Monday, November 30, 2015

Patriots Fall to Broncos 30-24

The Patriots lost in overtime last night to the Denver Broncos, 30-24. The loss leaves them at 10-1, with a measly four-game lead in the division. Unfortunately, it also puts them at risk of losing a first-round bye in the playoffs -- they have just a one-game lead on Denver at this point (since Denver has the tie-breaker).

I should correct my first sentence. The Patriots did not lose in overtime; they lost in regulation -- twice. Two times they had the Broncos beaten and both times they uncharacteristically botched the situation and let Denver back into the game.

The first time was at 21-7 Patriots early in the fourth quarter. The Pats had just held Denver to a three-and-out, but on the punt, the gunner cleanly beat Nate Ebner and rookie receiver Chris Harper did not call for a fair catch. The semi-predictable result, Harper tried to move before the ball got there, fumbled, and 2.5 minutes later is was 21-14.

Before that fumbled punt, the Broncos offense and crowd were completely listless. It looked like the Patriots had them right where they wanted them. But with injuries to the two main punt returners, and an inexperienced wideout filling in, they lost control of the game.

The second time they lost it was on their second-to-last possession of regulation, leading 21-17. With 2:53 left in the game, Tom Brady had just completed a first-down pass to Rob Gronkowski at the Patriots 40 yard line, and Denver had just one timeout.

However, rather than run the clock down to 1:10 and punt it back (if they didn't get the first down), the Patriots threw it three times. Two of those passes fell incomplete, and Gronkowski also fell on one of those plays, adding injury to insult. Well, the two incompletions and lack of a first down set up Denver with 2:31 left, which was plenty of time to score a touchdown to take the lead.

It is rare to see the Patriots self-destruct in this manner. Harper's mistake was more understandable; he's a rookie. But how Bill Belichick and his staff failed to run the ball to wind down the clock -- that is inexcusable. They didn't need to gain a single yard; just run down the clock and see if the newbie at QB could drive 80 yards with no timeouts to win.

No in-depth breakdown this week, folks. The loss obscured the following:

  • Great games from cornerback Logan Ryan, running back Brandon Bolden, defensive tackle Alan Branch, defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard.
  • Improvement from linebacker Jerod Mayo, tight end Scott Chandler, left tackle Sebastian Vollmer, and linebacker Jonathan Freeny (12 tackles and a sack).
  • A few nice plays from defensive end Chandler Jones (including a jump-ball interception), cornerback Malcolm Butler, defensive end Rob Ninkovich, and quarterback Tom Brady.
  • And finally, terrible performance containing the Denver running game (32 carries for 179 yards), lousy third-down conversion rate (2 of 13, 15%), and ten Ryan Allen punts, the most by the Patriots in some time (trivia question: when was the last time the Patriots punted 10 or more times in a single game; answer below.)

So where does that leave us? At 10-1, the Pats still have their playoff seeding in their own hands. Win out and they will have the #1 seed in the AFC, and winning out isn't out of the question. Next week Philadelphia comes to town, and they are a real mess right now. The only danger; Chip Kelley has 10 days to prepare; his team played on Thanksgiving day.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Bill Belichick is now 4-5 when facing a quarterback in his second, third, or fourth start in the NFL. It's hard to find situations where he is under .500, but this is surprisingly one of them.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: Logan Ryan, even though he got the ticky-tack holding call that allowed the Broncos to take a late lead. Ryan knocked down four passes and made four tackles in the game, and virtually shut out the Broncos' Damarious Thomas, holding him to 1 catch on 13 targets.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "The loss isn't fun, but the loss of Gronkowski could seal the deal. The Pats can make the Super Bowl with Amendola, Edelman, and LaFell. But they probably can't win it without Gronk."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 10-1!

PPS. Trivia Answer: Ryan Allen booted 11 punts in his second game with the Patriots, a 13-10 victory over the Jets on September 12, 2013.

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