I thought a lot about how I would do these reactions. Could they be "Instant Reactions" i.e. immediately after the game? Or should I sit and stew on my thought processes overnight? I was conflicted because going into this game, I knew the Broncos were going to lose. New England hasn't lost at home to an AFC team since 2006. That is an impressive eight years of AFC dominance. I likened it to betting against New Orleans in their dome; It just isn't going to happen! You simply can't bet against that type of history. The Patriots' streak of home dominance will end one day, but it'll likely be one of those fluky games instead of a game they had circled and double underlined since the schedule was released. So onto the reactions we go.
Peyton Manning is tied with Johnny Unitas for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (47 games) and extended his NFL record multi-touchdown pass games (14), and he notched yet another 400 yard passing game. Ho hum, right? We are use to all of these records these days. What we are also use to is Manning shrinking in the pressure and cold. I know there are Manning apologists out there (I am to a degree), and I know the entire team played poorly, but I want my hall of fame superstar QB to have the ability to put the team on his back and will the Broncos to victory. That's what John Elway did in the 80's all the way up to 1995.
I also know that there is a narrative written about Manning in the cold, and we can stick that where the sun don't shine. But I'm here to say "stick what where the sun don't shine Mr. Manning?" Shall we stick the two interceptions up there? Shall we stick the Kyle Orton esq sacks when we could least afford them up there? Shall we stick the endless failed third and fourth down conversions up there? I'm willing to put a hefty amount of blame elsewhere, but sometimes the highest paid player on the team needs to show that he's capable of willing his team to victory, and as Peyton said in his press conference, he himself played "Bad, below average" football today. So yes, Peyton will have his share of egg on his face. The only saving grace is that he is the driver of the most talented team in the NFL. Eventually that talent will win out. It's simply that Foxboro is impossible to win at right now.
The Running game was horrible last night, simply awful. Ronnie Hillman averaged 1.6 yards per carry, yuck. CJ Anderson averaged 6 yards per carry, but only had three carries. Was that an aberration? Should John Fox have fed the productive running back the ball earlier and more often? It's coaching decisions that occur in real time that separate the great head coaches from the average ones. But more on the coaching staff later. The bottom line is that when the running game isn't working, the offense doesn't click like it should, and when the offense doesn't click like it should, the Broncos lose. Yes, I know that they average more yards per pass attempt than rush attempt, but it's been that way since the dawn of the forward pass. The cold, harsh reality is that you need offensive balance to win, and when the rushing attack is abysmal, you won't find that balance, and you'll end up getting blown out. You at least need the threat of a run, which is what the Patriots had, and which is why although their numbers weren't stellar, they were much better and were able to destroy the Broncos.
Emmanuel Sanders was once again brilliant. I hope those ribs of his heal up fast, because we have a tough stretch ahead of us with all these road games. Sanders has five 100-yard games so far this season, and he looks like the difference maker the Broncos envisioned in the offseason. With Wes Welker again showing to be fragile, I wonder how that will affect Sanders and the position he plays? I really want him to stay on the outside because he really blows the roof off of coverages, but if Welker can't play, should they insert Sanders into the slot and give the outside role to Cody Latimer? The rookie showed promise in the preseason, but these are real games with real defenses. How effective will the rookie be if Sanders needs to move inside? Or would the Broncos simply try to put Jacob Tamme in the slot? Decisions decisions.
Demaryius Thomas extended his Broncos record with yet another 100+ yard game of his own. Something seemed off with Thomas though. I'm hoping it is just him being sick with the flu and nothing structurally wrong with him because he looked winded all night and unable to stay in the game for long stretches. Even with him clearly at less than 100%, he ripped through that defense. He is just scary good.
The other wide receivers had a decent game as well. Then again, when Peyton passes for 400+ yards, backs and receivers tend to pile up the numbers. Ronnie Hillman did have a nice touchdown grab, as did the mostly silent Julius Thomas. C.J. Anderson also did quite well in the passing game. All in all, our receivers produced the "empty" yards (between the 20's), but our offense just couldn't get out of their own way once they reached the red zone.
Our run stoppers did a tremendous job. They held the Patriots to just 2.6 yards per carry, and that number lies a little seeing there were a few garbage time runs that went for long yards. Terrance Knighton, Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams, Quanterus Smith, and the rest of the boys did a stellar job stopping the run.
DeMarcus Ware had another good night, posting another sack and registering 4 tackles. His counterpart Von Miller? Well, lets just say that he had a rough night. Was that his doing or the coaching staff's though? I mean, Von 1 on 1 against Rob Gronkowski on the goalline? C'mon Del Rio!!!! What were you thinking?
Our secondary seemed to be a bigger sieve than the Patriots' secondary. Chris Harris Jr. was really good as was Aqib Talib. They just needed a bit more pressure by our defensive line to help out. T.J. Ward racked up the big hits and Rahim "The Dream Killer" Moore was what we thought he was.
I need to defend T.J. Ward for a second here. Everyone seems to want to pile on him for his low hit on Gronkowski. I'm sorry, but that's what the NFL wants safeties to do. Players hate it when defenders take them out at the knee, because blowing out a knee is the short track to retirement. Knocking a player out? Well, they can play the next week, or maybe even never come out if you're the San Diego Chargers. The point is that nobody has class action multi-billion dollar lawsuits against the NFL for blown out knees. They do have those lawsuits for concussions. That is why the NFL is willing to have players end careers with blown out knees rather than hitting them up high and risk head trauma. That is why Ward went to the knees and not the head. Why not go for the middle? Easy, it's because receivers slouch down to absorb a hit after they catch the ball, and what would otherwise be a chest hit for a tackle quickly becomes a helmet to helmet hit, a 15 yard penalty, and a fine. The NFL has effectively taken away the mid body hit and forced defenders to go after the knees. Period. Shame on you NFL.
John Fox can't coach a game to save his life. Yes, this is more John Fox hate. He's a great coach in the "we are a franchise in turmoil, and we need to stabilize the ship" way, but a worthless hack of a coach in the "we are a loaded team and want to win a super bowl" way. I thank coach Fox for stabilizing the sinking ship that was left in the Josh McDaniels' era, but it's time to move on. This roster's talent is getting wasted because of a coach who simply can't coach above the numbers.
Jack Del Rio? Well, he's about as inventive as a caveman when it comes to defensive schemes. Again, Von Miller covering Gronk? Is that the best you have? I'm going to sound like a freaking parrot here, but just like John Fox, you have a squad that is loaded with talent, and you're squandering it!
I'd love to hear all your comments about the coaches in the comment section. I can't objectively write about them without going off on a rage filled tangent.
They were anything but special. A fumbled snap on a punt that we barely got off looked like a miracle, right? Wrong! Julian Edelman returned it for a touchdown. Not only that, but the Broncos simply can't return a kickoff to save their lives. If they aren't being idiots and trying to return a kick that they caught 9 yards in the end zone, they are simply taking horrible angles on returnable kicks. 13 yards per return? That's ten yards below the NFL average. The Broncos are ranked 30th in the NFL in returns. 30th!!!! Are we the Raiders or the Broncos? Get it together people!
That's all I got for now. Sound off in the comments below, and please don't turn this into a Manning bashing or sticking up for him marathon. He played good, he just admittedly played below average because he knew he needed to take the team on his back and he couldn't.