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Patriots vs. Broncos: Fan Notes from the Game

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots' 30-24 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

It's weird the way things work out sometimes, isn't it?

I mean, yeah, the Patriots lost. But honestly, who cares? All signs are pointing to Rob Gronkowski's injury, along with Dont'a Hightower's, as not being too serious, and that's all that really matters this morning as far as I'm concerned. The Denver game is less than 12 hours old and I've already more or less put it out of my mind as the relative nonfactor that it was. The Patriots are still alone atop the AFC, well positioned for a playoff bye and homefield advantage, and even though they lost, they still took the Broncos to OT on the road with a lineup consisting of players who, as of last night, hadn't been on the field for more than 40% of the team's snaps. As far as Mondays following a loss goes, this is one of the better ones I can remember. So let's extend the Thanksgiving weekend just one more day and be grateful that things didn't go the way they could have gone last night, officially put this game behind us, and get ready to close out the year strong.

  • Few things make me laugh harder than Bill Belichick in a winter hat. I don't know what it is about that look, but I just can't get enough.
  • I'll also say that snow games are the best. I know it's great to watch a game like last night's from the comfort and warmth of your living room, but if you haven't watched a professional football game live in the snow, do yourself a favor and make it happen.
  • The thought of colliding with another man in short sleeves in the snow, though - I'll leave that to the pros.
  • In the very first quarter of the game following a Rob Gronkowski catch and run, I wrote the following: wonder if I will ever not cringe every time Gronk gets tackled. The answer, given how this game ended, is a resounding NO.
  • I also wonder if defenders will ever not cringe every time they try to tackle Gronk. The answer to that one, given how this game ended, is yes, provided the tackle goes below the knee.
  • The way this game started - a quick Broncos three and out followed by a weak punt and a scoring drive that didn't even need a New England third down - I was all set up for a nice, comfortable game in which the Patriots built a comfortable lead and leaned on the run game to kill the clock. Nice idea, in theory, but you need two things in order for that to work: a comfortable lead, and a running game.
  • Seriously, I have no clue what's going on with LeGarrette Blount right now. I want to give him a pass because the offensive line is so patchwork, but overall the line played pretty well last night. Blount is just glacially slow to hit the hole and doesn't really show any urgency when attacking the gaps. How hard is it to plow forward with some explosiveness?
  • Nice haircut, Matt Paradis. You and Lloyd Christmas should compare notes.
  • Scott Chandler seems to only be able to catch the ball when he plays against the Patriots. Since he's on the Patriots, that is literally impossible.
  • How do folks here feel about that Denver "IN-COM-PLETE!" cheer that the fans do? It seems like one of those things that I should find absolutely infuriating, but it does absolutely nothing for me either way. Maybe because the Denver Broncos are more or less off my radar this year and have been for a little while? I don't know.
  • Denver's first decent drive of the night revolved around exactly what Denver does well: strong first down run on the stretch play, effective playaction, and exploiting the shallow crosses where receivers have running room. But it was all based on that first down run. What's a little disconcerting, though, is that we all knew exactly what they were going to do, and the Patriots still had trouble stopping it.
  • I mean how many times did the Broncos run a stretch play and the runner cut back towards the middle of the field for six or seven yards? I completely lost count.
  • On the plus side, that play becomes much, much harder to run when Collins and Hightower are in.
  • When Hightower went out, the entire complexion of the defense changed. Thank goodness he won't be missing any extended time.
  • And for what it's worth, Jonathan Freeny had his best game of the year last night. Came up with a huge sack to knock Denver out of FG range and made some nice tackles. Of course, Jonathan Freeny's best game is the equivalent of my best suit - off the rack and ill-fitting - but hey, at least I'm wearing pants.
  • So, so glad to see Rashaan Melvin out there. New England hasn't looked foolish in a little while.
  • We all expected a heavy dose of LeGarrette Blount in this game - so of course Blount didn't get his first carry until less than a minute to play in the 1st quarter. And in a huge twist of fate, it was a two yard run right into the middle of the pile.
