The New England Patriots defense of their Super Bowl crown is over and they will be watching the big game from home in two weeks. Both quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, were uninspiring as this defensive struggle seemed more reminiscent of an AFC North divisional game than a Brady-Manning rivalry.
The Denver defense hit Brady more than any other defense this season and the Patriots offense felt the result. Wide receiver Julian Edelman was hobbling in the locker room after the game and tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered cramps for the first time this season. The Broncos beat up the Patriots offense on every snap and no one was safe.
The Patriots running backs picked up 31 yards on 14 rushing plays (2.21 yards per carry), as the coaching staff curiously continued to rush against the strong Denver interior. Wide receivers Brandon LaFell and Keshawn Martin were nonexistent. A victory just wasn't in the cards.
The game started off with the Patriots winning the coin toss and opting to receive the opening kick. A quick drive stalled and the Broncos responded with an easy drive against soft Patriots coverage, and capped it off with a 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Owen Daniels. Daniels put a nice move on linebacker Jamie Collins, which raised the question of why wasn't Patrick Chung in coverage?
The Patriots were lucky that the Broncos were called for a lateral, which linebacker Jonathan Freeny recovered, and New England punched into the end zone with a 1-yard run by Steven Jackson. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed his first extra point attempt since his rookie year.
On the Patriots next possession, Brady threw an ugly interception to Broncos linebacker Von Miller inside the Patriots own red zone, which set up a 16-yard touchdown drive with another score by Daniels. Again in coverage by Collins. Where was Chung?!
New England responded with a 48-yard drive and 46-yard field goal by Gostkowski. The Patriots defense held, but then Brady threw another ugly interception that allowed the Broncos to tip the field position. New England had to punt out of their own end zone and the Broncos quickly put up a field goal before half time.
The two teams exchanged field goals before the Patriots offense finally clicked in the fourth quarter. The Patriots had three drives deep into Broncos territory, but only left with one touchdown.
The Patriots reached a 4th and 1 situation on the Denver 16 yard line with 6:03 left in the game, trailing 20-12, but opted to go for the conversion. The Patriots failed and the Broncos went three and out.
The Patriots next drive reached a 4th and 6 situation on the Denver 14 yard line with 2:25 left in the game, still trailing 20-12. The Patriots failed and the Broncos again went three and out.
The Patriots final drive was a 50-yard march down the field, with a 40-yard miracle catch by Gronkowski on 4th and 10, and then another miracle score by Gronkowski on 4th and goal. The Patriots failed to convert on their two point attempt and the Broncos were able to seal the victory.
Overall, the Broncos defense was just too much for the Patriots to handle. The line was awful, some of the coaching decisions were more than questionable, and the adjustments to help protect Brady were lacking. The Patriots defense did enough to put the team in a situation to win, but the offense was unable to capitalize.
Should the Patriots have kicked a field goal in either of those fourth down situations? Or is that just playing a mental game that no one can win?
New England lost to Denver with a final score of 20-18. The 2015 season is over.