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Patriots vs. Broncos: Fan Notes from the AFC Championship

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots' 20-18 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Wow. What a finish.

Although the Patriots were on the losing end of this one, I'm still in awe over what transpired over the last minute of the AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots. For 58 minutes, New England didn't really do much of anything; they couldn't move the ball, the O-line was a sieve, and at no point was anyone in Patriots Nation confident that anything was going to change. But then, all of a sudden, New England found a rhythm and made a game out of if. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late, and Denver held on to win a game that wasn't really as close as the score suggests. But man, what a finish.

It always sucks to lose...but as I have been saying all season, this entire year was a freebie. The Patriots are coming off an incredible World Championship season. What can you do. Time to finish out the year strong.

  • We should have all known that something was up when the Patriots won the toss and elected to receive. It was the first of what was a number of questionable coaching decisions that showed us all that sometimes, you can out think yourself.
  • And then Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point, and that was pretty much the end of that. Anyone whose stomach didn't drop and didn't think "today just isn't going to be our day" hasn't been watching all season. That just doesn't happen.
  • That said, anyone who is knocking Ghost this morning can go suck an egg. He's the best kicker in the league and the most consistent scorer this team has. He's allowed to miss a PAT ever 1,000 attempts or so.
  • Still - talk about lousy timing. Despite Phil Simms insisting that Ghost's missed PAT had zero bearing on the game or the gameplan, the reality is that New England could have tied it late and sent the game to OT. of course, he Simms could have been talking football theory in regards to changing gameplans and an altered approach to the offense following a 6-7 score as opposed to a 7-7 score, but I don't think he can see that far ahead.
  • That I now don't have to listen to Simms's useless gums flap about absolutely nothing every Sunday is another reason to look on the bright side this morning.
  • Every once in a while - we know this all too well - Tommy B will throw a "what the hell was he thinking?" pass that is either picked off or almost picked off. Well Brady threw about seven of those yesterday, and not all of them were on the offensive line. He just doesn't play well in Denver. Maybe he's allergic to pot smoke.
  • If he is, he should talk to Chandler Jones. I hear he has an in on the synthetic stuff.
  • I'm hearing some grumbling about Jones's play yesterday in that he was a nonfactor. He didn't really get to Manning, true, but he freed up a lot of gaps for the linebackers, so I don't think it's fair to be raking him over the cherry coals this morning.
  • Who does deserve to be called out is the coaching staff. I'm not going to second guess the field goal attempts or going for it on 4th down; hindsight is always 20/20 and it's completely pointless to do that anyway. But there were little to no adjustments on either side of the ball and for some reason New England strayed away from what had been working all season in order to present Denver with some kind of new wrinkles that was supposed to confuse them. Not a bad strategy, but when the Broncos defensive line delivers a savage knockout blow to the O-line in the first six seconds of the fight, maybe it would have been smart to adjust for that.
  • May as well get the offensive line gripes out of the way now. As we discussed on both the podcast and the pregame preview, this was not a Brady vs. Manning battle. It was a defensive line vs. offensive line battle. And the Patriots offensive line lost, and lost BAD. If that was a little league game, the mercy rule would have been enforced in the 2nd inning. All across the line guys were getting stunted, spun around, and left in the dust as Brady ran for his life in between inaccurate throws and interceptions.
  • One of the reasons that Denver had such a huge day along the line was because both Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware were able to get a great jump on every single snap because they knew exactly when Bryan Stork was going to release the ball. His head down, head up tell was so consistent that I'm surprised Miller didn't intercept the ball as he hiked it to Brady when he was in shotgun. A large part of that is the homefield advantage factor, as the noise forced a silent count, but if you're the center, you can't telegraph the moment when you're about to snap the ball -especially against this defense.
