And that's the end of that.
If you had told me back in August that the New England Patriots would lose the AFC Championship game to the Denver Broncos, I would have agreed with you completely. I probably would have agreed with you right up until about 10 PM last Saturday night, when the Patriots did what they did against the Indianapolis Colts. By that point, I had convinced myself that anything was possible regarding this team and that there was just something about this roster that wouldn't be stopped. There was no telling how far the 2013 Patriots could go.
As it turns out, the answer to that question is to the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game.
The Patriots encountered a better team right from the getgo, and when their star corner went down, there was just nothing that they could do. Denver only punted once all game, and the Pats couldn't get their ground game going and were forced to rely on their undersized and inexperienced receiving corps. The result? A mediocre day on offense coupled with a rough day on defense hands the Pats their second AFC Championship loss in as many years.
But you know what? That's OK. More fuel to the "Patriots are done" fire. Anyone who watched this team this season knows the truth, and we'll be back. Last Fan Notes of the season, folks - better make them count.
- I was so nervous for this game that I literally couldn't sit still from about 11AM to until kickoff. I basically just paced around my apartment fixing things that didn't need to be fixed and adjusting things that didn't need to be adjusted. Why I get the most nervous for something that is supposed to be fun and something I have zero control over is nothing short of a cruel joke. That I was so nervous for a game that was basically over before it started is an even crueller joke.
- Is "crueller" even a word? Well it is now.
- This Brady/Manning thing has gotten out of control. If I had no horse in that race, I would absolutely despise both of them.
- Nothing quite like a three and out right away to calm my frayed nerves, a three and out that led to an overall performance that I can only describe as "poopy."
- Denver's first first down of the day, when Peyton Manning bobbled the ball for a good three seconds before completing to Eric Decker as Alfonzo Dennard limped to the sidelines, is both Denver's season and New England's season summed up in one play.
- I think that anybody who knows football knew that Blount was going to have a tough time getting going. There was just too much talk about his importance to this game all week for him to have made any real impact right off the bat.
- It was also pretty obvious that the Patriots were going to have to run the ball well in order to have a chance in this one; the receivers just aren't there. With absolutely nothing happening on the ground, the Pats became one dimensional with their weakest unit, and that was all she wrote.
- Looking back on the season as a whole, I think the overall play that made me the most anxious was when our opponent was facing a third and long. It went for a first down all too often and is just such a demoralizing conversion that you can see the physical change in the players' demeanor when it happens.
- Tommy B's inaccuracy to start the game was because of the sun in his eyes, right?
- We'll probably never know - but if it came to light that Brady was significantly sicker this week than he let on, I won't be remotely surprised. That's not making an excuse, but he looked like a guy at the office who came in sick because he wanted to save his sick days for when he could actually enjoy them.
- Yes please, 300: Rise of the Empire. You can count me in.
- Watching Broncos scatter at a fair number of New England punts like somebody just pooped in the pool makes me happy.
- Wes Welker really put that massive helmet of his to use, didn't he? He was able to take out Talib's rib and knee with the same hit.
- There's already a lot of talk about that hit, about whether it was dirty or not, whether it was intentional. I would never peg Welker for a dirty player, and still don't, but all I know is that Bill Belichick is not a man to let his emotions control what he says. He never says anything in the heat of the moment out of anger or frustration or anything like that. So if he says it's a dirty play, then it was a dirty play.
- This game was essentially over when Talib went down in what was almost a complete mirror of last year's AFC Championship Game. New England had a defensive plan, were executing relatively well, and were right in the game. Then Talib got hurt, the Patriots had to completely alter their defensive strategy, and the opponent was able to exploit it. And if Joe Flacco was able to light up the Talib-less Patriots, you know that Peyton Manning could do the same. There was one player on New England's roster who was capable of shutting down Demaryius Thomas, and when he was lost, it was just a matter of whose lunch got eaten. Unfortunately for Alfonzo Dennard, he drew the short straw.
- Does anybody REALLY care about how many times Peyton Manning says Omaha?
- I also used to really like the song "Omaha" by the Counting Crows. Thanks for ruining that one for me, CBS.
- How can you not love Arnold Schwartzenegger? You think he needs the money? You think he has to put on a wig and play ping pong for a Bud Light commercial? Of course not. The man does it because he can, and because it's funny.
