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Bill Belichick: Broncos ‘a lot for us to handle’

12.18.11 at 9:30 pm ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick was full of praise for his team following its 41-23 win over the Broncos Sunday afternoon, and it was for good reason. By virtue of the win, the Patriots earned their third consecutive AFC East Championship, moved to 11-3 on the season, and avoided becoming the most recent team to fall victim to Tim Tebow‘s fourth-quarter heroics.

“It’s one of our goals at the start of the season, is to meet the challenge of our division, and our players have done that,” Belichick said. “[We’re] 6-2 on the road, so they’ve done a good job. They’ve met a lot of challenges, and this was a big one. But those guys did a great job today.”

Early in Sunday’s game, it looked like the Patriots could be in for a disappointing trip when they trailed 13-7 by the end of the first quarter, having allowed 218 yards to the Denver offense. But the Patriots defense shut the Broncos down over the next three quarters while the Patriots offense stepped up for a win in the Mile High city.

“They were certainly a lot for us to handle, but give our guys credit,” Belichick said. “We fought back, made plenty of plays to win in all three phases of the game. Just proud of the way they responded to the challenge, stepped up and played good football today so I’m happy about the win and again, the players did a great job this week.”

Tom Brady (23-for-34, 320 yards, two touchdowns) outdueled Tebow (11-for-22, 194 yards) in the game, but the Broncos quarterback still made some flashy plays. He led Denver in rushing with 93 yards on his own and connected with receiver Demaryius Thomas on third-and-18 in the fourth quarter via a 39-yard pass to the New England 36-yard line on one of a few long passes throughout the game.

The Patriots were at their best in pressuring the Denver offense, as they forced four fumbles (recovered three) and sacked Tebow four times for a total of 53 yards.

“I know we got good play out of our pass rushers and again, Tim’s a tough guy to get so it’s not easy with him,” Belichick said. “But we were able to get him a few times. We were able to throw him off, break his rhythm a little bit. And he got us a couple times too. He’s a good football player and that was a good battle. It was a good battle against our pass rush, and his mobility back there and that offensive line. We made a few, they made a few. Fortunately, we made enough to win.”

Following are more highlights from Belichick’s press conference. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Jerod Mayo, Tim Tebow, Tom Brady

Poll: What did you think of Tim Tebow’s performance against the Patriots?

12.18.11 at 8:56 pm ET
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Let the Matt Moore hype machine begin!

OK, so perhaps the Dolphins quarterback won’t quite dominate conversation over the next week leading up to his game on Saturday against the Patriots to the degree that Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow served as the focal point of the week leading into Sunday’s 41-23 Patriots win in Denver.

Now, the first glimpse of Tebow against the Patriots is in the books. The quarterback was 11-for-22, throwing for 194 yards (no touchdowns, no picks) and running 12 times for 93 yards and two touchdowns. He also fumbled twice, with one resulting in a critical turnover to the Patriots and, on the second, making a tremendous recovery in the back of his own end zone and then throwing the ball away to avoid a safety or Patriots touchdown.

His performance lends itself to the following poll question:

What did you think of Tim Tebow's performance on Sunday?

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Key Moment: Patriots force three turnovers in the second quarter to take command against the Broncos

12.18.11 at 8:30 pm ET
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For the Patriots, the key moments in Sunday’s eventful 41-23 win over the Broncos came in the second quarter during a remarkable sequence where Denver turned the ball over three times and New England turned those into 13 points to take control of the game.

‘€¢On the first turnover (which came with 8:37 left in the first half and the Broncos leading 16-14), Denver running back Lance Ball was tied up by linebacker Dane Fletcher and the ball was knocked away by defensive lineman Ron Brace and the fumble was recovered nicely by Rob Ninkovich at the Denver 19. New England quickly turned that into a 21-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski to make it 17-16 in favor of the Patriots.

‘€¢On the Broncos’ next possession — three plays after the Gostkowski field goal — defensive end Mark Anderson poked the ball away from Denver quarterback Tim Tebow (he also recovered the football) at the 4:32 mark. The Patriots turned that into a touchdown with a one-yard plunge from quarterback Tom Brady that made it 24-16 with 1:12 left in the first half. (That drive was highlighted by a 25-yard pass play from Brady to Aaron Hernandez on a fourth-and-2 to get New England down to the Denver six.)

‘€¢And with 14 seconds remaining in the half, Denver punt returner Quan Cosby fumbled away a punt return. Again, the Patriots took advantage, with Gostkowski adding his second field goal of the afternoon, a 34-yarder to make it 27-16 at the half.

