Stevan Ridley added energy. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
The Patriots prevailed, although I could totally sense that the visiting team was being portrayed as the Goliath to Tebow's David during the first quarter. Good thing Goliath didn't let David use his slingshot.
1. Turnovers - Tebow rarely turns the ball over with an interception and the Broncos have done a great job all season of protecting the football. Well, the Patriots realized that if Tebow wasn't going to put the ball where the defense could intercept it, the defense was going to have to take the football for themselves. Four forced fumbles and three recoveries by the Patriots, and the team from New England was in control of the game. Three turnovers led to 13 points and while the Patriots left points on the field, it definitely changed the momentum of the game. Patriots win.
2. Running Game - The first quarter looked awful, there's no way around it. Based upon the first quarter production of the Broncos alone, the Patriots should lose this match-up. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was ineffective for most of the game, picking up 17 yards on 10 carries (with a long of 7). But then the Patriots were able to run the ball with Danny Woodhead. And then Stevan Ridley brought some energy to the power run game. At the end of the day, the Patriots had picked up 141 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. While BJGE struggled early on, he seemed to have new life after Ridley saw the field. I think those two play well off of each other.
While I'd want to give the Patriots a loss because of how poorly they defended the run early on, I think the defense and Matt Patricia deserve some credit for rewriting how they were going to defend the run and allowing an average of 30 yards on the ground per quarter for the rest of the game. I think they'd gladly take 30 yards on the ground against a team with an offense that relies so heavily upon its running game. In addition, the Patriots run game found its stride as well. This match-up is a draw.
3. Discipline - How disciplined were the Patriots? They were right on pace with the rest of the season with 4 penalties; the biggest difference was the 30 yards those penalties were worth, as well as the quality of the penalties:
1st Penalty: 13:42 left in the 3rd Q - Delay of Game. The Patriots were backed up on their goal line in a 3rd and 19 situation. The 5 yard penalty was just another drop of water in the bucket. Luckily, the offense was bailed out on the next play by a defensive hands to the head.
2nd Penalty: 6:01 left in the 4th Q - Offensive Holding. The Patriots were on the Broncos 13 yard line. Typically a red zone penalty is a huge mistake, but Brady was stepping through the pocket and Wendell had to hold his man so Brady wouldn't get destroyed. Set up a reasonable 2nd and 14 and Aaron Hernandez got a first down on the next play.
3rd Penalty: 3:48 left in the 4th Q - Defensive Holding. The Patriots were up 18 points and Wilfork, engaged with the center, grabbed the jersey of Lance Ball, who was running out to be the outlet receiver. Clear call, but the game was pretty much decided.
4th Penalty: 2:17 left in the 4th Q - Offensive Holding. Julian Edelman locked with Chris Harris and prevented a stop in the backfield. BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 17 yards, but it was called back because of the hold. Patriots were up 18 and looking to run down the clock. Bad penalty by Edelman to stop the clock.
So what happened? Only one penalty on the offensive line (holding by Wendell), and all were pretty inconsequential. The Patriots were in a 3rd and long that became third and longer (and would have had to punt had the play been completed and not been called a penalty). Wendell held in the red zone which, while a bad decision, protected Brady while not putting the offense in an extreme situation (such as 2nd and 20)- 2nd and 14 is still manageable. The last two calls were in garbage time and, in my opinion, were more a result of hustle and playing the full 60 minutes, as opposed to truly bad decisions.
Is there still stuff to work on? Absolutely. Point is, the Patriots did a good job of not shooting themselves in the feet with penalties.
As for discipline against Tebow and the option? They actually did a fantastic job. When they were getting demolished early on, it was against the Broncos running a generic rushing attack. No options, no gimmicks. The Broncos were just running the ball hard. When they faced the option, the Patriots defense was very, very disciplined and did a good job. And while I mentioned that containing the runner is important, that's what they did when they made the 2nd quarter adjustments. Win for the Patriots.
4. Branch Out - Did the Patriots miss Deion Branch? Absolutely. Still, five players not named Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker combined to pick up the slack and make plays. They combined for 6 receptions, 97 yards, and 1 touchdown. That sounds like a very good day at the office for Branch. As those replacement players continue to receive repetitions, look for the offense to become more efficient as those players develop a rapport with Tom Brady. The Patriots found a suitable replacement for the injured Branch and it involved all the other role players on offense. Win for the Patriots.
5. 60 Minutes of Quality Football - The Patriots played 45 minutes of football. Unlike the Colts game, the Patriots played the final 45 minutes against the Broncos and that's how this team should win games. Start strong and finish strong. While they didn't put together a full 60 minutes, the team did well enough to put Tebow out of his comfort zone early in the game. 3/4 of a win for the Patriots.
The Patriots win this game 4.25/5. Seems like a blowout rating, but the Patriots did everything they had to do to beat the Broncos (other than show up on defense in the 1st quarter). If you look at the game as a whole of four quarters, I think 4.25/5 sounds like a pretty accurate score. The Patriots won with a complete team victory. Now, they just have to play as a team for all four quarters in order to make noise in the playoffs.