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Patriots clinch AFC East, first round bye with 16-3 win over Broncos

It wasn’t pretty, but the Patriots defense dominated Denver.

Tom Brady overcame an ugly first quarter and the defense carried the game as the New England Patriots defeated the Denver Broncos 16-3.

On the Patriots first seven passing plays, Brady went 0 for 6, with one strip sack, but a muffed punt by the Broncos allowed Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski to knock home a perfectly aimed 45-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

The Broncos won the field position battle in the first quarter as Brady and the offense struggled to move the ball. QB Trevor Siemian took advantage and led the Broncos 47 yards for a game-tying field goal.

The Patriots went three-and-out and the Broncos took over from their own 7-yard line. Siemian drove 79 yards down the field to the Patriots 14-yard line, before CB Logan Ryan intercepted a pass on an out route and that was the end of the Broncos offense for the rest of the game.

After an 11-play, 34-yard drive that resulted in a punt, the Broncos produced a mere 61 yards on 22 plays before their final gasp of a drive. The Patriots defense suffocated the Broncos offense and allowed the Patriots offense to put up 16 points and win the game.

The Patriots turned Logan Ryan’s interception into the only touchdown of the game- a 1-yard plunge by RB LeGarrette Blount to set a new franchise record with 15 rushing touchdowns in a single season. Brady and the offense won the field position battle for the rest of the game, finishing on the Broncos side of the field on all but two of their final nine drives (okay, one of the times they ended on their own 49-yard line, but that’s splitting hairs).

Brady was a quiet 16 of 32 (50.0%) for 188 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. He’s fallen behind Falcons QB Matt Ryan in the MVP race and it will take two incredible performances in the final two weeks for Brady to claim the award. I’m sure Brady will be happy to take the #1 seed.

While Blount set a franchise record, RB Dion Lewis stole the show with a career-high 95 rushing yards on 18 carries (5.3 yards per carry) and an additional 9 yards on 2 catches. RB James White put together a disappointing outing with just 35 yards on 6 touches, but with a handful of drops throughout the day.

WR Julian Edelman added 75 yards on 6 receptions. No other player exceeded 40 yards on the day, as WR Chris Hogan and WR Malcolm Mitchell combined for 32 yards on 2 receptions.

The Patriots defense stuffed the Broncos rushing attack, holding Justin Forsett and Devontae Booker to 54 yards on 16 carries (3.38 yards per carry), forcing Siemian to the air. The Patriots defense was outstanding, racking up 4 sacks and forcing two turnovers. The Broncos only converted 2 of 12 third down attempts and they both came on the same drive in the first half.

DE Trey Flowers picked up two sacks, while CB Logan Ryan led the team with 7 tackles and the interception.

The New England defense now ranks #1 in the NFL in points allowed per game, ahead of the Seahawks, Broncos, and all other great defenses.

The Patriots have moved to 12-2 and have also clinched the AFC East and a first round bye. The Chiefs lost and fell to 10-4, while the Raiders are battling the Chiefs.

New England plays the Jets next week.