Patriots cornerbacks rise to occasion in win over Broncos
|11.25.13 at 3:47 am ET|
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.
“They’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. “I 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.
“We just tried to go out and make plays,” Talib said. “We 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.”
Dennard didn’t start the game, as Ryan took his place, but he played roughly 20 snaps in the first half and then didn’t see one play in the second half, likely due to his knee still nagging him. The position didn’t skip a beat as Ryan had his best game of the year, capped by an interception of Manning late in the third quarter.
The Patriots found themselves trailing 24-0 at the half, mostly because of three Patriots turnovers that led to 21 Denver points, but the defense held strong and kept the Broncos offense in check for the entire second half and overtime.
After allowing points on three of Denver’s first five possessions, the Patriots limited the Broncos to just one scoring drive over their last nine in the game, with four of those drives being five plays or less.
“We didn’t come out and play well in the first half, and I think all year this team has shown how tough we are and there was no quit in anyone,” McCourty said. “On the sidelines, in the locker room, we came in and it wasn’t a big going crazy, it was, ‘We’ve got to play.’ I mean, we dug ourselves a hole, let’s just play and see what happens, and we were able to make a good comeback, score some touchdowns, get some stops and a fortunate bounce right there,and [we were] able to win the game.”
Despite a season full of injuries, the team continues to employ the “next man up” attitude, and Sunday night was a prime example of it paying off.
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