action:article | category:SPORTS0401 | adString:SPORTS0401 | zoneID:40

Home » Sports » Football » Patriots/NFL

January 19. 2014 10:08PM

Tough loss

Dave D'Onofrio's Patriots Notebook: In the end, Denver was the better team

Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker (83) is tackled by New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington (25) as strong safety Steve Gregory (28) jumps over the play in the first half during the 2013 AFC championship playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. (Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports)

AFTER a season full of defeat-defying victories, sometimes-illogical success and oft-remarkable resilience, Patriots fans were hoping for another example of their team’s indefatigability.
Neither the incarceration of one star, nor the injuries to several others, nor the inconsistency of their own play had denied them a chance to play for the AFC championship — just one more of irrepressible instance of getting back to the Super Bowl.

But instead, what most of New England would’ve likely acknowledged leading up to the game — and, really, what made a 12-4 record, a first-round bye and a divisional beatdown of the Colts so surprising — proved true.

The Broncos were simply better, over the course of the season, and over 60 convincing minutes of Sunday, when Denver left little doubt about which club most deserved to represent the conference in the forthcoming Super Bowl XLVIII. They controlled play from start to finish and ultimately claiming the Lamar Hunt Trophy with a 26-16 triumph at Sports Authority Field.

“We fought hard, we just came up short against a pretty good team,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. “I think this team was a very tough, resilient, hard-nosed football team. We’ve got a good team — we just didn’t play well enough today.”
Peyton Manning was terrific, and with 400 yards passing he got the better of Brady in the battle of all-time quarterbacks, but as impressive as anything from the Denver perspective was the way the Broncos further distanced themselves from the idea that they’re a squad solely dependent on the high-octane offense keyed by their superstar signal caller — and nowhere was their two-way talent more evident than in the third-down situations that set the tone of the contest early.

Second-best in the league this season in those scenarios, Manning’s offense was excellent in keeping drives alive Sunday. But less foreseen was the ability of the Denver defense to keep Brady’s bunch from doing the same.

The Patriots opened with consecutive three-and-outs, and converted only one of their five attempts in the first half. The obvious drawback of those struggles was that New England had the ball for less than 18 of the game’s first 48 minutes, but it also limited their options and effectiveness when they did have possession.

They were never able to get in a rhythm, and thus were never able to assert the running game that had been such a force in recent weeks. After gaining 234 yards against Indianapolis, the Patriots rushed for 64 yards on just 16 carries — LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley touching the ball just five times apiece — and their undermanned receiving corps didn’t have the firepower to carry the load alone.

“We didn’t do much of anything early in the game — run it or pass it,” Brady said. “We didn’t complete the third downs, so it was hard to really get into the running game, with two three-and-outs to start the game. It’s hard to be productive when you’re not making third downs.”

And so, instead, Brady’s team fell in a frustratingly familiar fashion. In the six postseason losses he’s incurred since falling to Manning and the Colts in January of 2007, the Pats have only once scored more than 20 points — and that came when they tacked on a touchdown with 30 seconds to go in losing 28-21 to the Jets.

One of the NFL’s elite offenses in all but one of those seasons, they’ve averaged just 15.8 points during the games when they’ve been eliminated. And in a situation like Sunday, that’s simply not good enough.

The Patriots did manage to hold the Broncos’ offense almost 12 points below their league-record regular-season average of 37.9 points per game, surrendering just two short touchdown passes and four field goals.

But, again, Denver dominated play on third down. Aided by a knee injury that forced Patriots top cover man Aqib Talib out of the game early in the second quarter, the Broncos converted seven of their first 10 opportunities, and two of the misses immediately preceded Matt Prater field goals, meaning they’d already made their march down the field. New England’s fourth stop came early in the fourth quarter, but that one led to points, too, those making it 23-3 — and all but sealing the result.

“We were able to hold them some field goals, but our third-down defense, and our third-down offense — especially in the first half — we let them get too far ahead,” said Patriots Coach Bill Belichick. “They were able to stay on the field, had the ball, had field position. A couple times we held them to field goals, we still didn’t have possession of the ball, didn’t have a chance to do much.

“We were just trying to keep them out of the end zone, and that’s OK, but it’d be a lot better if we were able to stop them on third down and get the ball back.”

New England never got closer than 10 points in the second half, so a team that since December 2006 has lost just three regular-season Brady starts by more than one score, has now lost three of its last nine playoff games by 10 points or more.

Had they struck for the two-point conversion after Brady ran for a touchdown in the final minutes, and closed within eight, maybe they would’ve had one more magical finish to add to those achieved against the Saints, the Browns, and these Broncos back in November. But Shane Vereen’s inside run failed, so a team with no shortage of fight never got to throw one last punch.

“I thought we played hard, thought we were ready to go — we just didn’t make enough plays,” Belichick said. “I’m proud of the team. Proud to be their coach. Thought they played hard all year. They played competitively every single week; some weeks we played better than others, but there was never a lack of effort, or toughness, or everybody trying to do their best — and I totally respect the team for that.

“They were better than we were today.”

They were all season, really. And now that it’s over, there’s no shame in New England admitting that.

Dave D’Onofrio covers the Patriots for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is

  • Should public schools in NH provide students with firearms safety instruction?
  • Yes
  • 65%
  • No
  • 35%
  • Total Votes: 1958
 NH Sports Angle more
Links to news and happenings around the world of sports with a Granite State connection, updated daily.

New OT rule in AHL generating buzz

Slam thunk! Sarah Silverman nearly hit by basketball at Knicks game... but luckily John McEnroe is there to shield her

Spurs' Matt Bonner will wear new Adidas Crazy 8 shoes for Christmas game

Jason Saltmarsh: Runners should never have to pay for their race photos

Ex-official pleads guilty to embezzling thousands from Pembroke football nonprofit

Former New Hampshire goalie DeSmith tells his side of arrest, dismissal from team

NH hockey team moving to Maine could be worth at least $1 million in economic activity say city officials

New owners of Claremont plan to put speedway back on track

Speedway in Claremont bought for nearly $519,000

Lebanon marathoner qualifies for US Olympic Trials

Matt Bonner talks about the end of the run, making the simple play, and playing until he's 40

Ex-UNH goalie agrees to diversion,receive counseling, avoids jail

Wildcats will face Chattanooga in prime time

New England Revolution forward Charlie Davies teaches supporters how to believe

Helmetless Football? Its the new practice at UNH


DeSmith officially dismissed from New Hampshire team, but can return to class as of Dec. 20

San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner (15), of Concord, N.H., shoots the ball against Boston Celtics center Tyler Zeller (44) during the second half at TD Garden.

Rapper Lil B gives shoutout to…Matt Bonner?

Manchester Central's Tyler Stratton watches his shot get by Spaulding High School (Rochester) goalie Derek Scott during a shootout at the 2012 Bauer Christmas Hockey Classic hosted at JFK Coliseum in Manchester.

VFW downsizing threatens Spaulding hockey due to loss of venue for Bingo fundraisers

Eagles notes: Kelly committed to current job

5 face riot charges in beating incident at football game

Ayotte rips top sports league commissioners for snubbing hearing on domestic violence

Manchester Monarchs sign Josh Gratton to AHL contract


 New Hampshire Events Calendar


Upcoming Events

 New Hampshire Business Directory