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9 things we learned in the Broncos roller coaster 18-12 win over the New England Patriots

The Denver Broncos beat Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. Here are nine things we learned from this win.

Denver Broncos v New England Patriots
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

These aren’t the Tom Brady Patriots anymore.

This is what we learned from the Broncos game against the Patriots.

Albert Okwuegbunam saw his first real NFL action

I was worried about the Broncos’ depth at tight end with news that Noah Fant would miss the game. Jeff Essary, Joe Mahoney, and I discussed it on Cover 2 Broncos this week: neither Nick Vannett or Jake Butt have been very good this year. Fortunately, Albert O made enough of the opportunity and I’m feeling pretty dang good about the room going forward.

Lock went to his former roommate early and often. The first couple of drives it led to some frustrating misses on low percentage throws. Undeterred, the second year QB kept using his tight end to take advantage of an overmatched second level.

DeShawn Williams has some mitts.

We already know Shelby Harris is extraordinary at batting passes, and he worked his usual magic to knock a Cam Newton pass into the air. What caught me by surprise is how savvy Williams was to get to it and secure the ball off the ground.

He isn’t much of a pass rusher, but has done a commendable job against the run and Kollar’s coaching shows in how he’ll get his own hands up to clog passing lanes. With the injuries to Dre’Mont Jones and Fangio’s reluctance to play McTelvin Agim in bad matchups, I’m looking forward to seeing more of Williams.

Tim Patrick’s break out game.

So I’ve made too many excuses to ignore Tim Patrick ‘til now, but he’s quietly been the Broncos’ most consistent pass catcher all season. It was awesome to see him get a real chance to make some noise today against such a talented secondary. His size, athleticism, and ball skills make him a pain in the keester for most defensive backs in the league.

Injury/Covid bug shredded the Pat’s offensive line.

Coming into the game today New England was dealing with the loss of Shaq Mason to the Covid list. They were already dealing with injuries at the center position. Belichick’s response was shuffling their line. Losing Jermaine Eluemunor meant they were down both tackles and it forced rookie Michael Onwenu out to the edge.

It didn’t go well.

What’s sort of funny is how Bradley Chubb didn’t start to make real noise until Isaiah Winn was shifted back to his normal left tackle spot.

The secondary came to play

Halfway through the Jets game Essang Bassey was benched for Da’Vante Bausby and the secondary reached a new level. That seemed to continue today and forced Newton to have to work through multiple progressions time and again. The stronger coverage helped give the front more time to beat a battered offensive line and get to the quarterback, which helped Anthony Chickillo get a sack.

Michael Ojemudia has really made strides since the Pittsburgh game. He’s continued to look solid on the boundary and had a really nice forced fumble today.

Not only did Justin Simmons scoop up the O.J. forced fumble, but he played a critical role forcing Newton’s second interception by getting a hand on the ball, which threw the trajectory enough for Bryce Callahan to capitalize.

Melvin who?

We’ve seen painfully few plays with Dalton Risner or Graham Glasgow leading the way for a Broncos’ back this year. I suspect there are a number of reasons for this, chief among them the injury to Phillip Lindsay.

With Melvin Gordon out for the game today it came back in a big way. Lindsay broke a big run on a counter lead, and Freeman got a clutch first down behind everyone’s favorite second year guard.

Red zone offense was bad. Really bad.

So many factors impact every single individual play in football, so it’s going to be enlightening to go back over the All-22 of the Broncos’ offense inside the Pats’ 30-yard line today. Early on the issues seemed tied to Pat Shurmur’s play calling.

The first two drives Lock went to isolation routes down the sideline time and again. My problem with these aren’t Lock’s placement which looked much better than last we saw him. Instead, it’s the fact that they were low percentage throws. There’s a reason teams have moved away from running fades. They rarely work.

In the second quarter the problems seemed tied to execution. Albert Okwuegbunam let a high throw slip through his fingers. Graham Glasgow got beat on a stunt. Drew Lock took a sack.

Things didn’t improve in the third. The Broncos got a lucky break when the refs flagged Stephon Gilmore for a phantom hold on third down. Shurmur followed it up by calling two runs and a play action pass on third down. One Patriot bit on the fake and Lock had to scramble.

Brandon McManus is the MVP today.

When half the league holds their collective breath if a kicker lines up for a 40-yarder, it’s really nice that McManus is so reliable. He’s the reason all the Broncos’ red zone problems didn’t cost them a win today.

Locked on Drew?

Through the first half Lock mixed in a couple of really nice throws to Tim Patrick and Albert O with some easy completions and a bad sack. He completed 42% of his passes. In the second half Lock again found Tim Patrick for a really nice completion down the sideline. He looked better as the running game took over, but still had trouble connecting in the red zone.

It’s important to keep in mind how talented the Patriots’ secondary really is, even if the injuries up front sapped New England’s pass rush and gave Lock extra time to scan the field. My biggest complaint from watching his performance today is how often he sticks to his first read. It almost led to an interception on a bomb to Tim Patrick.

In the second half New England capitalized with back to back picks. The first looked like a miscommunication on an isolation route following Lock’s fumbled snap. The second was inexcusable.

Final Thoughts

This game came down to big plays. The offense looked like a young quarterback missing his two best weapons against a talented secondary and his coordinator did him no favors. In the end, the Broncos’ defense came up with more than they allowed and found a way to clamp down with their backs against the wall.

It doesn’t get easier. New England was missing some key pieces up front and lacked the personnel to really pressure the quarterback. Barring some bad news on the Covid front, that won’t be the case against the Kansas City Chiefs.