It was part of a 20-point second quarter for the Patriots that turned a 13-7 deficit into a 27-16 halftime lead, and set the stage for New England’s victory that ended up sealing the win.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Dane Fletcher, Lance Ball, Mark Anderson

Snap Judgments: Patriots 41, Broncos 23

12.18.11 at 7:29 pm ET
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The Patriots clinched the AFC East title — their ninth in 11 years — on Sunday, as Tom Brady threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in a 41-23 victory over the Broncos. The Patriots put up 452 yards of offense against a Denver defense that had been outstanding in recent weeks.

The defense was awful in the opening quarter — allowing 167 yards rushing, most ever in a quarter against a Bill Belichick defense — but forced a pair of turnovers in the second quarter and gave up just seven points over the last 44 minutes (just 167 yards allowed over the final three quarters). Tim Tebow did rush for 88 yards and a pair of TDs but was sacked four times and fumbled twice, losing one of them.

The Patriots (11-3) now look for the top seed in the AFC. They host the Dolphins at Gillette on Saturday.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

— Look, all the hype this week was about Tebow — which is completely understandable, it’s the reality of things — but it was more than a little odd to see Brady reduced to second banana status all week. And it’s probably a reach to suggest that he needed extra motivation on Sunday, but Brady rose to the challenge of playing in perhaps the most anticipated regular-season game of the season, completing 23-of-34 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a one-yard score.

Aaron Hernandez had the best game of the career, setting highs with nine catches and 129 yards. He hauled in a one-yard TD pass from Brady in the second quarter, and on the next drive caught a fourth-and-inches pass from Brady and turned it into a 25-yard gain. Hernandez made Rahim Moore miss in the open field on several occasions, including a 22-yard gainer to the Denver 1 in the fourth quarter. He also chipped in with a 16-yard rush in the second quarter. Rob Gronkowski is having as good a season as any player at his position has ever produced, but Hernandez is putting together a very solid sophomore year.

What did you think of Tim Tebow's performance on Sunday?

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Mark Anderson forced a fumble by Tebow in the second quarter and showed tremendous hustle by also recovering the loose football. And Anderson later picked up a third-down sack of Tebow to halt a drive in the third quarter and had another QB takedown in the fourth quarter. Ron Brace also forced a fumble in the second quarter, ripping the ball out of the hands of Lance Ball. Rob Ninkovich made the recovery. Ninkovich also closed out any hope for another Tebow miracle with a 29-yard sack on fourth down with just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter.

— Colts win, Packers lose, Chad Ochocinco scores a touchdown. Our long nightmare is finally over, as Brady hit Ochocinco (who beat Andre Goodman) for a 33-yard score in the first quarter. That was it for Ochocinco — who started in place of Deion Branch — as he appeared to have more miscommunication issues with Brady. Read the rest of this entry »

Halftime analysis: Patriots 27, Broncos 16

12.18.11 at 5:58 pm ET
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Two quarters are in the book in Denver, and the Patriots hold a 27-16 lead on the Broncos. Here are a few notes/highlights:

‘€¢Tom Brady is 12-for-21 for 171 yards and two touchdowns, while Aaron Hernandez has six catches for 83 yards. Meanwhile, Tim Tebow is 5-for-8 for 68 yards, while Lance Ball had eight carries for 60 yards and a touchdown. After a rough start, the Patriots took advantage of three second-quarter fumbles to put 20 unanswered points on the board.

‘€¢It started ugly for the Patriots: A 10-play opening drive for Denver ended with a nine-yard run from Tebow, a sequence where the New England defense was gashed consistently on the ground as much as it had been all season. It was a nine-play, 80-yard drive that finished with Tebow’s run on a play where the New England defense displayed little if any of the gap discipline it needs to contain the quarterback. It was more of the same on Denver’s second drive, where it was a lot of running by the Broncos and a lot of poor form tackling by the Patriots, who struggled to bring down any runner over the first two quarters. Ball crashed through the New England defense for a 32-yard touchdown run that made it 13-7.

‘€¢Denver’s first two touchdowns were sandwiched around New England’s first TD of the day. On the Patriots’ first possession, New England answered with a pair of big pass plays, including a 33-yard pass play down the far sidelines where Chad Ochocinco ran a straight route down the field and became open because of a double team on fellow receiver Wes Welker. Ochocinco actually had to slow down to make the catch, but ended up beating Andre Goodman to the end zone. (Ochocinco also delivered a nice block to spring tight end Aaron Hernandez for a 46-yard gain down the near sideline on the same drive.)

