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Snap Judgments: Patriots’ season comes to an end with loss to Broncos in AFC title game

01.19.14 at 6:03 pm ET

DENVER — In a year in which the Patriots suffered wave after wave of injury issues, they hit a tipping point in Sunday afternoon’s AFC title game.

Cornerback Aqib Talib went down in the second quarter after taking a low hit from former teammate Wes Welker, and Peyton Manning and the Broncos were able to take advantage. Manning went back time and again at his replacements as Denver came away with a 26-16 win over New England, ending the Patriots’ season and lifting the Broncos into Super Bowl XLVIII against the winner of the 49ers-Seahawks game later Sunday afternoon.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady ended up 24-for-38 for 277 yards with a touchdown, while wide receiver Julian Edelman finished with 10 catches for 89 yards and a touchdown and running back Shane Vereen added four carries for 34 yards.

Manning was impressive all afternoon, going 32-for-43 for 400 yards and two touchdowns to post his second postseason win over Brady and the Pats. In addition, Demaryius Thomas added seven catches for 134 yards and a touchdown, while Julius Thomas finished with eight catches for 85 yards.

The Patriots were never really in this one, as Manning and the Broncos were in control from the jump, taking a 10-0 lead and never trailing on the day. Denver held a 13-3 edge after two quarters, but unlike their November meeting — where New England was able to climb out of a 24-point halftime hole on the way to an overtime win — there was no comeback for the Patriots in this one. The Broncos and Manning put up an impressive 13-play, 80-yard drive that took 7:08 to open the second half and effectively end the game.

New England cut the lead to 23-10 midway through the fourth when Brady found Edelman for the Patriots’ first touchdown of the day, but New England could get no closer.

Here are a few quick notes:


– The Patriots defense — which was in a 4-2-5 look for most of the afternoon — suffered a fatal blow when Talib went down with what was initially announced as a rib injury, and then later changed to a knee injury. On the play that left Talib sidelined, Welker went low on the Pro Bowl cornerback on a pick play. Manning was able to single out Talib’s replacements, including rookie Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard on a series of drives late in the first half and the start of the second half. It was an ugly series for the New England secondary, and eerily reminiscent of last year’s AFC title game, when Talib went down early against the Ravens and Baltimore was able to take advantage of the situation.

– It was not the quarterback’s finest hour, as Brady had a handful of overthrows early on missed connections with a variety of targets, including Edelman and Austin Collie. Whether it was the result of play-calling, personnel or situational football, it was also a sluggish day for the New England running game, which was never able to gain any sort of traction. After rolling to 431 yards in the previous three games, LeGarrette Blount had five carries for six yards against the Broncos.

– Part of it was due to the fact that the Patriots were more inclined to drop extra defensive backs into coverage — a numbers game, really — but New England’s inability to get any sort of pressure on Manning all day played a big part in the success of the Denver quarterback. Chandler Jones and Andre Carter were able to fight through blocks and get a hand on Manning on a couple of occasions in the first half, but that was about it. Manning was not sacked on the afternoon.


– The Patriots were able to get a really impressive performance out of a handful of players. On the offensive side of the ball, Edelman was the most dependable part of the passing game, and New England worked consistently to try and get him isolated in man coverage — he was the best and most consistent part of the offense all afternoon. It worked for part of the day, but the Broncos were able to shut him out on a couple of occasions. (It didn’t help that Brady flat-out missed him on a couple of occasions, including on a key pass attempt early that would have almost certainly gone for a touchdown.)

– On defense, it was a relatively good day for the linebacking crew of Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, who were able to make several positive plays over the course of the afternoon. In particular, Collins was active in both run and pass defense. (Collins emerged as a real force on the defensive side of the ball over the final few games.) In addition, punter Ryan Allen was able to do a good job early on when it came to tilting the field — he had three punts in the first two quarters that averaged 49 yards.



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