|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, playoff edition: Peyton Manning’s Broncos No. 1||01.02.13 at 9:40 am ET|
It’s finally here. The postseason kicks off this Saturday and there are many teams capable of raising the Vince Lombardi trophy in New Orleans. Of the 12 playoff teams, four were not in the postseason last year (Colts, Seahawks, Redskins, Vikings). Three of those teams will have rookie quarterbacks leading the offense. Football fans are in for an entertaining postseason.
Leading the way are the Broncos (1). With 11 straight wins and as the only team to have both a top-five offense and defense, Denver is poised for a deep run. The No. 1 seed in the NFC is at No. 4 in the Power Rankings. The Falcons will enjoy a week off before Matt Ryan attempts to win his first playoff game. The two other teams that will enjoy a first-round bye are the Niners (3) and Patriots (4).
Will wild card weekend produce a few upsets? The Seahawks (6) could deliver one on the road against the Redskins (10).
1. Broncos (13-3) — Peyton Manning has led the Broncos to 11 straight wins and guaranteed Denver home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The veteran quarterback has done a tremendous job getting the offense in sync. The passing attack is one of the most dynamic in the league. The defense is ranked in the top five of the league as well.
2. 49ers (11-4-1) — One thing to watch is how Justin Smith deals with his triceps injury. The dominant D-lineman is a big reason why the 49ers defense is the best in the league. San Francisco will be facing some high-powered offenses in the postseason and will need Smith to wreak havoc up front like he usually does.
3. Patriots (12-4) — We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, but doesn’t it seem like the Patriots and Broncos are on a collision course for an AFC championship showdown? Grabbing a first-week bye puts the veteran Pats in a great position to return to the Super Bowl. A healthy Rob Gronkowski is key to this team’s success.
4. Falcons (13-3) — The No. 1 seed in the AFC has a lot of doubters. The Falcons have been in this position before and have failed. The difference now is Matt Ryan is playing better, the offensive is filled with explosive playmakers, and new coordinator Mike Nolan has the defense playing inspired football.
5. Packers (11-5) — No one wants to play the Packers in the playoffs, but Green Bay is vulnerable with a beat-up offensive line, shaky defense, and only one guaranteed game on the friendly confines of the frozen tundra.
|Von Miller: Broncos defense ‘didn’t execute’ against uptempo Patriots offense||10.07.12 at 10:41 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The last time Tom Brady and Peyton Manning met was on Nov. 21, 2010 — a game where the Patriots beat the Colts, 31-28. In that one, Brady threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns, while Manning racked up 396 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.
On Sunday, Manning made his first trip back to Foxboro since that loss in 2010, this time with his new Broncos teammates. Each team entered Sunday’s contest with identical 2-2 records, but Manning’s Broncos weren’t as prepared as they had hoped for the up-tempo pace of the Patriots’ no-huddle. The Patriots went ahead early and did not relinquish the lead, winning 31-21 at Gillette Stadium.
After the game, Broncos linebacker Von Miller said that his defense was prepared from watching film all week long for the fast-paced offense Brady and the Patriots ran, but his defense just didn’t execute well enough to come out on top.
“They’re a good offense — we knew that coming into the game,” Miller said. “We were prepared for the type of offense we knew they were going to run. We didn’t execute — another week we didn’t execute — and we put ourselves in situations that we can’t get out of.”
Although Manning put up solid numbers (31-of-44, 345 yards and three touchdowns), most of the damage done by him was in the second half. The key for the Patriots was a mix of effective running and passing plays — something the Broncos couldn’t accomplish. Willis McGahee finished the day with 51 yards on 14 carries and a crucial fumble inside the Patriots’ 15-yard line with less than four minutes left to play.
Broncos head coach John Fox said after the game that the inability to stop New England’s fast-paced offense was a mixture of personnel, lack of communication and lining up in the wrong positions.
“It’s not new; they have been doing this for a long, long time,” Fox said. “They just have a good, solid group together doing it, so they communicate very well. And obviously [the Patriots] communicated better than we did.” Read the rest of this entry »
FOXBORO — It had all the makings of another Tom Brady/Peyton Manning classic down-to-the-wire finish, but any Broncos comeback was cut short on Sunday when Denver running back Willis McGahee turned the ball over in the Patriots’ red zone.
Late in the fourth quarter, McGahee carried to the 11-yard line, but was stripped by defensive end Rob Ninkovich. Jermaine Cunningham recovered, and several plays later the remaining seconds ticked away.
McGahee said after the game that he had two key plays on offense that could have changed the outcome of the game, most notably the fumble on the Broncos’ last offensive series.
“That probably changed the game for us when I fumbled that ball,” McGahee said. “[Ninkovich] made a good play. I had it high and tight, but he made a good play. Still, I’ve got to be better than that. I think that’s what changed the game for us. I’ll take all the credit for that, just changing the game.”
The Patriots had a 31-21 lead while the Broncos were on the threshold of the end zone, but a quick touchdown would have cut the lead to three with roughly 3:30 left to play — potentially enough time for Manning to lead a late scoring drive, even just into field goal position.
The Broncos fell to 2-3 on the season, while the Chargers (who lead the West division) are currently underway with the winless Saints. With the loss, the Broncos will have to play catch-up in the division, and McGahee will carry the burden of Sunday’s defeat.
“At the end of the day, [the fumble] changed the game, like I said,” McGahee said. “We were trying to score. It happens; I’ll put it on my shoulders. I think I can handle it.”
|Key Moment: Rob Gronkowski’s first-quarter diving touchdown catch||01.15.12 at 1:02 am ET|
FOXBORO – For New England football fans, the first Patriots playoff win in years certainly lived up to the hype. The 45-10 trouncing of Tim Tebow and the Broncos was more than just a victory that propels the Pats into the AFC Championship Game, but a statement to all of Patriot nation: the Pats have their eyes set on the prize.
