By Gregory Hunt
The New England Patriots now own the best record in the AFC after defeating the Denver Broncos 43-21 at Gillette Stadium Sunday. New England’s 7-2 record puts it one-half game ahead of 6-2 Denver, with the Cincinnati Bengals right behind at 5-2-1. The Patriots will now enter a bye week before traveling to Lucas Oil Stadium to face the 5-3 Indianapolis Colts Nov. 16.
Quarterback Tom Brady threw one interception, a ball tipped by Danny Amendola in the third quarter that ended up being New England’s first giveaway in 54 possessions, but that was just about the only thing that went wrong for the Patriots’ offense all day. Brady completed 33-of-53 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns, and he spread the wealth around as he completed those touchdown passes to four different receivers — tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Shane Vereen, and wide receivers Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell.
Even fullback James Develin, who had a total of only seven touches coming into this game, got into the act by catching a pair of passes, including one that converted a third down. New England receivers did drop at least five passes, but none of those drops really slowed down the offense. On the ground, New England gained a modest 66 yards rushing, but this was still good enough to set up the play-action passing game. Grade: A-
Coming into this weekend, the New England defense had not allowed a 300-yard passer in 10 games, but Denver quarterback Peyton Manning broke that streak by achieving his 14th career 400-yard passing game. However, in spite of giving up large chunks of yardage, the Patriots made a number of plays on defense that kept the Broncos out of the end zone. Defensive end Rob Nincovich and cornerback Brandon Browner both came up with interceptions, and the team held Denver to 3-for-11 on 3rd down and 0-for-4 on 4th down.
Linebacker Jamie Collins successfully pressured Manning on a number of plays, and newly-acquired linebacker Akeem Ayers earned his second sack in two career games with the Patriots since arriving in a trade with the Tennessee Titans. On the down side, Browner committed three penalties — pass interference, encroachment and holding — and the team gave up its first pass this season of more than 40 yards. Grade: B+
The highlight of the game was an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown by Edelman. It was his 4th career touchdown on a punt return, breaking a franchise record he previously shared with Troy Brown and Irving Fryer. Punter Ryan Allen had trouble downing punts inside the 20-yard line, but he also made a season-long 67-yard punt that flipped the field position in the 4th quarter when New England was trying to protect its lead. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on three field goals in spite of windy conditions. On kickoff coverage, Logan Ryan was flagged for an offside call on one kick, but then he made a nice tackle on the re-kick. Grade: A-
The Patriots coaching staff won this game not by coming up with a fancy scheme, but by making personnel decisions designed to counter Denver’s strengths. Two of Manning’s favorite targets, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas, are big, talented players that physically overwhelm defensive secondaries. By signing cornerbacks Browner and Darrelle Revis during the off season, New Engalnd re-made its secondary into one that can match-up physically with Denver’s receivers. It will be interesting to see how these match-ups play out if these teams meet again in the AFC playoffs. Grade: A
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on Examiner.com.