Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

What Went Wrong?

Another season ends just two weeks before the Super Bowl. Yesterday’s 26-16 loss against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game sent the New England Patriots home just a tad early for the second year in a row.

Before getting into what went wrong for the Pats yesterday, let’s look at some of the positives. The Pats D did a solid job containing the run and ended up forcing the Broncos into several 3rd and long situations.  Jamie Collins, who did struggle to cover TE Julius Thomas on a key third down late in the game, still played a good game overall, and with the return of Jerod Mayo next season, the Pats will have a very deep linebacking core, deeper than what coach Bill Belichick has had in recent history.

Speaking of Coach Belichick. Many thought his post-game criticism of Wes Welker’s “block” on Aqib Talib was mostly sour grapes, and nothing more. The play call itself is something that should be examined as teams are doing it all over the league. Even the Pats ran the same play on the previous drive, where FB/TE Michael Hoomanawanui was flagged for offensive pass interference (and no flag for Welker?).

But even beyond that, it seemed Welker never intended to try and get open and went right after Talib, subsequently knocking him out of the game and freeing up Demaryius Thomas to run all over the field. It was a critical play of the game and though some of Belichick’s complaining may have to do with outcome of the game, he is right to complain and perhaps this will draw some attention from a league that is always concerned about player safety.

So outside of losing Talib, what went wrong for the Pats yesterday? Offensively, they couldn’t consistently create running lanes and that was in due large part to the play of both Trevor Knighton and Danny Trevathan. Both players were all over the field, and Knighton attracted plenty of attention allowing the linebackers and safeties to make plays in the running game around the line of scrimmage.

Even without the running game going, the passing game had its moments, and should have had more. Tom Brady played a game somewhat similar to last year’s AFC title game. He missed Julian Edelman on a deep pass that could have resulted in points. He missed a few other throws, but it seemed that he was never fully comfortable in the pocket until the last scoring drive. The Broncos did a good job of collapsing the pocket, and also taking away Brady’s secondary WR options on certain plays. In all fairness, Brady had Austin Collie and an injured (of course) Danny Amendola to throw to outside of Edelman, making his job a bit more difficult.

A key play in the game was the play call in the 2nd half on a 4th and 2 deep in Broncos territory. Give credit to Belicheck for calling a great play as two of Brady’s receivers were open in the middle of the field. However, Knighton blew up the play, getting to Brady before he could even get the ball in throwing position. It was the biggest play of the game in my opinion, and allowed the Broncos to take more time off the clock and put more points on the board.

On defense, it was quite simple. They couldn’t stop the Broncos on third-downs, especially in the 2nd half. Peyton Manning had a tremendous game, but it was his performance on third-downs that separated his team from the Pats. The Broncos were 7-13 on third-down conversions for the games and were successful on downs where they needed 17 and 20 yards. Julius Thomas had four first-down conversions on his own, including a big third-down conversion in the fourth quarter.

After Talib went down, the Pats continued to rush few and try and cover these Broncos receivers. They had stretches where they covered well. but they were unable to get to Manning and you can only let him drop back and pass comfortable so many times before he burns you.

The Pats had their opportunities to get back into the game, but ultimately had a few missed opportunities that shifted the game in the Broncos favor. Assuming Manning comes back next year, something tells me the AFC title game matchup is going to look eerily similar.



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Tags: 2014 AFC Championship Game Aqib Talib Bill Belicheck Game Recap New England Patriots Peyton Manning Tom Brady Trevor Knighton Wes Welker

  • Mully

    While I agree that the key plays you mention were huge, the score doesn’t do justice to how much Denver was in control of this game. Keep in mind that DEN had 20 points at the end of the 3rd and went to a conservative strategy of running clock for the 4th quarter (which they should up by 3 scores).

    I think Rotoworld put it best about Brady (though a little too harsh): “Brady blew a huge first-quarter vertical strike opportunity on a bad overthrow for Julian Edelman, who got wide open on a slot route that developed deep down the left sideline. The Pats tried to attack Denver’s defense with a pass-happy approach, for which OC Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick may receive hindsight criticism this week after all of LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley’s recent success. This loss was squarely on Tom Terrific’s shoulders, as Brady blew yet another shot-play chance at the end of the first half, missing an open Austin Collie so badly the ball fell incomplete out of bounds. Brady’s lone passing touchdown of the 2013-2014 playoffs wound up going to Edelman to “narrow” the deficit to 23-10 in the fourth quarter. Although Brady’s depleted supporting cast deserves blame, his accuracy beyond ten yards has declined noticeably and significantly the past two seasons.”

    Pats ranked 31st in passing plays over 25+ yards this season and as much as it sucks to have Amendola (btw, Pats replaced Welker with him with high hopes) and Collie at WR with Edelman, those guys did get open deep on some plays where Brady missed the target. As much as Talib’s injury was unfortunate, the Pats defense held the #1 offense to 26 points on the road, which in many’s eyes is “doing their job” (though again, DEN got very conservative in the 4th and Manning threw for 400 yards). At the end of the day, 16 points of offense was never ever going to win them this game no matter who was healthy on defense. Maybe the Pats took a big gamble by saying Welker was replaceable and that all they needed was Brady and it backfired. He lost a reliable target (Amendola had a big drop early in the game) and couldn’t hit a target 20+ yards downfield. As much as Brady is an incredible talent, it was more him, than Welker’s hit on Talib, that cost the Pats any shot at winning this game.