|01.14.12 at 11:25 pm ET|
FOXBORO ‘ For the first time since the 2007 season, the Patriots advanced past their first playoff game, tonight with a 45-10 win over the Broncos at Gillette Stadium. The first half is when Tom Brady and the Patriot offense did most of the damage, leading 35-7 heading into the locker rooms, and giving Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow virtually no chance at any second-half comeback.
The Patriots advance to the AFC Championship Game next weekend, where the winner of the Ravens and Texans will make the trip up to Foxboro.
The Patriots defense showed signs of life against Tebow and the Denver offense, and looked like a unit primed for playoff action. Here are a few observations of what went right (which was a lot), and what went wrong for the Pats.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
-Tom Brady and the Patriot offense ignited the first half with 35 points ‘ all on touchdown passes from Brady ‘ and never stopped rolling. The insurmountable first-half lead buried the Broncos. At the half, Brady had completed 18 of 25 pass attempts for 246 yards with five touchdowns and an interception. His long of 61 yards was fed to Deion Branch on a rope down the left sideline for his fourth touchdown pass.
-Both of the Patriots tight ends had breakthrough games in the first playoff win for New England since the 2007-08 season. Rob Gronkowski was the go-to man once again for Brady. Gronkowski punched the ball in to the end zone three times in the first half, which tied a single-game NFL record held by 16 other players. The kicker is that Gronk is only the second tight end in history (Dave Casper being the other) to have three touchdown catches in a postseason game. And Aaron Hernandez showed his versatility on Saturday night by starting at the halfback position for Danny Woodhead, and carrying the ball well. He rushed for 58 yards on three carries in the first half, and caught a touchdown pass from Brady on the Patriots’ first offensive possession in the second half. The Broncos had no answer for either of New England’s tight ends.
-The Patriots ran the no-huddle offense with ease on Saturday against a struggling Denver defense. Hernandez broke the longest run of the day for the Patriots (a 43-yarder) in the first quarter as the Broncos tried to set up in time for the snap. On multiple occasions, the Broncos training staff had to come onto the field to help sluggish defenders to their feet and off the field.
-Tim Tebow struggled heavily in the first three quarters with his accuracy, completing just three passes through the first two and a half periods of play. At the halfway point in the third quarter, Brady had six touchdown passes, doubling up Tebow’s completion total. Chants of ‘Tebow’ flooded Gillette Stadium as the Broncos quarterback was flushed from the pocket by the Patriots defense.
-And speaking of the Patriots D – looked who showed up today. Tebow and the Broncos offense managed just seven points in the first half, and added a field goal for a total of 10 after three quarters of play. Led by linebackers Rob Ninkovich (who had four tackles, one and a half sacks and a forced fumbled after three quarters) and Jerod Mayo, the Patriots pass rush was apparent on Saturday night. Tebow was sacked, forced out of the pocket, knocked down, hurried up, and pressured in the Patriots win. The 31st ranked defense in the league didn’t reflect that peg here tonight.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
-There were a few areas that the Patriots could have improved on, if only slightly. A wonderful and record-setting day aside, Brady did throw a few errant passes ‘ one of which ended up in the hands of Broncos defensive back Quinton Carter. Another pass sailed over the heads of both Hernandez and Wes Welker on a third down late in the first half. But really, other than the one blip on the stat sheet for Brady, it was a great day for the Patriots quarterback.
-The defensive backfield could still use work, especially if the Patriots are making a Super Bowl run. A healthy Patrick Chung gives the Patriots a veteran presence, but against a team with a better quarterback and receiving core the Pats could struggle heavily if the defensive front can’t put the same pressure against the opponent that they have on Tebow tonight. Time will tell, though. At least we know the Patriots will get another shot next weekend in the AFC Championship game.
|01.14.12 at 9:48 pm ET|
‘¢Tom Brady is 18-for-25 for 246 yards with five touchdowns and one interception, with Rob Gronkowski catching eight balls for 97 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Tim Tebow (who hasn’t gone deep once in the first half) is 3-for-10 for 28 yards and a fumble, while Willis McGahee has 12 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown.
