Let's just get it out of the way. Losing sucks. I'm not all that upset that the Broncos lost to the Patriots tonight. Tom Brady and the Patriots do what they did to the Broncos to a lot of teams. What I AM upset about, though, is HOW the Broncos lost today. I've often said that. Winning and losing is part of the game. HOW you lose is the tough part. For the Broncos, that meant penalties, poorly timed returns, and turnovers.
The Broncos were doing exactly what they wanted to do. They were controlling the clock. They were moving the ball at will. Even when the Patriots scored to take a 7-6 lead, the Broncos answered with a touchdown of their own, then got a defensive stop and were driving again. The Patriots were on their heels, and the Broncos looked poised to turn New England into a one-dimensional team. What happens over the next 15 minutes or so of game time turned the game and really showed where the Broncos are vulnerable.
I don[t want to dwell on this game for too long. It is, after all, just one loss, and the Broncos are still sitting pretty in the AFC West after the Raiders got Megatron'd at home by the Lions. Let's take our medicine and move on is what I say, but I do have a couple of thoughts.
First, it's hard for me to really criticize John Fox for much over the past couple months. He is playing a conservative style of offense, choosing to take points and end possessions with kicks. That said, the Broncos were averaging about 11 yards per carry when faced with a 4th and 1 from the Patriots' 9-yard line. If you are ever going to take a chance, simply based on the momentum and flow of a football game, that was it. Sure, Fox played it the same way he has all year, but I was hoping the Broncos would go for it at the time and feel the same now.
The turnovers are really starting to kill the Broncos. They've turned it over 7 times in the last 3 games. While they found ways to win the last two - getting four turnovers of their own has helped - they were unable to get the Patriots to make any mistakes today. If you are a minus-3 in the turnover battle you are going to lose. The Broncos need to get back to protecting the ball.
I'll admit, I was a bit puzzled by the defensive game plan, though I give props to the Patriots for doing what they do. Knowing that Rob Gronkowski was going to get a ton of attention, the Patriots targeted the other Florida Gator on the field - TE Aaron Hernandez. The result was 11 targets for Hernandez. he made 9 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown. The Broncos - young at safety with Brian Dawkins on the shelf - simply had no answer. That wasn't the puzzling part. While I agree that blitzing Tom Brady can be hazardous to your health, you can't drop 8 into coverage. Brady will dissect your defense, and it takes one of your best pass rushers - Von Miller - out of the rush. There were at least three key third downs that I saw Miller drop in coverage. Sometimes the Patriots leave you little choice based on formation, they go with an empty backfield a ton, but Dennis Allen and John Fox need to find a way - if there is a way.
The Broncos were only penalized 7 times for 39 yards, but they all seemed to be huge. Particularly damning was an illegal hands to the face call against Robert Ayers in the third quarter. While the Patriots didn't score on the possession, it allowed their drive to continue out towards midfield, changing field position.
Quan Cosby will have to feel fortunate to have a job come Tuesday. There were two questionable decisions to return kickoffs that left the Broncos in tough field position, and of course the muffed punt that gave the Patriots three points before halftime. With the Patriots deferring, they plan on having the ball to end the first half, then receiving the opening kickoff. They've done it that way for years and is something we have discussed often when Josh McDaniels was the Head Coach. It turned an 8-point deficit into an 11-point deficit at the half. A huge difference.
Today also showed the Broncos need to bring in a difference maker at running back/wide receiver. A Percy Harvin-type to create match-up problems for opposing defenses. Willis McGahee is in beast mode, but he is not the back of the future. Can we really count on Knowshon Moreno?
One last thing on Tebow. During Training Camp, it is hard to describe what you are seeing, especially when it is on the practice field. We saw it today. Tebow struggles when trying to throw to his right - across his body. There were three different occasions when Tebow tried to hit a 15-20 yard out to his right and bounced it in.
Along the same line, you've heard a lot about defenses trying to keep Tebow from going to his left. You saw why today. Tebow made plenty of plays when scrambling to his left. On plays to his right, however, Tebow's first reaction was not to throw - it was to spin back to his left. The Patriots were waiting.
To me, both things are fixable and will be worked on in the offseason. It will have to be.
There were also plenty of positives, especially in the first quarter. The Broncos - when they play mistake-free football, can play with most teams in the NFL. That said, they've played three high-powered offenses - Green Bay, Detroit and New England - and gave up 40+ points in each game. That is due to several things - mainly some major holes in the defensive backfield. The Broncos are trending up, however.
Now we focus on the task at hand. The Broncos still control their own destiny with two games to go. We've been here before and haven't been able to seal the deal. Not this time. Not with this quarterback. A loss is a loss, but it only counts once. The Broncos have a short week to get back to work. There is, after all, a division to win!
Oh yea, one more thing. This was pretty awesome!