The New England Patriots (12-2) defeated the defending world champion Denver Broncos (8-6) 16-3 on Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. It was a revenge game after two hard losses to the Broncos last year (a Sunday Night Football game in November and the AFC Championship game). In a game dominated by stout defense and a lot of punts, the Patriots relied on their running game to secure just the third victory for Tom Brady in Denver.
The win secures the AFC East title for the Patriots for the eighth straight year and gives the Pats a first round playoff bye. For the Broncos, their chances of repeating as world champs took a potential fatal blow as they fall to the middle of the pack in the hunt for a wild card berth.
New England Patriots Week 15 Takeaways
Offense Efficient, If Unspectacular
If Tom Brady is superman for the Patriots, then Denver has often been his Kryptonite, especially in Denver. Heading into this game, Brady had just two wins at Mile High in his entire career. Last year, the Patriots fell in Denver twice ending what was looking to be a promising Super Bowl push and sending Peyton Manning to his historic good bye at Super Bowl 50.
In both games, Brady got beat up by a crushing Denver Bronco defense. The Pats wanted no part of a repeat this week so their offensive plan was simple: quick passes, check downs, run the ball and play the field position game. To that end, it worked. After a very shaky first quarter, Brady finished 16 of 32 for 188 yards and no touchdowns. That stat looks positively abysmal for someone of TB12’s caliber but it was clear from the beginning that the Pats simply did not have the man power to really test Denver’s secondary, so they largely did not even try.
The workhorse of the Patriots offense in this game was Dion Lewis who totaled 95 yards on 18 carries but it is LeGarrette Blount who will grab the headlines for scoring his Patriots record 15th touchdown of the year. Blount was otherwise largely ineffective (17 carries, 31 yards) as the Patriots found success with smaller backs Lewis and James White running inside instead of Blount bull rushing and breaking tackles.
Defense Strong and Poised
Lets face it, the Broncos are not a strong offensive team. That being said, the Patriots were on the road and if they were going to win this game, they would need their defense to make sound decisions to keep Trevor Siemian in check. That is exactly what they did.
Malcolm Butler and the entire secondary was very effective today in tight man-to-man coverage. They held the Broncos’ offense to only 15 first downs, most of which coming in the first half with some late in the fourth quarter. The Pats D kept the Broncos to just 2 for 12 on 3rd down’s, forcing three turnovers (two fumbles and an interception).
In the second half, when it was clear this would be a tight game, the Patriots clamped down on defense and the Broncos did not record a first down until late in the 4th quarter after they were already down 13 points and out of timeouts. It was a solid and poised effort in enemy territory that contributed to a total team win on the road against the defending champs.
Special Teams Rebounds and the Road Ahead
After last week’s disastrous performance by the Pat’s special teams, Cyrus Jones, was benched, Julian Edelman was back to returning punts and all was right in the world again. Stephen Gostkowski was 100 percent on field goal attempts which allowed the Pats to pull ahead in a tight ball game. There were no turnovers on punt or kickoff returns which is a welcome sight after last week as Pats Nation breathes a sigh of relief. This was a game decided by field position with Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen real difference makers.
Going forward, this win secures the AFC East for an NFL record eighth straight year. It is the 14th divisional championship in the last 16 years of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. With this win, the Pats have secured at least the second seed in the playoffs as well as a first round bye.
The Patriots can clinch the number one seed in the playoffs (and home-field advantage) with a win at home on Christmas Eve against the New York Jets and an Oakland Raiders home loss to the Indianapolis Colts.