drive that gave New England a 24-7 lead — a drive that was kept alive by an unlikely 19-yard rush by Danny Woodhead on a 3rd-and-17 at the New England 43-yard line — the Broncos began a drive at their own 20-yard line.

On the first play of the drive, Peyton Manning was sacked by Rob Ninkovich, who beat tackle Orlando Franklin on the edge to get a hit on the quarterback, causing a fumble. (Chandler Jones also hit Manning on the play, beating Ryan Clady). Vince Wilfork recovered the fumble for the Patriots at the Denver 14-yard line.

The Patriots cashed in on the turnover quickly, as Shane Vereen drew an 11-yard pass interference call on Joe Mays on the first play of the drive. After a false start penalty from Nate Solder pushed the Patriots back five yards, Stevan Ridley rushed for an eight-yard TD (with solid blocking on the left side from Solder and Daniel Fells) to give the Patriots a 31-7 lead.

The Broncos rallied, however, and cut the lead to 31-21 and were at the New England 14-yard line late in the fourth quarter. That’s when Ninkovich made another impact play, stripping Willis McGahee (who had a crucial fourth-down drop earlier) of the ball on a second-down rush. Jermaine Cunningham recovered for the Patriots, who were able to convert a pair of third-down plays to run out the clock and move to 3-2 on the season.

Patriots vs. Broncos Live Blog — the return of that Peyton fellow

10.07.12 at 2:00 pm ET
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With the Broncos visiting New England on Sunday, Peyton Manning is making his much-anticipated return to Gillette Stadium. is on the scene with all the latest news, updates and analysis in the live blog below. Join us!

Patriots vs. Broncos Live Blog

Setting the scene: Patriots-Broncos

10.07.12 at 1:10 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Steady rain and temperatures in the mid-50s are expected for the late afternoon kickoff between the Patriots and Broncos at Gillette Stadium.

It figures to a be a raw afternoon at Gillette but wind should not play a major factor with only a light 5 mph breeze out of the west expected.

The Patriots enter the game with 12 players listed as questionable, including tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is battling a hip issue that reportedly has become more and more serious in the last two weeks. If Gronkowski can’t play, the Patriots could be extremely thin at tight end as Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion) did not practice on Wednesday and Friday and Aaron Hernandez (right ankle) has missed the last two games before returning to practice on Thursday.

Receiver Julian Edelman (left hand) and safety Steve Gregory (hip) have already been ruled out.

The Patriots are playing their first 4:25 game of the year, 10 minutes later than last year to allow networks additional time for early games to finish before switching to a national game. Next week, the Patriots play at 4:05 p.m. ET in Seattle but the game is not a national game.

The Patriots are playing just their second home game in the first five weeks of the season after back-to-back road games in Baltimore and Buffalo. The Patriots have just three home games in the first two months of the season.

Of course, the main storyline today is Peyton Manning returning to New England for a matchup with Tom Brady and the Patriots. Brady holds a 8-4 advantage over Manning, including 6-3 in the regular season.

Manning is 2-8 lifetime in New England, with his only wins coming in back-to-back seasons in 2005 and ’06.

Belichick is 9-5 against Manning, having split with him in 2000, the only year in the Belichick era the Patriots played Manning without Brady at the helm. The 9-5 mark does not include last year when the Patriots beat the Colts, 31-24, at Gillette, when Manning was on the sidelines for the Colts and missed the entire 2011 season.

In the Brady-Manning era, Manning has 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and a completion rate of 60.7 percent against the Belichick-coached Patriots. Brady has 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and a completion rate of 67.8 percent against the Manning-led Colts.

As is the case around the NFL, the Patriots and Broncos will be wearing various pieces of pink equipment and uniform apparel to commemorate breast cancer awareness month. (Note the second “A” in the GAMEDAY program in the inset photo).

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Denver Broncos, Michael Hoomanawanui, New England Patriots

Live Chat: Fantasy Football heading into Week 5

10.07.12 at 2:26 am ET
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The Fantasy Football Chat with Pete Davidson of Rotobahn and will start on Sunday at 10:30m. Join by clicking below.

Fantasy Football Chat, Week 5

Bill Belichick explains why Champ Bailey can ‘match up against anybody’ in the NFL

10.06.12 at 1:36 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Wes Welker knows how hard it’s going to be to get open on Sunday against the Broncos, especially when perennial Pro Bowl corner Champ Bailey is matched up against him.

“He’s just a great ball player,” Welker said of the 34-year-old corner. “I think he just gets out of bed and he’s just great. He’s very patient and does a good job to get his hands on you and plays really well. Smart guy, instincts, all those things and it’s why he’s stayed around so long.”

There’s been so much focus on future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning that it’s easy to overlook another sure-fire Hall of Famer in Bailey. He has more Pro Bowls than any cornerback in history with 11. He is a six-time All-Pro and has been the NFL Defensive Back of the Year twice.

