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Running Game Has Patriots More Fit For AFC Championship Than Last Year

Okay Patriots fans this is their third straight appearance in the AFC Championship Game, but this time it is on the road. The Patriots have not won a road playoff game in what feels like forever, really 2006 in San Diego but I digress. I feel like the talk of Brady vs. Manning has been dialed down this week as there was so much time spent on it during the regular season. Peyton now has all the stats, as he took Brady’s single season touchdown record this season, as well as Drew Brees’ yards record. While Brady still has more rings.

LaGarrette Blount was a force last weekend against the Colts.

LaGarrette Blount was a force last weekend against the Colts.

Brady did not need to have to have a lights out game last weekend against the Colts as he mainly handed off the ball and kept the Colts offense off the field and when they were on the field the defense stepped up. Josh McDaniels always has something up his sleeve that really makes me scratch my head, so I hope they stick to the run this week in Mile High and continue to keep the opposing teams offense off the field.

After all the Broncos offense is a well oiled machine with Manning having Welker, Decker, and the Thomas’ to throw to. All four had double digit touchdowns this season. We remember Peyton had plenty of weapons in Indianapolis and only won one Super Bowl so here is hoping he will not come up in the big game again. His arm strength has declined but now he has Welker in the slot and Thomas on those screen passes.



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The Chargers played the Broncos three times this season including last weekend’s Divisional matchup. Each time the Chargers defense held the Broncos under 30 points but unfortunately only won one of those games. The Broncos can win the shootout type games going up and down the field without question but when it comes down to it I don’t think they can win another time controlled game where the opposing team tries to eat the clock leaving the Broncos offense impatient. Also Tom Brady has had great success against Jack Del Rio defenses, the Broncos defensive coordinator and this year was no different as he lead the Patriots back in the second half of that great Sunday night thriller.

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Patriots Match-Up Mania: Tournament Time

Will Bill still smile tonight?

Will Bill still smile tonight?

Tom Brady isn’t really matched-up against Andrew Luck tonight, or is he? They’re never on the field together so they can’t block or tackle each other. However, the presence of both men under center is the decisive factor for both teams.

 

Brady is Brady. His playoff resume is well known and boasts the most playoff wins (17) ever. He’s also struggled lately in the postseason with a 5-5 mark in the last 10 games. He’s been erratic at times this season, largely because of the chaotic state of the offense around him. He’s still the essence of the New England Patriots, and the ubiquitous Patriots Way. He said while esponding to a question about facing Luck’s Colts and Luck himself:

 

My motivation is pretty simple. I just try to win, that’s what I try to do and try to be part of the reason why we’re successful. That’s part of doing my job and trying to be the best I can be for the team…To be a professional athlete and to play at this high level with this level of competition, winning is the only thing that’s important. That’s one goal and one objective that I’ve had for a  and very long time.

 

 

The media coverage of Luck makes him sound like a Brady clone. Is there a difference between the two, beyond the age and experience factors? I thought of two distinctions.

Mobility. Brady can’t move. We’ve all seen him try and we’ve seen him not scramble when he possibly could. Luck is RGIII compared to Brady. Against Kansas City, Luck displayed some elusiveness with the touchdown he scored after he recovered a fumble.

Weapons. Luck’s team might be the only team left with fewer established options than Bill Belichick’s squad. T.Y. Hilton is the target of choice for Luck and should face the Aqib Talib treatment from the Pats tonight. Julian Edelman at least has Danny Amendola running routes alongside him. And, would anyone trade LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley for Donald Brown and Trent Richardson?

 

The quarterback play is usually a huge factor in a game. Luck doesn’t have much around him to work with. BB’s defense keeps getting injured, just ask Brandon Spikes. Jamie Collins and Dane Fletcher are the next in line to do their jobs. Two other key players should be Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones who need to keep Luck in line and possibly provide a sack or two.

Patriots Stun Broncos With Biggest Comeback In Team History

Julian Edelman leaps into the end zone to give the Patriots the lead in the fourth quarter.

