Patriots vs. Broncos: Three Week 12 Stars of the Game

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Nov 23, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch (97) on the sideline during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Star Number Two: Defensive Tackle Alan Branch

The idea that the Patriots’ interior defensive line is not as strong as it once was is a tall tale. Between back-to-back first round picks Dominique Easley and Malcom Brown, the Patriots have a ton of talent on the interior. However, it was veteran Alan Branch who made the largest impact against the Broncos on Sunday night, playing his best game ever in a Patriots’ uniform.

Branch is kind a forgotten man in the Patriots’ defense, but his role up front is extremely important.

Listed at 6-foot-6, 350 pounds, Branch is a massive anchor in the middle of the Patriots’ defense. He has incredible strength, and is nearly impossible to move off of the line of scrimmage. Branch also shows impressive quickness for a man of his size, allowing him to get a solid pass rush up the middle at times.

Branch was on top of his game on Sunday night. He finished with four total tackles, including one for a loss. He was credited with one quarterback hit and two passes defended. While it does not show up as much on the stat sheet, Branch got consistent pressure on Osweiler throughout the game, and was a huge reason for their success against the Broncos’ rushing attack in the first half.

Late in the fourth quarter with the Broncos driving, Branch made an incredible play that should have pretty much sealed the victory for New England. He bull rushed Broncos center Matt Paradis, before easily throwing him to the side and sacking Osweiler. It was an incredible feat of pure strength and power by Branch, and the sack would have given the Broncos a third and goal play from the 19-yard-line, down by four and needing a touchdown.

With just over a minute remaining, if the Broncos could not score a touchdown in the next two plays, the game would be over. Unfortunately, a phantom holding call on Patriots’ safety Patrick Chung in the end zone, negated Branch’s incredible play, and the Broncos took a three-point lead, after scoring a touchdown on the very next play.

I rarely complain about officiating, but that was a terrible call at the most unfortunate time for the Patriots.

Regardless, Branch was an absolute force for the Patriots on Sunday, and made a huge play that should have been the difference. Expect him to continue to play a major role going forward.

Next: First Star