‘¢Throughout much of the first quarter, the Patriots’ pass catchers were getting a free release downfield, with Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker getting separation on several occasions. Hernandez spent several snaps in the backfield, working as a fullback, which is pretty much in line with what a scout told us earlier in the week about what New England was planning to do. Hernandez lined up in the backfield for a majority of the plays on New England’s opening scoring drive, a five-play, 80-yard sequence that was highlighted by a 43-yard run by a Hernandez around left end and ended with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Welker.
‘¢After a Tebow fumble (forced by Rob Ninkovich and recovered by Brandon Spikes), the Patriots were able to rip off more chunk plays utilizing their tight ends, who accounted for 44 of the 59 yards on that scoring drive, which ended with a 10-yard pass to Gronkowski in the corner of the end zone to make it 14-0 late in the first quarter. The Patriots would add to that with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Gronkowski midway through the second quarter to give New England a 21-7 lead. The Patriots finished the half in style with a 61-yard scoring strike to Deion Branch down the New England sidelines that made it 28-7 with 1:57 left in the first half.
‘¢The Broncos were able to generate some good pressure in the second quarter, and ended up stopping the Patriots on New England’s initial possession of the second quarter. But that was their lone highlight, as Brady had more touchdown passes in the first half than Tebow had completions.
‘¢The worst moment of the first half for the New England offense came just before the end of the first half when Brady airmailed a pass for Gronkowski over the middle and Quinton Carter picked it off, setting the Broncos up with great field position at the Patriots’ 24-yard line. They cashed in four plays later when Willis McGahee busted up the gut for a five-yard run into the end zone to make it 14-7 with 14:54 left in the half.
‘¢Defensively, the Patriots flashed some unique looks, with the most interesting coming with the constant shuffling of Devin McCourty between cornerback and safety. More often than not, McCourty was at corner over the first two downs and then moved to deep safety on third down. The best defender on the field over the first two quarters was Ninkovich, who was able to bring some good pressure, coming away with a sack. He was also able to do a good job with contain, setting the edge nicely.
|01.14.12 at 7:27 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The following players were listed as inactive by New England for Saturday night’s game between the Patriots and Broncos: quarterback Ryan Mallett, running back Shane Vereen, tackle Sebastian Vollmer, guard Donald Thomas, defensive lineman Ron Brace, linebacker Gary Guyton and cornerback Nathan Jones.
‘¢The decision to sit Vollmer is perhaps the biggest move, at least from a personnel standpoint. The right tackle, who returned to practice this week after an extended stretch on the shelf, has been hobbled all season long by back and foot problems, and will likely be spelled at the position by rookie Nate Solder. Solder, a rookie out of Colorado, has actually played serious snaps all season long because of Vollmer’s injuries, and has performed well at tackle (as well as an occasional snap here and there at tight end). He’ll be making his playoff debut, and will likely play a ton of snaps.
‘¢One banged up offensive lineman who will give it a go tonight is guard Logan Mankins. Mankins suffered a knee injury in the penultimate regular-season game, but appears to be good to go against the Broncos. (The decision to deactivate Thomas is likely tied to Mankins’ availability.)
‘¢Guyton and Jones are two healthy scratches that are interesting, as Guyton has slid down the depth chart all season long (there has been at least one occasion this year where he has dressed but hasn’t played). Meanwhile, Jones has added depth in the secondary, but hasn’t been what you might call an integral part of the roster. Jones’ absence could lead to more playing time at defensive back for Julian Edelman and/or Matthew Slater. In fact, the secondary is an extremely fluid situation. Devin McCourty could see time at corner and/or safety, while Kyle Arrington, and Antwaun Molden the top options at cornerback. Meanwhile, Patrick Chung is apparently feeling good enough to play, while James Ihedigbo, Sergio Brown, and Sterling Moore are available safety.
