I've re-watched the game a couple of times in order to see what happened in the first quarter. Well, the Patriots were just flat out beaten. Andre Carter. Dane Fletcher a few times. Rob Ninkovich a few times. Brandon Deaderick. Vince Wilfork. Jerod Mayo. Mark Anderson. Tracy White. I just watched the first quarter and took down the names of players who did one or more of the following:
1. Ignored gap contain, rushed the backfield, and opened a lane.
2. Misread the run and attacked the wrong gap.
3. Was manhandled one-on-one.
The Patriots were demolished not because the Broncos ran a unique scheme- they just ran a better basic offense than the Patriots ran their basic defense. Pretty much all of the Patriots front seven made a mistake at one point or another, or was just out-hustled and out-played by their Bronco counterpart. The Patriots came out flat and paid the price. Don't expect them to play soft next week.
Only two teams in NFL history have averaged over 800 yards (for and against) during a season. That involves an explosive offense and a porous defense. Those two teams are the 1981 Chargers (exactly 805 yards/game) and the 1985 Chargers (exactly 800 yards/game). This season, there are three teams that could break that mark. One is the Green Bay Packers. They have been averaging nearly 796 total yards/game and would need to average 821 yards the next two games to break the 800 mark. The second team is the New Orleans Saints. They're on pace for over 822 yards/game, which completely smashes the '81 Chargers record.
The third team is the New England Patriots. They're averaging over 840 yards/game. That's ridiculous. I'm pretty sure that most people would be ecstatic if their team gained 420 yards in a game. That's what the Patriots and their opposition are both averaging (more like 426:414). This is a crazy year and the Patriots might take down another record. The Patriots need to average a total of 555 yards/game to break the record, which basically means that the record is assured.
The race between the Patriots and the Saints is pretty parallel to Drew Brees and Tom Brady fighting to break Dan Marino's passing record. Both parties will most likely break the record, but one side (Patriots/Brees) is going to blow it out of the water by more than the other party.
First Quarter Defense - Poor execution, poor effort, poor results. Possibly the ugliest quarter by a Patriots defense all season (although the Colts 4th Quarter would like to argue).
John Fox's Sideline Antics - Yes, the Broncos were called for a lot of penalties. No, the Patriots were not. Every time the cameras panned over to Fox, he was making some absurd face as if he couldn't believe the call, even on clear calls like a neutral zone infraction and a hands to the facemask. Both teams got away with holds because that's the nature of the offensive line, although I couldn't see any consistent holding on either side. Fox- stop it.
Kyle Arrington - The defense might have been playing deep to prevent Tebow from making a big play through the air, but the Broncos receivers (no matter who it was) were able to catch everything thrown towards Arrington. I think we learned two things:
1) Opposing teams can dig away at the Patriots cornerbacks by throwing hitches and in routes because the cornerbacks are playing deep while the safeties and linebackers are not able to defend against the in route.
2) Maybe Devin McCourty should catch a tiny bit more slack. Not a lot, but some. You saw the effect of Tebow's inability to throw across his body to McCourty's side- McCourty had a lot of targets, but none were catchable. Some of Arrington's games have been similar (hence his very low completion rate against). McCourty still has to step up, but stats aren't everything.
Safety Play - Matthew Slater was horrendous, as was Sergio Brown. No safety could defend a thing and all were taking bad angles and making poor tackle attempts. James Ihedigbo was the best safety on the field and he was below average when compared to other safeties. The Patriots had to make a move to grab Vincent Fuller.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis - BJGE couldn't get anything done. I'd never seen him run so ineffectively. He ran the ball four times in the first half for 0 yards. He ran for no gain all four times. BJGE doesn't do that. He picked up 14 yards on three runs (7 yards, 2 yards, 5 yards) in the 3rd quarter after Ridley and Woodhead jump-started the Patriots run game. In the fourth he ran for no gain, 1 yard (TD), and 2 yards. Five runs were for no gain and, ignoring the touchdown run from the goal line, 7 of 9 runs were for 2 yards or less. It was an ugly day for Benny.
Kevin Faulk - Faulk had a bad game and a low impact season. He ran once for one yard and didn't receive either of the two pass attempts. His ineffectiveness wasn't completely his fault. His one yard was because Brian Waters couldn't block his man- but Faulk did not explode around the corner and ran too close to the defender when he had open space to run. One of the incompletions was when Nate Solder couldn't stop Elvis Dumervil and Tom Brady had to dump the ball quickly to his outlet with no space in front of him.
The other incompletion was at the end of the second half when he (purposely in my view) let the ball hit the ground. If he caught the ball, the clock would have kept running and the Patriots wouldn't have been able to get a 4th down play off. He allowed the Patriots to either go for the 4th down conversion or kick a potential field goal in the kicker-friendly Denver air (albeit a 60+ yard field goal). It was a savvy veteran move. After that, his impact was minimal.
Faulk just doesn't have a role on this team and it seems as if every time he takes the field it's because they want to force him into action. Faulk is still a valuable locker room leader, but his time on the field should be minimal for the rest of the season.
Dane Fletcher - Fletcher is returning from his injury. His miscues stemmed from bad technique and bad decisions. He attacked the incorrect gap more than a couple times by charging through lanes off the snap, instead to playing his role on the defense and covering multiple gaps. He was muscled out of position more than a couple times and he had a below average day on the field. He needs to do his job and he'll be fine. He just had a bad outing.
Andre Carter - This is a multi-level problem. Carter is injured and out for the rest of the season- that's problem 1. The other problem was his play when he was healthy. Carter was getting pushed out of position and leaving his lanes. It seems as if the Patriots defense was both overeager in attacking the backfield and getting outplayed in the first quarter. Carter was no exception.
Chad Ochocinco's Effort - Ocho caught a touchdown on a beautiful 33 yard play. Brady also threw a ball a little too wide on a swing pass, and Ocho and Brady weren't on the same page on another pass. Ocho ran the route in the playbook, while Brady threw the pass after reading the defense. Still, Ocho was stellar when helping block down the field and he's truly buying into the team effort. Team first, personal accolades second. He's looking like he could be a nice 4th receiver in the playoffs.
Patriots Offensive Line - Nate Solder looked average against Dumervil, which means that he had a stellar game. Matt Light and Logan Mankins had incredible games and were key in keeping Brady clean. Overall a great day by the offensive line.
Turnovers - Tim Tebow doesn't hand the ball over with interceptions. The Patriots did a good job of forcing turnovers to turn the tide of the game and to force Tebow to have to throw the ball to keep the Broncos in the game.
Mark Anderson - Anderson had a career day after Andre Carter went down. He was a fiend in the pass rush game, and brought energy to the whole defense. He's a spark plug and if he has extended time on the defense, maybe that energy and swagger will spread to other players on the defense. He can make things happen.
Julian Edelman - Edelman was unbelievable on special teams with three tackles and a few unbelievable plays. He combining with Matthew Slater and Tracy White for three of the best special teams players the Patriots have had in recent years.
After the first quarter, the Patriots had more good plays and players than bad ones. The Patriots have been unable to play a full 60 minute game since extremely early in the season- hopefully they can string together a couple great games to close the season as they head to the playoffs.