There’s a first time for everything. 2013 has been a roller-coaster ride for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The 24-20 Monday Night loss against the Panthers marks their second controversial defeat of the year. Just as the pieces finally came together before the bye week, the Pats faced the 2nd overall defense in the NFL and it certainly showed. Although TB12 started out hot, he finished the game 29/40 for 296 yards with 1 TD and the game ending interception as time expired. The Patriots were held to 107 rushing yards, as both Ridley and Blount failed to surpass 50 yards respectively. Ridley did however score a touchdown, marking his 5th straight game to do so. A ton of penalties crippled both teams but the athletic Cam Newton made just enough plays to earn the victory his career and city so desperately needed. AFC seeding aside, the win meant more for Carolina than the New England loss. They did not play well enough to deserve a win. What’s next? Round XIV of the Brady (36) vs. Manning (37) saga on Sunday Night Football. There is no way the under is clearing in this high octane AFC matchup. Brady is 9-4 in his career against Eli’s better half, who has thrown 34 TDs to Tom’s 14 – yikes. So while the Patriots come off a short week and a tough loss, the Broncos beat the streaking (9-0) Chiefs to restore order in the AFC West. Check out these three keys to victory for the Patriots come Sunday night:
1) Devin McCourty & DB Play: With CB Alfonso Dennard (knee) most likely out on Sunday, Duron Harmon will be thrusted into more snaps at safety. McCourty should be an integral part to the pass defense and will be lined up against WR Eric Decker and TE Julius Thomas. Aside from his play on the field, Devin needs to corral his defensive backs mentally in the locker room. Aqib Talib was a hot head on the big stage, losing his composure against rival WR Steve Smith early and often – putting him on the sideline for multiple key plays. CB Kyle Arrington will be lined up against Welker in the slot, who has been practicing since sustaining a concussion last week. Rookie Logan Ryan has proved to be a solid tackler but has not turned heads or his with ball skills. It will be a challenge to halt this offense but it ends with Devin McCourty. Assuming Gregory will be limited on Sunday Night, a big performance from our center-fielder could propel the Patriots to a victory.
2) Protection: From Brady’s pocket to ball security, the Carolina defense got to New England when it mattered in Week 11. A sack took the Patriots out of field goal range on their opening drive, forcing a punt. Ridley’s fumble in the Red Zone was also an early squander. New England escaped an odd first half down 10-3 and stepped it up in the second half as Tom only get sacked once more. There isn’t that much room to make mistakes against elite teams and there is no doubt that Peyton Manning makes you pays for costly errors. The Patriots will need to execute a clean and efficient gameplan to have any chance of beating the 39.8 PPG Denver Broncos. This starts with giving Brady enough time to dish it out and providing running room for Ridley, Blount and Vereen.
3) Attack: 20 points won’t beat the Broncos. Aforementioned above, they are averaging almost double that in PPG and have scored 51 touchdowns as a team – the Patriots have scored 26. Although New England slowed the pace down against Carolina to combat their league leading time of possession, I predict a high-tempo no huddle offense to start the game. The Patriots did not have a lot of chances to score given their methodical approach. Denver has been solid against the pass; however, the two top receiving yards totals against the Broncos this year were by tight ends Antonio Gates (62) and Jordan Reed (90). Gronk needs to get in the end zone, it’s a fact. If not, we need multiple touchdowns from our running backs.
Last week’s game was a challenging test for the Patriots. Manning’s ankles will be sore the rest of the year and Chandler Jones needs to exploit that on Sunday to force Peyton into some early decisions. Belichick has historically owned Manning but have the times changed? Don’t think so. In what could possibly be a more exciting game than MNF, the Patriots take it 31-30. Don’t chew off all your nails!