  • And holy Tebow what a game from Von Miller, who was the MVP of this game and it isn't even close. A terror along the line, completely faked Brady out of his shorts on the blitz mask to come up with a massive interception, and just completely unstoppable all day. But let's keep talking about Peyton Manning's huge day.
  • Credit where credit is due, though; Manning had a good day. He was accurate and sharp and didn't make any mistakes. New England sold out to stop the run and dared Manning to beat them with his arm, which he did.
  • With some help from Emmanuel Sanders, of course. To think about how close the Patriots came to getting him...
  • Seriously, what is it about Denver? Why can't Brady win there? Is it mental? It has to be, right? You get to a point where you have a resume like Brady's and there's just this one sticking point where you simply can't get it done, it's hard to suddenly overcome that. I don't know.
  • As the 10 minute mark came and went in the first quarter, I remembered my wish that it would have been 21-0 New England by that point on some muffed kickoff and a quick pick six and couldn't help but let out a wistful sigh. My wishes never come true.
  • What happened instead was a sharp, focused Manning with some huge 3rd down conversions and a touchdown drive that was balanced, diverse, and creative. The Patriots were caught completely off-guard and Denver made it look easy.
  • What a massive confidence booster that first drive must have been for the Broncos offense. It was surgical and effective and got the crowd all kinds of fired up. In a way, they never really looked back after that.
  • And what a massive statement for the defense getting a three and out right after that TD drive too. Denver landed an absolute haymaker to start this game. and never really allowed the Patriots to get into a rhythm.
  • Color me STUNNED that the lateral-that-wasn't got overturned. Of course, Mike Carey said it was going to stand, so I don't know why I didn't start celebrating right away.
  • Seriously - it's actually terrifying that Mike Carey was a referee in the NFL for over two decades. He reffed Super Bowl XLII. Kind of makes you wonder.
  • I probably could have turned the game off when Peyton Manning scrambled for 11 yards on a 3rd and 10. Kind of like when the Little Giants gained a yard. Bad vibes all around.
  • You know what I'm really, really sick of writing? "The New England defender was in perfect coverage on that play, and the receiver just came down with it." That happens to this team all the damn time.
  • New England's Microsoft Surface tablets weren't working! CHEATERS!
  • You know the Patriots are in trouble when Brady starts heaving deep passes to Brandon Bolden. I was kind of hoping we wouldn't see that until late in the 3rd quarter.
  • The recipe for beating the Patriots hasn't changed in 10+ years: get great pressure with four or less, drop seven or eight into coverage, and hit Brady early. That's what you have to do. It's no secret, and there's just nothing the Pats can do about it if you have a defense that can do that. Denver was able to get great pressure with only four and drop everybody else into coverage to smother passing lanes. That has been the recipe for beating New England since time immemorial and will be for as long as Brady is under center - hopefully for another 30 years or so.
  • When Brady looks better as a runner than he does as a passer, you know you're in for a long day.
  • New England forced a three and out, got the ball with great field position, and answered with a drive that saw two Brandon Bolden runs and a pick. If you could only watch two drives of the entire game to sum up what happened yesterday, that was it.
  • Peyton Manning made the Manningest Manning face that I've ever seen on that Alan Branch sack. It almost makes this loss easier to bear.
  • Almost.
  • "New England didn't even try to get point before the half" is something else I have gotten very sick of writing this season.
  • I don't think I've seen Tommy B so relieved to be heading into the locker room at halftime.
  • I also know that "body language" is something that gets talked about ad nauseum when it comes to Brady, but there is some merit there. Sideline Brady last week vs. sideline Brady this week was night and day.
  • Those Broncos safeties have boom sticks. Good lord that's how you hit.
  • I'd like to think that somewhere, Logan Mankins was watching yesterday's game, pacing back and forth, ripping his shirt off, headbutting the wall, and screaming in frustration
  • Brady could have finished the day with five picks in that game. Very uncharacteristic. And that's yet another nod to that Denver front line.
