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Halftime analysis: Patriots 27, Broncos 16

12.18.11 at 5:58 pm ET

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.



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