NEW ENGLAND (31) d DENVER (21)
The Headline: Patriots run over the Broncos
I suppose the only phrase that can appropriately describe my thoughts on this game is “holy crap, the Patriots are able to run the ball!” This is my 13th season following the NFL (and the Patriots) and this looks like the best running attack this team has had since the 2004 days with Corey Dillon and when the criticism of Tom Brady was “he’s just a game manager.” Well today Brady was asked to manage, direct and produce this fantastic offensive performance as, for the third time in 10 months; the Denver defense had no answer for the Patriots offense. Last year they were dominated through the air, twice, but in this one, it was a true ground and pound performance. On the other side Peyton Manning looked like his old self from time to time making some very assured throws as Demaryius Thomas helped Manning torch the Patriots secondary for nearly 350 yards and three touchdowns but he could only to so much with the limited amount of opportunities he received on the day. His touchdown pass to Brandon Stokely in the fourth quarter looked like something you’d see from the 2004, 49-touchdown version of Manning as he flipped the ball over the linebackers who had bitten on the play fake.
Key Stat: Time of Possession: New England 35:49 – Denver 24:11
It’s amazing how big of a difference a running game can make, in the last few seasons as the Patriots have operated at a Mike Martz level of pass-oriented offense, they have struggled to control the clock often finding themselves at a deficit in the time of possession game despite comfortably winning more often than not. Unfortunately the inability of the offense to hold onto the ball lead to the defense getting gassed against better teams, including in the Super Bowl against the Giants but this year, with a firm commitment to running the ball, the Patriots are now winning the time of possession battle as well allowing them to control the tempo of the game.
Key Play: Willis McGahee fumble, recovered by Jermaine Cunningham in fourth quarter
With 5:19 left with his team trailing by 10, I’m sure that there were plenty of nervous Patriots fans about the possibility of Manning engineering another crazy comeback to break their hearts despite his injury struggles. McGahee got a carry and powered the ball straight up the gut of the Patriots defense but he was met by Rob Ninkovic who forced his second fumble of the day causing McGahee to leave the ball behind and Jermaine Cunningham was there to pick the ball up. From there the Patriots were able to hold onto the ball for the final three and a half minutes and run out the clock to get back above that .500 mark.
Man of the Match: Steven Ridley
28 carries, 151 yards, 1 touchdown
This pick of Ridley in the third round of 2011 is looking like a proper steal so far as he has had three great games so far this year having already bettered his rookie totals in all the important categories. With the support of his backups in Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead, Ridley leads a young but so far effective running back group that is producing for Bill Belichick. Ridley fits in the no huddle offense very well so far and looked aggressive and confident running the ball, if he can avoid his almost weekly fumble then he will become an even more lethal weapon for the Patriots to have in their arsenal.