‘€¢The best sequence of the half for the Patriots’ defense came midway through the second quarter when New England forced a pair of turnovers that changed the tone of the game. On the first, Denver running back Lance Ball was tied up by linebacker Dane Fletcher and the ball was knocked away by defensive lineman Ron Brace and the fumble was recovered nicely by Rob Ninkovich. New England quickly turned that into a 21-yard field goal to make it 17-16. On the Broncos’ next possession, defensive end Mark Anderson poked the ball away from Tebow (he also recovered the football), and the Patriots turned that into a touchdown with a one-yard plunge from  Brady that made it 24-16 with 1:12 left in the first half. (That drive was highlighted by a 25-yard pass play from Brady to Hernandez on a fourth-and-2 to get New England down to the Denver six.) The Patriots tacked on another three at the end of the first half when Denver fumbled away a punt return and Gostkowski added his second field goal of the afternoon, a 34-yarder to make it 27-16 at the half.

‘€¢For the Patriots, the highlight of the half offensively came on their third series when Brady put together a 12-play, 80-yard drive that included a 19-yard pass down the middle from Brady to Welker that got the Patriots down to the Denver one-yard line. The drive culminated with a one-yard pass from Brady to Hernandez. It took 5:04, and finally gave the New England defense an extended breather for the first time all afternoon.

‘€¢One thing that could have a long-term impact on the New England pass rush is an apparent left knee injury to defensive end Andre Carter, who went down in the first quarter and had to be carted off. (The Patriots announced in the second quarter that he would not return.) Through 13 games, Carter leads New England in quarterback sacks (10) and hits (22). The Patriots also lost right guard Brian Waters for a few snaps in the first half with what appeared to be a calf injury. However, the Patriots weren’t the only one that was bitten by the injury bug — Denver’s leading rusher, Willis McGahee, left in the first quarter with a leg injury.

A closer look at the Patriots’ inactives: Without Branch, Hernandez could have more active role

12.18.11 at 3:08 pm ET
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The Patriots inactives for Sunday’s game against the Broncos in Denver are as follows: safety Patrick Chung, running back Shane Vereen, linebacker Brandon Spikes, offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer, wide receiver Deion Branch, center Nick McDonald and quarterback Ryan Mallett.

Chung (foot), Spikes (knee), Vollmer (back and foot) and Vereen (hamstring) have struggled with injuries over the last few weeks — they were all listed as “questionable” on the injury report on Friday — so it’s no surprise they’ve been deactivated. Meanwhile Branch was not on the injury list on Friday, but was apparently dinged up at the end of the Redskins game last week with a groin injury and was not in the lineup down the stretch last Sunday.

With Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly on the shelf the last couple of weeks because of injury, McDonald saw a sizable chunk of time at the center spot, but it appears that both Wendell and Connolly are good to go today. (Sunday marks the first time Connolly is active since Nov. 21.) Other notables who aren’t on the inactive list include defensive lineman Gerard Warren, who was a healthy scratch last week.

As for those who should see extra time because of the inactives, figure that the Patriots could lean on part-time safety Matthew Slater for some depth in the secondary, as well as Ross Ventrone, who was just re-signed to the 53-man roster. They’ll provide support for a group that includes James Ihedigbo and Sergio Brown. At linebacker, even though Spikes is out again, New England has some good depth at the spot with Dane Fletcher starting to get into more of an active role again. No Vollmer at the right tackle spot means that rookie Nate Solder will likely go wire-to-wire at that position, and perhaps more of a role for fellow rookie offensive lineman Marcus Cannon. Meanwhile, Vereen hasn’t had much of an impact as a rookie, so his absence is likely negligible. And Mallett has been inactive for all but one game this season as the extra quarterback.

As for Branch, that’s likely the most intriguing inactive of the day. The veteran receiver has been a steady, dependable presence on the outside for quarterback Tom Brady. Without him, Brady will lean on tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Wes Welker even more than he already does. This will also open up options in the passing game for tight end Aaron Hernandez, who has some of the versatility needed to fill in on the outside. In addition, wide receivers Chad Ochocinco and Tiquan Underwood could also get more looks.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Spikes, Chad Ochocinco, Dan Connolly

Live Blog: Can the Patriots buck the Broncos (and that Tebow guy)?

12.18.11 at 3:00 pm ET
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Two of the hottest teams in the NFL will go head-to-head on Sunday, as the Broncos (winners of six straight) and their little-discussed quarterback will host a Patriots team (and its little known quarterback) that has won five straight. The only AFC team with a longer winning streak right now is the Houston Texans.

For all the latest news, analysis and insight into the game, join the WEEI.com live blog below.

Patriots/Broncos Live Blog

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