‘¢Mallett has been the victim of a numbers’ game all season, while Vereen has also been sidelined by personnel decisions as well as a nagging hamstring injury he’s battled all season long. Veteran Kevin Faulk is active, and will likely see an uptick in activity because Vereen is out.
|01.14.12 at 5:58 pm ET|
|01.14.12 at 12:12 pm ET|
FOXBORO — After enjoying one of the mildest seasons in franchise history, Mother Nature will turn Gillette Stadium into an outdoor freezer for tonight’s AFC Divisional Playoff between the Patriots and Broncos. Temperatures in the low 20s with a bitter wind of 17 MPH are expected for kickoff. The thermometer is expected to dip to as low as single digits by the end of the game. The Patriots will hand out 20,000 hand warmers tonight to help fans battle the brutal cold.
There will be plenty of comparisons to the last bitterly cold Saturday night AFC Divisional Playoff in Foxboro.
It was four degrees above (-16 C) for the 8 p.m. kickoff on Jan. 10, 2004, a game referenced in Kirk Minihane’s column about the Gillette Stadium crowd. The wind chill that night in 2004 made it feel like -11 as the Patriots edged the Titans, 17-14 on a late Adam Vinatieri field goal and a defensive stand.
Tonight, the wind chill is expected to be around 6 degrees with it dropping throughout the game.
The Patriots come into the game with 13 players listed as questionable, including offensive lineman Logan Mankins, who injured his left knee in the Christmas Eve win over the Dolphins. The left guard limped off the podium on Thursday after speaking to the media for the first time since his injury. Mankins is expected to dress and test the left knee in warmups at his standard left guard position. Mankins injured the knee when he was filling in for Matt Light at left tackle, when Light couldn’t push off his right foot warmups.
Another player to keep a close eye on is safety Patrick Chung. He returned from a right foot injury in Week 17 against the Bills and fully participated on Thursday in practice. But he suddenly appeared on Friday’s injury report as limited and questionable with a knee issue.
WEEI.com’s Christopher Price has 10 things to look for in tonight’s match-up.
For the Broncos, receiver Eric Decker is out with a knee injury while long snapper and former Patriots snow angel artist Lonie Paxton is out for personal reasons. Paxton is dealing a medical issue in his family. Taking Paxton’s place is 18-year NFL veteran David Binn, who was signed Friday by the Broncos, after 17 seasons with the Chargers.
The Patriots are trying to end a three-game playoff losing streak, having lost Super Bowl XLII to the Giants, the wild card showdown with the Ravens two years ago and last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff to the Jets.
The Patriots started off 8-0 lifetime in playoff games at Gillette before losing their last two.
Of course, Belichick’s three Super Bowl rings as head coach is second only to Noll (4). Gibbs and Bill Walsh also have three.
The Patriots and Broncos met in this same round in Jan. 2006 in Denver. That’s when Champ Bailey intercepted Tom Brady and raced up the left sideline 100 yards, just beating Ben Watson to the end zone. The Broncos would win the game, 27-13, losing to the Steelers in the AFC Championship the next week.
This is third playoff meeting all-time between two of the charter members of the AFL. The Broncos have won both in Denver, also winning 22-17 on Jan. 4, 1987, the season after the Patriots won their first of six AFC Championships. The Broncos are the only team to have beaten the Patriots twice in the postseason.
|01.13.12 at 4:03 pm ET|
It seems like everyone is coming up with their own Tim Tebow-related song, and now you can add Jimmy Fallon to the list. NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” host changed David Bowie‘s “Space Oddity” to a song about the polarizing Broncos quarterback. Fallon even sings about Tebow’s upcoming playoff game against the Patriots in the song, which you can see in its entirety below.
