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Coaching Dreamscape: Sucker Punched

What if...what if...the game went according to plan?

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Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

There's absolutely no way that any player, coach, or fan could have predicted how last night's game went down, yet it seems obvious that it would end in such a nail biting fashion.

It was Tom Brady on one side, Peyton Manning on the other. Of course it was going to come down to whoever had the ball last. Of the thirteen Brady/Manning games since 2003, nine have been determined by one score. But while the ending was the same, the story was far from usual.

Always the sporting bunch, the Patriots spotted the Broncos three scores and Wes Welker to put themselves into a gigantic hole. My argument? In conjunction with the weather, this actually was the best case scenario if the Patriots were to fall behind.

Now this will sound crazy, and I'm absolutely not saying that the Patriots did it on purpose, but letting the Broncos get ahead did two major things:

1) It caused the Denver defense to ease up after their scorching start because, hey, Jack Del Rio isn't the best defensive mind when facing Tom Brady. Also, the score should have dictated that the Patriots throw the ball to get themselves out of the hole, so the Broncos focused more on the pass defense than the pass rush.

2) And on the flip side, it drew the Broncos into running the ball, taking it out of Manning's hands and preventing him from getting into a rhythm.

That second fact is easily the most important. In regulation, the Broncos had only two drives go for over 35 yards, and only three drives go for more than 22 yards. The Patriots defense was studly.

But, you'll recall that the Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno beasted out for 37 carries, 224 yards, and a touchdown. That's 6.1 yards per carry. Where did all of those yards go, if the Broncos were unable to sustain any drives?

Well, I've been reading Collision Low Crossers, a book about the Jets disastrous/hilarious 2011 New York Jets season (and I highly recommend it), and they speak to the Jets defense against the Patriots in the 2010 playoff upset:

"[Jets Defensive Coordinator Mike] Pettine told of how the Jets defensive coaches had decided in the 2010 playoff game against the Patriots to lure the Patriots into running, allowing New England a reasonably effective series of runs that distracted the Patriots from what they did best: pass. To a fan, Pettine said, it looked like the Jets were porous against the run that day. But that was intentional, what won them the game."

Call me crazy, but isn't that exactly what the Patriots did? The circumstances absolutely led to the outcome (there's no way that Manning wouldn't be slinging the ball if it wasn't a three score game), but the circumstances played to the Patriots favor in a strange, twisted sense.

The Patriots offense threw against a softer defense, allowing them to get into a rhythm.

The Broncos ran the ball, not generating any sort of drive momentum whatsoever.

What if the Patriots decided to entice the Broncos into running the ball more than they needed to, so that when it came time for the Broncos to throw, they would be out of sync?

The Broncos ran the ball 10 times and drew up a pass play only 5 times during the Patriots come back. For a team so dedicated to the pass to suddenly flip their script and focus only on the run, that just seemed too good to be true, right? Doesn't it make sense to rather allow 3, 4, 5 yards per carry on the ground than watch Manning throw 20 or more yard passes to Demaryius Thomas against undrafted rookie Justin Green (who actually covered DT extremely well on an island on one snap)?

With the Patriots decimated secondary, doesn't it make a ton of sense to rather have the opposition run the ball, than throw it?

And if there's one coach in the league who could pull that off against Peyton Manning, wouldn't it be slightly poetic if it was Bill Belichick?

Now the Patriots can't afford to fall behind by such an absurd amount at any point for the rest of the year, but with the way the game played out- the deficit, the weather, the Patriots secondary- the game went as well as anyone could have hoped.