It was fitting that the coldest regular-season game played in Foxboro in the last 20 years (22 degrees) was also (one of) the best regular-season games played in Foxboro in the last 20 years. For the 10th time in 14 career meetings with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady got the best of the other best quarterback of our era after Denver dominated the home team in the first half, but just the first half, scoring the first 24 points of the game and forcing three turnovers.

It was the final turnover, however, that was the biggest one. Denver special teams player, Tony Carter, allowed the ball to hit him after Wes Welker, back to return the kick with three minutes remaining in overtime, may have made the “get away” call just a little too late. New England recovered and three plays later, Stephen Gostkowski capped the biggest comeback in Patriots’ history with a 31-yard field goal to beat the Denver Broncos, 34-31.

If you’re going to turn the ball over three times in a game, you might as well get them all out of your system in the first half.

“The weather conditions get a little tough [and] things can turn quickly,” said  Brady, who finished 34-of-50 for 344 yards and three touchdowns, of the second-half turnaround.

Despite only one touchdown pass from Manning in the first half, Denver jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead thanks to Patriots’ fumbles on each of their first three possessions. Von Miller returned the first 60 yards for a touchdown 4:53 into the game and Kowshon Moreno plowed in from two yards out just over a minute later following a Brady fumble that was returned to the New England 10. They were two of his 224 rushing yards on the night, easily a career-high.

Then, LeGarrette Blount put the ball on the ground, leading to a field goal and quick 17-0 lead before Manning threw his first touchdown pass to in the second quarter to make it 24-0 all before the break.

It seemed like it would be a laugher after the first 30 minutes, but Brady drove the Pats down the field after receiving the second-half kickoff and after just eight plays, hit Julian Edelman from five yards out to make it 24-7. Then, after five straight draw plays to begin their first drive of the half, Moreno put the ball on the ground as Dane Fletcher jarred it out and Brandon Spikes got the recovery. Six plays after that, Brandon Bolden ran it in from a yard out and just like that it was 24-14. By the end of the third, it was 24-21 as Brady hit Rob Gronkowski on 3rd-and-6 to bring the Pats within three.

It kept going after that. Manning threw just his sixth interception of the year into the arms of Logan Ryan and three plays later, Brady hit Edelman for their second scoring connection of the night to cap the 30-yard, 78-second drive and somehow give the Patriots the 28-24 lead.

After Wesley Woodyard dropped a tipped interception that he had both his hands on and a would-be 2nd-and-20 was negated by an illegal hands to the face penalty, Gostkowski hit his 20th consecutive kick to give the Pats the seven-point lead with just over seven and a half remaining.

When it looked like it could be over on the next Denver drive, Aqib Talib, who had completely shut down Demaryius Thomas all night, was called for holding and negated his own interception, giving the Broncos some hope. Then Manning started converting third downs and Thomas started catching passes. And the Patriots started committing penalties. With 3:06 left, Manning hit Thomas from 11 yards out to tie the score at 31 after Denver picked up two first downs from penalties on the drive, including a pass interference call on Rob Ninkovich on 3rd-and-7 in the red zone. Brady would then go three and out and Ryan Allen was called to punt the ball to Welker with 1:45 remaining.

Denver took over at the 33-yard line, going into the wind. Then, Manning went three and out with a near sack from Andre Carter, a pass break-up from Kyle Arrington and an incomplete floater to give Brady one more chance from his own 11-yard line with 28 seconds left and two timeouts. Just a screen and a draw would take Brady and Manning to overtime, though.

After winning the coin toss, the Pats elected to forego possession and select the side of the field with the wind at their back, giving Manning and the Broncos the ball first. Both teams would trade possessions with New England’s ending on a long incomplete sideline pass on 3rd-and-4 after everyone thought Kenbrell Thompkins was interfered with on the previous throw, forcing the Pats to burn their first timeout to cool off.

When it seemed the Pats would be playing for a tie at best, the only thing that hadn’t happened in the game happened. Nate Ebner recovered the loose ball at the 18 and with 6’8’’ backup quarterback Brock Osweiler in the game to try to get the block, Gostkowski sent those who stuck it out home happy with a little bit of history to take with them.