|01.13.12 at 11:05 am ET|
It’s playoff time! For the third straight season, the Patriots host a playoff game. They’ve lost each of the last two. Tomorrow, Tim Tebow and the Broncos come to Foxboro brimming with confidence after their stunning overtime victory over the Steelers last Sunday. Get ready for all the action with a bunch of numbers that perhaps you haven’t seen elsewhere (and even a few bonus nuggets on the other games this weekend) :
* – Saturday will be the fourth time in Patriots history that they will face off against the league’s top rushing team in a postseason game:
2001 – Won 24-17 at Pittsburgh, allowing only 58 rushing yards
1997 – Lost 7-6 at Pittsburgh, allowing 145 rushing yards
1985 – Lost badly… well, really badly to the Bears in the Super Bowl, allowing 167 rushing yards and four touchdowns
* – Denver went three-and-out a league high 62 times this season, breaking their club record of 50, set in 1999 and tied last season (although they’ve only tracked this since 1995). Last Sunday against Pittsburgh, Denver went three-and-out on their first two possessions, then never again over their final 11 (not counting two one-play possessions at the end of each half). The Broncos went three-and-out at least three times in seven of their final eight regular season games.
Note this: Denver has gone three-and-out multiple times in the first quarter in five of their last six games (including last Sunday’s win). The Patriots’ offense did that exactly once all season, but it came in their last game, two weeks ago against the Bills.
Note this too: Considering all of the hand wringing that’s gone on regarding the Patriots’ slow starts this season, can you guess during which quarter the Patriots offense went three-and-out most often this season? How about which quarter New England’s defense forced the most three-and-outs? Chew on that and I’ll give you the answer later.
* – You may have heard that prior to Denver’s game winning, 80-yard, touchdown pass in overtime last week, the Broncos had run the ball on 23 of their 24 first down plays in that game. In addition, in their previous 16 quarters of football, Denver had exactly two pass plays of 25 yards or more on first down. For the regular season, Denver led the league with 1,359 rushing yards on first down and ranked third by averaging 4.98 yards per carry on first down. New England’s defense allowed a first down rushing average of 4.81 yards, fourth WORST in the league, and the worst by a Pats’ defense since at least 1991.
* – Denver also rushed for 671 yards and a 5.20 average in the fourth quarter, both NFL highs. Their average yards per carry was a club record for the fourth quarter. The Patriots allowed 4.58 yards per carry in the fourth quarter this season, the second worst mark in the league.
* – One aspect of the running game in which the Patriots have outperformed the Broncos is in the red zone. New England rushed for 284 red zone yards (2nd), 17 touchdowns (2nd), and a 2.99 average per carry (8th). Denver managed just 98 red zone rushing yards (28th), six touchdowns (26th), and a 2.45 average (16th).
* – Tim Tebow passed for 194 yards to the left last Sunday, 80 yards over the middle (all on one play), and 42 yards to the right. It was the most yards to the left by the Broncos all season, surpassing their high of 164 and their average of 82. They had not surpassed 80 yards over the middle in 31 games, averaging 26 such passing yards in that span.
* – The Broncos became the third team in NFL history to win four overtime games in a season (including postseason). The others were the 2003 Panthers and this season’s Cardinals.
* – As a group, Broncos’ pass receivers managed only 303 yards after contact this season, an average of 1.53 yards per reception, both league lows. Compare that to New England’s receivers, who rang up 1,016 yards after contact, an average of 2.53 yards per reception, both league highs.
* – The Patriots finished the season by “winning” the turnover battle in each of their last eight games, putting up a +17 margin in that span. It ties the longest such streak by a Patriots team since 1990, which was set during the final eight games of LAST SEASON, when they put up a +23. These are the only two such streaks of more than five games by the Patriots in the last 20 years. The longest such streak in the NFL since ’90 is 12 games, set by the 1997-98 Giants.
NFL Note: The 2006-07 Patriots had a 17 game streak in which they “won” or “tied” the turnover battle each week. That was the league record until Week 17 of this season, when the Packers ran their streak to 18 games in a row without losing a turnover battle.
* – Here are the first quarter rushing yards allowed by the Patriots over their last six games of the season: 32, 35, 167, 55, 22, 17. Yes, the 167 is the total rushing yardage that Denver put up in the opening quarter against New England. It’s the most rushing yardage by any team in any first quarter since they began tracking the stat in 1991 and more than double the previous high against the Patriots (80 by the Bills in 1998).
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