  • Starting inside your own five against this Denver defense is kind of like getting in line for the lunch buffet right as they put the last trays of the afternoon out. Just no chance to really capitalize on anything.
  • So...all I have to do is meet the woman of my dreams is drive a Nissan Altima? Am I getting the message of that commercial right?
  • Take a lap, Marcus Cannon.
  • You too, Cameron Fleming.
  • That New England continued to single team Miller at times is inexplicable. He had an absolute field day yesterday and the Patriots were just unable to adjust in any capacity.
  • The dagger was more or less the big Anderson run on 3rd and short to put the Broncos up 20-12. An eight point fourth quarter lead when you can't move the ball is as good as a 20 point lead. Anderson is just one of those runners who you can't contain forever. Good for him.
  • And good for the Patriots defense. I'm not one to put a shine on a turd, but the Patriots defense played extremely well overall. They kept the game close when it probably shouldn't have been. The offense just couldn't do enough to take advantage of opportunities.
  • Why did the Patriots even pretend with the playaction? Nobody on the planet was falling for it and it takes an extra second that Brady just doesn't have.
  • What great defense by Chris Harris on the 4th down conversion. New England totally sold out the run, but Harris stayed home and totally sniffed the play out. I like the call to go for it there - can't really get mad when the defense just makes a better play. That was pretty much the game.
  • New England started releasing the ball quickly as soon as time was a factor. I wish they had done that when Von Miller was a factor.
  • Holy jeez that throw to Gronk on 4th and 10. What are you people doing to me??
  • Holy jeez that throw to Gronk on 4th and goal. What are you people doing to me??
  • And of course it comes down to a failed 2 point conversion. Of course it does. Although to be honest I wasn't even remotely confident that they were going to convert there; New England used up all of its luck on the two passes to Gronk that got them there. And with absolutely zero running game to worry about, all Denver had to do was defend the pass.
  • Although I was kind of hoping for the old Kevin Faulk direct snap to James White. But what can you do.
  • I will say this: I'm glad that this was a no-nonsense, straight-up, legitimate loss in which there is absolutely nowhere to point the finger but squarely at the New England sideline. Losses like yesterday's are always a lot easier to swallow than some nonsense that leaves you wondering what you possibly could have done to anger the football gods so. That isn't the case here. This was a case where a world-class defense got the best of a world-class offense, and that's all there is to it. Blaming the refs or anything like that isn't going to cut it here.
  • Congrats, Denver and congrats to the Broncos fans. Enjoy it. You deserve it. Enjoy the weeks building up to the Super Bowl; you've got a tough opponent coming up, so lots of prep to do. My hat goes off to all of you.
  • The price we pay as Patriots fans is how we feel this morning and how the rest of the world feels this morning. A New England loss is the greatest thing that could happen to a lot of fans, rivaling even their own team winning. Pretty much everyone, from the NFL and ESPN front offices all the way down to some plant waterer in Sandusky, is celebrating this morning because the Pats lost in the playoffs. They can't get enough of it, and I'm sure folks will be stopping by all day and all week to rub it in. And that's just fine with me. It's the cost of sustained excellence. When the trollers stop trolling, we no longer matter. So embrace it. You don't have to like it, but know that it's far better to be hated than it is to be an afterthought. I can guarantee you that the Chiefs, Bengals, Steelers, Cardinals, Packers, and Vikings would all love to be getting this kind of attention after a playoff loss. It's more meaningful when the Patriots lose because the Patriots win. You can try and spin it in another direction or act like there's more to it, but that's the reality. And that's absolutely fantastic. Our misery is America's joy. And I wouldn't trade it for anything.

And that wraps up my Fan Notes for another season. It would have been nice to write one more of these, but that just wasn't in the cards for 2015. Hard to be too upset about when this happened just last year. Thanks for reading, everyone, and for all your support throughout the season. Like the Patriots, I'm going to take some time to lick my wounds and get healthy, but I'm not going anywhere.

We're on to the offseason!