  • I'm not going to say anything about the refs because it has all been said before and it isn't going to change. We're all in agreement that the officiating is a serious problem and there have been several games across the league where shoddy, incorrect calls directly cost teams wins. But since we're all going to keep watching and throwing our money at the NFL, they aren't likely to do anything to fix it, so as long as I continue to be a part of the problem - aka I keep giving this clown show my business - I have zero right to complain.
  • It wouldn't even be as big a deal if there was at least a shred of consistency somewhere along the line. I'm no conspiracy theorist (and by that I mean I'm a MASSIVE conspiracy theorist), but it's kind of hard not to be suspicious that there was some meeting and decision to enforce a different set of rules when it comes to Gronk and OPI. I've now watched that replay ten or twelve times, and I can for the life of me see where there was any illegal contact whatsoever. Gronk now leads the league in OPI calls, which is insane.
  • I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this on the blog in the past, but I have never seen a single Star Wars movie. I've seen clips, and it's such a cultural institution I can always pick up the references, but I've never seen any of the movies and as of right now have no plans to rectify that. And usually I live my Star Wars-less life as content as can be - but seeing how excited people are for the new movie to come out, I can't help but feel like I'm missing something.
  • But then again, weren't people just as stoked for the last new movies to come out? And weren't those terrible? I better just stick to Seinfeld reruns.
  • It finally started - the dreaded "who is that guy?" moment. It came on a one yard completion to tight end Asante Cleveland, wearing number 44, that represented his only career catch thus far. "Who is that guy?" is a fine question to ask in the preseason, but when it's Week 12 and you don't recognize players, you know you're in trouble.
  • On the Chandler Jones pick that set up the Scott Chandler TD, Jabaal Sheard did absolutely nothing fancy other than get a solid push and keep driving to get a hand in. Those are always my favorite kind of sacks: win the arm wrestling contest and impose your will.
  • Hey wait a minute...Chandler with the pick, Chandler with the catch...I like that. It's like a bad 80s sitcom or something - Chandler 2 Chandler. Just put those two guys in an apartment with a wacky landlord and a beautiful neighbor, and watch the laughs roll in.
  • Watching James White make a catch and get tackled after only making one guy miss makes me really miss Dion Lewis.
  • And speaking of James White - is he just not that good? Is there a particular reason the Patriots simply aren't integrating him into the offensive gameplan?
  • Chris Collinsworth last night: "when Brock Osweiler throws the ball on time, when his first receiver is open, hes really good." That's some stellar analysis right there.
  • I don't care that Chris Collinsworth actively roots against the Patriots every time he calls one of their games. I really don't. I am, however, a little surprised that he doesn't even try to mask it anymore. The only thing that actually annoys me about this game is how happy Chris Collinsworth was to see the Patriots lose. I'm actually pretty happy that he roots against this team because I can't stand him to begin with, but your job as a commentator is to at least try to be impartial. Come on now.
  • I have to question the motivations of both teams at the end of the half. Both seemed content to go into the locker room with the score 14-7. It must have been a situation where they realized that Hightower wasn't likely to come back and it was time to start playing the long game to limit possessions and just try to run out the clock.
  • I think that we're coming dangerously close to looking a whole lot like the 2013 Patriots. Other than QB, we've now lost a key contributor at every single level on both sides of the ball. The good thing about 2013 is that that was one of the most likable Patriots teams of all time.
  • I never thought I'd see a large, dreadlocked running back dance around in the backfield and then fall forward for two yards again once New England moved on from Laurence Maroney...but Blount is doing his damndest to prove me wrong.
  • Say what you want about Brady drawing a personal foul flag when Von Miller dove on him, but Miller launched, left his feet, and led with his helmet. That's going to be a penalty every time.
  • The lack of offensive weapons was never more glaring as it was on New England's opening drive of the 2nd half.  Tommy B ended up going deep to Lafell - a covered LaFell, at that - twice in four attempts, mainly because the other options were just so limited. They just couldn't get anything going other than their first drive of the game.