Special teams players pile on Nate Ebner after he recovered the botched punt to set up the winning field goal.

Special teams players pile on Nate Ebner after he recovered the botched punt to set up the winning field goal.

“We just calmed down and each played one play at a time,” said Edelman, who finished with nine catches for 110 yards and the two huge touchdowns. “We didn’t turn the ball over in the second half.”

For Brady, it was his 33rd game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime and this was certainly one of the bigger ones as New England now controls its own destiny in its hunt for a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Denver turned the ball over four times in the second half while the Patriots played mistake-free and scored on all five of their possessions, including 21 points in the third quarter, 10 in the fourth and, of course, the three in overtime. Manning finished with just 150 passing yards while Brady put up 344. It was the Pats’ ability to score touchdowns and not having to settle for field goals that gave them a chance to get back in the game.

While they did fumble the ball six times, they only losy three. Welker finished his return to Foxboro with just four catches for 41 yards and, of course, it wouldn’t be a Welker outing at Gillette without a big drop.

“We had a lot of guys step up here,” said Bill Belichick after the game. “You could rattle off 35-40 guys.”

After the improbable victory, New England will move on to the disappointing Texans (2-9) while the Broncos will take on the Chiefs for the second time in three weeks.

Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.

The New ‘A-Team’ Large In Patriots’ Opening Day Win

Kyle Arrington came up large for the Patriots on Sunday.

Kyle Arrington came up large for the Patriots on Sunday.


With all the talent that the Patriots have on both sides of the ball, certain games will inevitably come down to the same guys making key plays at opportune times. In Sunday’s Opening Day win over the Bills, however, it was a couple of the bottom two guys you might expect, but ones near the top of the roster, who were key assets in helping the team pull out the two-point win.

Everyone will remember Tom Brady going 6-for-6 on the eventual game-winning drive and steer his pre-halftime interception that cost the team seven points to the back of their minds. Many of us will also point to the reliability of Stephen Gostkowski as a big factor in the win since after all, he went 3-for-3 and was right down the middle on the game-winner with five seconds left. Finally, the productiveness and toughness of newcomer, Danny Amendola, was sure to have stood out in the minds of some, but in my opinion, that is what he was brought here to do – to be that No. 1 receiver and spend a good deal of time in the spotlight.

Two of the more impressive guys on Opening Day, however, arguably were Kyle Arrington and rookie punter, Ryan Allen. In case you forgot, two of the most critical factors in the outcome of an NFL game are turnovers and field position. These two were at the center of both these departments for the Patriots on Sunday.

Let’s start with Arrington. Yes, he was beaten on Steve Johnson‘s third-quarter touchdown reception that gave the Bills the lead for a while, but he could have gotten a little bit better safety help on the play. Other than that, he was all over the place – especially compared to what we are used to seeing from him as a nickel corner.

He forced both Bills’ fumbles, the first of which was a result of good form tackling the bigger C.J. Spiller and punching the ball out at the same time. Giving the Pats starting field position at the 16-yard line of Buffalo all but guaranteed a score for the Brady-led offense. Arrington also made five tackles on the day, including four solo and one for a loss. He then forced another fumble late in the first half that led to Brady’s second touchdown pass and Julian Edelman‘s second touchdown catch as he finished the day with more tackles than Dont’a Hightower, Aqib Talib, Brandon Spikes and Devin McCourty, while not being used as an every-down player.

Aside from getting beat on the Johnson touchdown, Arrington also had a solid day in coverage while he was on the field. He picked up his first pass deflection of the season and played a role in no Bills’ receiver having more than 41 receiving yards on the day. Also, E.J. Manuel was able to throw for just six passing first downs due to the tight coverage across the board. Fred Jackson, their leading receiver and a running back, would have been the responsibility of a linebacker most times, anyway.

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Match-Up Mania: Patriots Defense vs. E.J. Manuel

Vince Wilfork and Bill Belichick.

Vince Wilfork and Bill Belichick.


Is the offensive display put on by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos an indication that teams will be passing and running up and down the field at will in 2013? Of course not as one game is no trend. However, teams like the Patriots and Bills must be able to match-up with Denver’s arsenal so each team must answer lingering questions about their offenses in tomorrow’s game.