Welker has had a decent amount of success in his battles with him, catching 22 balls in four regular season games for an average of 11.4 yards per reception. He’s averaged just over 64 yards a game but only two touchdowns in the four matchups. He had six catches for 55 yards and a score in the 45-10 romp over Tim Tebow‘s Broncos in the playoffs last January.

“Just have to be very precise and keep him on his toes and make sure you’re really mixing it up on him and being physical and doing things necessary to get open,” Welker said of what a receiver must do against the decorated corner. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Andre Johnson, Bill Belichick, Calvin Johnson, Denver Broncos

Nuggetpalooza: Patriots vs Broncos statistical preview!

10.06.12 at 9:20 am ET
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Tom Brady squares off against Peyton Manning on Sunday as the Patriots try to capture their first home win of the season. Here are some numbers that I thought might interest you:

* – If it seems like the Patriots usually play the Broncos on the road (in regular season games), you’re right. This is their 25th regular season meeting since 1972, and 15 of the previous 24 have taken place out west (including eight of the last 12).

* – On Sunday, the Patriots amassed 33 first downs, the 31st time since 1991 that a team has racked up 33+ in a game. Thing is, the Patriots were the 30th team to do it also, as they collected 33 against the Ravens as well. Only one other team, the 2004 Chiefs, have put up 33 or more first downs two weeks in a row, and both of those came at home. The Patriots and Bengals are the only teams that have put up two such games on the road in total over the last 22 seasons and the Pats are the only ones to do it twice in one year, much less twice in a row.

Note this: The 19 rushing first downs by the Patriots were the most by any NFL team since 2005, the second most ever by a Patriots team (21 vs. Denver, 1976) , and the most allowed by the Bills since at least 1991.

NFL Note: The Cardinals remained unbeaten last Sunday despite zero rushing first downs. They were the first team since 2006 to win without picking up a first down on the ground and just the 10th such winner since 1991. Funny thing is that four of the other nine such winners over the last 22 seasons did so while playing AGAINST Arizona.

* – On a related note, the Patriots have gone three-and-out only three times this season, the fewest in the league. But here’s where it gets interesting: The Broncos’ defense has forced their opponents into 15 three-and-outs, the most in the league. That’s a whopping 34% of opponent possessions, on pace to be the second highest percentage since they began tracking the stat in 1995, trailing only the 1999 Ravens (35.5%).

* – By far this season, when you’ve heard the name Peyton Manning, the words most often heard along with it were “arm strength”. Well, I guess “tapenade” would be up there as well, but I digress. It’s a small sample size of only four games, but let’s take a look at Manning’s passing by length of throw so far this season and in 2010, his last season before his injury. When I use “rating”, I’m referring to a rating that takes average net yards per pass play (so sacks are factored in) plus 30 times the touchdown percentage, minus 50 times the interception percentage (so interceptions hurt more than touchdowns help), and compare that figure to the league average net yards per pass play. Whew. So here we go:

Passes thrown behind the line:
2012: 23-for-30, +5.02 rating (2nd);
2010: 88-for-105, +0.82 rating (5th);

Passes thrown 1 to 10 yards downfield:
2012: 54-for-77 (70% completions; 9th), 3 TD, 0 INT, +1.62 rating (4th);
2010: 266-for-357 (75% completions; 1st), 17 TD, 3 INT, +1.10 rating (9th);

Passes thrown 11 to 20 yards downfield:
2012: 18-for-35 (51% completions; 21st), 1 TD, 0 INT, -1.05 rating (20th);
2010: 76-for-140 (54% completions; 13th), 7 TD, 7 INT, -1.44 rating (13th);

Passes thrown 21 to 30 yards downfield:
2012: 2-for-7 (29% completions; 20th), 1 TD, 3 INT, -20.39 rating (32nd; Last);
2010: 13-for-52 (25% completions; 24th), 4 TD, 6 INT, -4.63 rating (25th);

Passes thrown 31+ yards downfield:
2012: 2-for-5 (40% completions; 8th), 1 TD, 0 INT, +7.50 rating (12th);
2010: 7-for-25 (28% completions; 24th), 2 TD, 1 INT, -0.15 rating (16th);

In 2010, before he got hurt, 11% of Manning’s passes were thrown 20 or more yards downfield and his rating was -3.45, which ranked 21st. So far this season, only 8% of his throws have been long passes of 20+ yards, and his rating is -8.61, ranked 29th. Just to complete the puzzle, Manning’s rating on long passes was -1.07 in 2009 (17th) and -1.76 in 2008, also ranked 17th.

So judging by the numbers only, it’s difficult to tell if Peyton’s arm strength is worse post surgery, because he was not a terribly effective long passer before his injury. Read the rest of this entry »

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