  • The 2nd half was all about the Denver run game, and rightly so. Without Hightower, New England was incredibly vulnerable against the cutback, and the Broncos fully exploited that.
  • Man... Emmanuel Sanders really loves to celebrate every time he does anything. He kind of reminds me of the way Santonio Holmes would croon every time he touched the ball, even if it was a three yard slant on 3rd and 30.
  • Tight ends also had a field day against this secondary. Owen Daniels was wide open over the middle on the quick out, primarily because Freeny can't cover.
  • My game ball goes to Logan Ryan and it isn't even close. Demaryius Thomas was more or less a ghost all night. One catch on 13 targets. 13 targets! That's insane. Of course, the one catch Thomas made was a huge one, but you really can't overstate how well Ryan played last night.
  • The best play of the entire game might have been the 59 yard punt from Britton Colquitt when Denver was pinned back deep towards the end of the 3rd quarter. It was pretty obvious at that point that the only way that New England was going to score any points was if they were gifted a short field, and a shorter punt there could have meant a different result when this one was all said and done.
  • The turning point, though, was that Chris Harper fumble. New England goes up two scores and forces a three and out; Harper hangs onto that ball - in great field position, no less - and we're probably still undefeated this morning. But, that's the way of the world when EVERYONE is hurt.
  • New England more or less stopped trying to move the ball at the end of the 2nd quarter and seemed content to play the field position game, relying on the defense to win it for them. This is a strategy straight out of The Waterboy when the Louisiana Cougars decided to just take a knee three times and punt in order to neutralize Bobby Boucher.
  • So when you're punting, and one of the linebackers is running, and the runner runs into the kicker...isn't that by definition running into the kicker?
  • Once the Pats went up 21-7 in the 4th quarter, the defense was allowed to pin their ears back and really dial up the pressure. That Jerod Mayo disguise blitz to force a 3 and out right after the Bolden TD was a great play.
  • Of course it wouldn't be a Pats game without some punting shennanigans. I personally prefer a holding call or block in the back play myself. If Amendola Edelman Harper had just held onto the ball, that would probably have been the game right there. They could have milked some clock and then just kept playing the field position game.
  • What Sebatstian Vollmer got flagged for against Von Miller - putting a hand in his facemask - is what happens to Chandler Jones on every single play.
  • Wade Philips in his winter gear. That is all
  • Draw play. Go route. Draw play. Go route. Draw play. Go route. Any other plays New England ran yesterday that I missed?
  • At least one of those G routes worked, a beautiful strike to my X-factor Brandon Bolden in which Brady exploited a coverage mismatch to put the Pats up 21-7. But other than that play, what did New England really do offensively? I mean how many times can you throw it to Scott Chandler before you realize it probably isn't going to work?
  • And while I'm at it, how many times can a Broncos fumble bounce right off a Patriot's pads?
  • If we look back on the 2015 season and see how it didn't go the way we were hoping, we can point to when there was 2:49 left in the 4th quarter in Week 12 as the moment the season ended. New England can't win without a healthy Gronk. That has been proven time and time again. The offense doesn't run without him, plain and simple. Now all signs point to him being OK, so it might be a moot point. But if he's rattled now, or starts hearing footsteps, or loses a step, we'll know.
  • Hey... at least Gronk wasn't called for OPI when he took that hit.
  • Where does "be convinced that we just lost Gronk for the year and then blow a 4th quarter lead against the Broncos" rank on the all-time crappy Patriots moments list?
  • The Patriots just had nothing left when OT came. Just nothing left. No players to move the chains and an exhausted defense. What can you do.
  • I will say that Hightower and Collins would have stopped CJ Anderson on that TD run. It was a beautifully run stretch play (hey, what do you know? A STRETCH PLAY!) that the linebackers were too slow to get to. Collins isn't too slow to do anything. But again... what can you do.
  • You know what losers do? They blame the officials for a loss. So let's all not do that. Let's not talk about the OPI or the defensive hold or the clock running or not running. Let's just tip our cap to the Broncos and move on.

I feel safe saying that absolutely nobody cares about this loss now that Gronk is reported to be OK, and Hightower shouldn't miss too much time either. So let's just move on and get back to work.