- When Tommy B gets sacked, it's almost always, always, ALWAYS on 3rd down.
- Or 4th down. Son of a...
- Denver's TD drive right before halftime, highlighted by two huge completions to Thomas, should at the very least be enough to motivate New England to give Aqib Talib the contract that he deserves.
- Austin Collie was wide open right before halftime and Tommy B just overthrew him. Again.
- I really can't say it enough: New England simply didn't have an answer for the Denver offense without Talib. The lack of pass rush had a lot to do with the nickel coverage scheme that the Patriots were forced into in order to compensate for the lack of a shutdown corner. Peyton Manning had all day to throw against a depleted secondary.
- After Denver marched down the field and effortlessly scored on the opening drive of the third quarter after eating up almost eight minutes of clock, I slowly began to turn my attention to the extra large bottle of Jack Daniel's I had purchased just for an occasion like this one.
- I also detected absolutely zero urgency out of New England coming off of that score. There was nothing about the Patriots' answering drive - a drive that ended with a sack on a failed 4th down conversion - that reflected the situation New England was in. Everyone was completely lackadaisical and nobody seemed fired up.
- That's what might be the most damning of the stats that aren't going to show up on the incredibly one-sided stat sheet: New England didn't seem to want this game all that much. They were all on the sidelines looking dejected long before this game got out of hand and I don't know why.
- Man, Bud Light was really getting aggressive with their latest ad campaign.
- Was "make sure a man goes down on every play" part of Denver's gameplan yesterday?
- Down 16, less than six minutes to go...huddle up, guys!
- I can't even describe to you how badly I wanted to see just one seam route throw to a tight end. Even if it was just for old times' sake, it would have been a nice way to close out the year.
- Don't be one of the people who says "why couldn't the Patriots have moved the ball all game the same way they played in the last eight minutes." "Don't be fooled by that; Denver was very content to give up chunks of yards and make the Pats move down the field methodically.
- Even if Vereen had converted that two point play...was there any chance that New England would have been able to stop Denver anyway?
- Nice juke, Tommy B. End the year on a positive note.
- On a day where we needed Brady to be great, he was average. Don't think he had a bad game yesterday, because he didn't; he played okay. He needed his best game to come out of Denver with a win, and we didn't get that.
- Note to the Broncos: odds are you're going to see a slightly better pass rush next game than the one you saw yesterday.
- How about next year we just keep Gronk off the field until the playoffs next year? We can obviously win our division without him; is it too much to ask for that guy to be healthy for just one postseason?
- It's frustrating that this game was pretty much there for the taking at several points, but New England couldn't capitalize. Whether it was quarterback inaccuracy, lack of pass rush, or an inability to get the ground game going, there were a couple of times where the Patriots could have turned the tides and generated some momentum, but they just couldn't do it. Denver didn't play their best game, and the Patriots played like crap, and a mediocre Denver team is leaps and bounds better than a bad Patriots team.
- Well...I predicted a Wes Welker completion would end up being what won this game for the Broncos. I never in a million years thought it would actually end up being a Wes Welker pick play that cost us our best defender. The football gods strike again.
- Man, losing back-to-back AFC Championships really sucks. Now I know why all those Jets fans were so dejected after suffering a similar fate.
- I have no idea what happened or when it happened, but I'd be lying if I said a small part of me wasn't now rooting for Peyton Manning to go get himself a ring. Putting all of the rivalry talk aside, the nonsense comparing him to Brady, the haters and the lovers be damned... to be honest, Manning deserves this. He played a good game, is having a season for the ages, and we as Patriots fans know all too well what it's like to have a great year only to be deprived of the ultimate goal. That 2007 Super Bowl loss is something I wouldn't wish on my absolute worst enemy. I don't want anyone to be on the verge of greatness only to fall short. So while I can't in good conscience root for Manning to win the whole thing, should Manning get it done in the Super Bowl, I'm definitely going to raise my glass to him. I realize this severely hurts my credibility as a Patriots homer, but I think the man deserves a ring. I don't know what to tell you.
Thanks for reading my Fan Notes for another year, everybody. One of these years, I'm going to end this series on a more positive note, but not this year. It was a great ride, though, wasn't it?
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go find a nice dark hole for a while.