The primary match-up should be the Patriots defense against Buffalo’s new look offense with rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel. Bill Belichick’s track record versus rookie QBs – 17-4 as HC of the NEP – is well known. Don’t forget that 23-3 mark against Buffalo in the past 26 games. Manuel also missed valuable practice time with a knee injury.

Belichick will surely want his defense to put pressure on Manuel to make mistakes. The more that Buffalo’s success depends on Manuel making plays in his NFL debut, the more theBrandon Spikes described it this way:

He’s in the NFL, so I’m sure he’s an elite athlete…we’ll take the same approach as any other quarterback. We’ll try to get after him.

Look for the Patriots to try and establish a consistent pass rush. Chandler Jones needs to get to the QB for the Patriots to thrive. Pressure needs to come from Vince Wilfork and newcomer Tommy Kelly from the inside, too, not to mention the really reliable Rob Ninkovich.

Wilfork says they need to be ready for the Bills new offense.

We’re going to have be on our game, our ‘A’ game, to slow this team down…Everything we’ve seen so far with these guys, they’ve been playing some real good football, up-tempo, run inside and outside. It’s going to be a challenge, it’s a division opponent. Trust me, our hands are full. I’m pretty sure they’re going to give us everything we can handle.

The Patriots secondary has questions to answer, too.

Patriots Preseason Update: Brady Is Brady

Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick

The NFL must have a written rule that requires a score be kept during all pre-season games. So, for what it’s worth…

Tom Brady’s play is always a primary concern for fans of New England Patriots. Last night he showed why he’s Brady. Oh, and that knee thing? Well, that won’t be a problem. The hooded one even said so. ”We’re so far past that,” he said. ”We’re way beyond that.”

TB12 started 11-11 and finished 11-12 with 107 yards and a touchdown. After two appearances, Brady is 18-20. The rest of Bill Belichick’s new-look offense looked as efficient as ever in the team’s first drive. Danny Amendola caught six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. He was as good in the Wes Welker role as anyone could expect after two fake games. Shane Vereen looks ready to be a versatile go-to guy for Brady in 2013 after four rushes and four catches.

The surprise of the night could be Zach Sudfeld. He caught a 2-point conversion pass from Brady and got a touchdown after showing some nifty hands securing the ball. They are the kind of plays that help a rookie free agent earn a spot on a team.

It looked like Belichick has been coaching up his defense, too. The starting unit looked solid with three sacks in the first quarter and four for the game. Brandon Spikes (2), Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich got to the quarterback. Logan Ryan did make a big play with an interception return for a touchdown. He also

Brady’s back-ups played like back-ups again. Ryan Mallett improved a bit since Philly. That’s not much of an accomplishment. He was 12-20 with 137 yards and a TD. At best Mallett is adequate. Tim Tebow was terrible. You all saw it. There’s no need to pile on.

Bill was as grumpy as ever in his press conference after the game.He found plenty not to like in addition to Tebow. Such as…

There were a few glaring penalties that would hurt the Patriots against a good team. Two penalties pushed a field goal back to 50 yards and cost the Patriots three points. Stephen Gostkowski should make that kick regardless of that, but poor execution of some basic football drives Bill crazy. Penalties (10 of them) are bad. Penalties that take away points are very bad. Special teams errors are very bad, too.

As for Logan Mankins and his 15-yard penalty…I wouldn’t want that dude mad at me and I would want him protecting me, but he can’t lose control and must stay disciplined.

One added bonus was seeing Randy Moss appear as a studio commentator in the brief pre-game presentation on Fox. Moss gave great answers when he did post-game press conference as a player and comes across, to me, as very intelligent. He said he knows how tough Brady is and considered the knee injury concerns a “smokescreen.” During the game, Moss praised the Patriots offense because they were that good. But, he described the offense as “magic” or “magical” and “the sky’s the limit” for the rookie receivers and said it is an honor to play with Brady. I don’t entirely disagree with him as Brady, Amendola and Vereen were clicking. FoxSports1 might want Moss to drop the pompoms.

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