The New England Patriots played arguably their best game of the season on Sunday night versus the Denver Broncos. The team looked sharp in all three phases of the game and cruised to its most-lopsided victory of the season, a 41-16 blowout. Despite the convincing win, not everything was 100% perfect, though, as a look at the winners and losers of yesterday's contest shows.
Winner: TE Dwayne Allen
Yes, he finished with only one catch – an 11-yard touchdown – on two targets. However, Dwayne Allen can still be considered a winner of yesterday's game due to a) the fact he finally caught a pass in a Patriots uniform and b) his contributions as a blocker against Denver's talented defensive front. Playing 20 of a possible 70 snaps, Allen produced his best performance of his tenure in New England.
Winner: The offensive line
Like the Patriots' defense, the team's offensive line started the season inconsistently before quietly turning things around as of late. Yesterday, the unit had another very good outing against a team known for its aggressive defense. In the passing game, the unit kept quarterback Tom Brady mostly clean and allowed only four hits while simultaneously looking as solid as usual in the running game.
Loser: CB Malcolm Butler
Malcolm Butler has had some quality performances this season but yesterday's game is not one of them. Mostly matched up with Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the fourth-year pro struggled to contain the speedy pass catcher. Overall, Sanders finished with six catches for 137 yards as Denver's primary means of offensive productivity. And more often than not, Butler appeared to be responsible for covering him.
Winner: CB Stephon Gilmore
While one of the starting outside cornerbacks had a rough outing, the other looked mostly solid. Stephon Gilmore, who missed the last three games due to a concussion, was back on the field against the Broncos and drew a tough assignment in Demaryius Thomas. However, the first-year Patriot, who played all 63 defensive snaps, held his own and helped limit Thomas to 44 yards and a touchdown on five catches.
Winner: QB Tom Brady
Tom Brady has had his fair share of troubles in Denver over the course of his career (often tied to questionable pass protection in front of him, though). Yesterday, however, he was his usual sharp self and had no trouble dissecting the Broncos' talented defense. Overall, Brady completed 25 of his 34 pass attempts for 266 yards and three touchdowns while being in total command the entire game.
Winner: RB Rex Burkhead
With Mike Gillislee inactive, Rex Burkhead saw a bigger workload than usual and he rose to the occasion. The first-year Patriot finished with a position-high 36 snaps and 13 total touches – 10 runs and three catches – for a combined 63 yards. Burkhead also had two big plays to set the tone early one: In the first quarter, he scored a touchdown to put his team up 7-0; one quarter later he registered a punt block preceding a field goal.
Loser: RB Mike Gillislee
As noted above, the Patriots declared their leading rusher this season, Mike Gillislee, inactive prior to the game – making him a healthy scratch for the first time all year. And while he likely will still get his fair share of chances later in the season, seeing him miss yesterday's game does not bode well for his standing on New England's running back depth chart; especially considering how well Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead played.
Winner: TE Martellus Bennett
He played only seven offensive snaps but Martellus Bennett still goes into the books as a winner of yesterday's game. After all, only a few days earlier he appeared to be destined to head to injured reserve due to the rotator cuff issue that has plagued him this season. Things change quickly in the NFL, though, and Bennett was back on the field for his first game of his second stint with the Patriots. He quickly caught three passes for 38 yards.
Winner: RB Dion Lewis
Dion Lewis continues to show why the Patriots were smart to not trade him at October 31st's deadline. Against the Broncos' talented run defense, he led the team with 14 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown on 21 snaps. Lewis' contributions were not limited to offense, though: The 27-year old also registered a 103-yard touchdown on a kick return in the first quarter.
Winner: TE Jacob Hollister
With Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett and Dwayne Allen ahead of him at the tight end position, Jacob Hollister did not see any offensive playing time against the Broncos. However, he still made a positive impact: The undrafted rookie recovered a first quarter fumble on special teams and thus set up New England's first touchdown of the day. For him to stay on the active roster despite being buried on the tight end depth chart, making plays in the kicking game is imperative. He did just that yesterday.
Winner: New England's scoring defense
The Broncos are not exactly an offensive powerhouse. But still, it is positive to see New England's defense continue its improvements after the bye week. For the fifth straight game, the unit held its opponent to 17 or fewer points. And despite continuing the be the worst defense in the NFL in terms of yardage given up, Matt Patricia's squad has risen to 14th in points allowed.