This week’s key moment came pretty early on against Denver, with 6:42 remaining in the first quarter. The Patriots held a 7-0 lead before Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski – the two heroes of Saturday night’s beat down – hooked up for the first of three touchdown connections. It was a 10-yard strike to the back left corner of the end zone. Gronkowski had to leave his feet in a dive and stretch out to make a one-handed snag, tipping it to himself and sealing it against his body before sliding out of bounds.
This score to Gronk gave the Patriots their first multi-score lead – one that would only continue to grow over the course of the game. Brady said after the game that when the team makes plays like that, it really weakens the opponent.
“I thought we just executed well. That catch that Gronk made for a touchdown in the corner was one of the best catches I’ve ever seen,” Brady said. “When you’re making plays like that, it’s really not about the defense. It’s about making spectacular plays. There were some great efforts – Aaron [Hernandez] on the touchdown catch and run, Wes [Welker] really got us started, Gronk had some other pretty great touchdowns too. It was a good day.”
The catch capped off a seven-play, 59-yard drive that ate 3:25 off the clock. Gronkowski said that the team will enjoy the win over Denver for a little while tonight and tomorrow, and as soon as the team knows who it is playing next weekend, the work begins. But as for tonight, he added that a team can’t start a game any better.
“Obviously you can’t start a game any better than that. Going down, scoring on the first drive; that’s what we’ve been aiming to do,” Gronkowski said. “It was a good thing we started off good. We played all four quarters of the game. The defense was playing well and we were all just helping each other out.”
|Snap Judgments: Tim Tebow silenced in Patriots’ 45-10 win over Broncos||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.
|Maroney excited for fresh start with the Broncos||09.17.10 at 4:30 pm ET|
In his first interview with the Denver media, former Patriots running back Laurence Maroney said he understood the criticism he received in New England because he was a first-round pick, but also added that he’s excited for the “fresh start” he’ll get with the Broncos.
“[The fans and the media] definitely criticized me a lot, but it’s OK. I was a first-rounder so I felt like they were looking at me in a bigger light than everybody else. But it’s one of those things, it’s over with now. That was then and I’m here with the Broncos and now I’m focusing on my future here,” Maroney told reporters Friday.
“Don’t get me wrong, there is always some stuff I could have done different or wanted to do different or wished I could have done if I had the chances to do, but I didn’t have those chances. But now I’m just focusing on my future here in Denver and being the best player I can be for them.”
Maroney, who rushed for 2,430 yards in four seasons with the Patriots, was dealt to Denver for a fourth-round pick earlier this week. He joins a backfield that includes starter Knowshon Moreno and No. 2 back Correll Buckhalter. He said it’s too early to know exactly what sort of role he’ll have with the Broncos, but was just excited about the opportunity for a new beginning.
“I’m not going to say I needed it, but it is always helpful to have a fresh start, a clean slate and start over from the beginning,” said Maroney, who reportedly won’t be on the field this weekend. “All I want to do is come out here and help and do anything possible to help the team win.
“I’d love for this to be a long-term thing. It’s one of those things where you know Denver is going to run the ball and it’s one of them things with ‘Buck’ and ‘Know’, I’m not coming in there trying to take anybody’s plays away or anybody’s shine, I just want to come in and fit in and help the team win, just be part of a winning team.”
|Jeremy Shockey not short on perspective||08.11.10 at 6:15 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Without his helmet on Tuesday and Wednesday following practice with the Patriots, it was very, very easy to mistake Jeremy Shockey for a young, powerful tight end on the New Orleans Saints. There stood a neatly-groomed, smiling and calm 6’5″ tight end articulating how lucky he was to be playing for a defending Super Bowl champion.
Then a closer look at the tatoos on his right arm and the No. 88 on his white jersey confirmed that one of the most vocal players in the NFL over the last decade was indeed readying himself for Thursday night’s preseason opener with Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
This was a special treat for Shockey and fellow University of Miami alum Brandon Meriweather to get together in a more relaxed setting than the environment both played under when they met last Nov. 30 at the Superdome.
Shockey repeated what his head coach Sean Payton and others said on Tuesday, that the Patriots are what they want to become – a year-in, year-out success in the NFL.
“I think we’ve definitely gotten better,” Shockey said. “Since coming to New Orleans, coach wanted to emulate this team [Patriots] as much as possible and I think this team does a great job on and off the field. I think our team has definitely proven to everyone we’re as notable as the Patriots.”
One way to approach that is by accomplishing what the Patriots did in 2003 and 2004, repeating as Super Bowl champs, the last NFL franchise of the seven to do it. [The Steelers are the only franchise to accomplish it twice]
“There’s only been [seven] teams to win back-to-back and history tells you it’s very hard to do,” Shockey said. “We’re just focused on every day at practice and each and every single time to get better. That’s probably one of the things our team is very good at, concentrating, coming out here to practice against the Patriots, which has been good for us, and I think we’ve definitely gotten something out of it.
“It’s a month away and we still have some work to do. Obviously, it’s early in the preseason and you just have to get better every day, grind it out. It’s something you have to go through.
In answering questions about soreness in his knees, whether that is bothering his him and whether his team is up to the challenge of repeating as Super Bowl champs, Shockey looked to be growing tired of the repetition – much like training camp itself.
“I’m fine,” the 29-year-old Shockey said. “It’s football. You’re going to be sore, you’re going to have knicks and bruises and stuff. I’m not really concerned about that. I’m just concerned about getting better and I think our football has gotten better.”
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