Den­ver’s stout de­fense feel­ing frus­trated

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Cameron Wolfe

Fum­ing af­ter once again win­ning its bat­tle against the op­pos­ing team’s of­fense, but in an­other loss, Den­ver’s de­fense nev­er­the­less wasn’t point­ing fin­gers Sun­day af­ter a bit­ter 16-3 loss to New Eng­land.

Den­ver’s de­fense was fired up to get the bet­ter of Tom Brady once again. It did, for the most part. And yet the Bron­cos (8-6) lost for the third time in four games and saw their play­off hopes take a big hit.

It took Brady 16 min­utes to get his first com­ple­tion; he had an 0-for-6 start. The Bron­cos held Pa­tri­ots run­ning back LeGar­rette Blount to 31 yards on 17 car­ries.

Den­ver’s de­fense played well, as it’s done most of the sea­son, but had lit­tle help from the team’s other two units. A fum­bled punt and an in­ter­cep­tion led to New Eng­land’s first 10 points.

“It’s def­i­nitely frus­trat­ing,” safety T.J. Ward said. “When you kill your­selves with two early turnovers and you’re not putting points up, it’s hard to win games point-blank pe­riod. That’s what we’ve been do­ing the last few weeks, and as you can see we have two L’s on that side of the


It’s been the same story for much of the Bron­cos’ sea­son — a cham­pi­onship-cal­iber de­fense, but an of­fense wor­thy of a top-five pick in the next draft.

The Bron­cos held Brady to sea­son lows in com­ple­tion per­cent­age (.500) and yards pass­ing (188). It was the first time Brady was held un­der 200 yards pass­ing in Den­ver in 10 ca­reer starts. And it was the first time Brady had fewer than 222 yards pass­ing this sea­son.

“That’s the best we ever played against him,” said Den­ver cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris. “There’s a ton of frus­tra­tion, but we can’t let that get to us.”

Den­ver de­fen­sive play­ers said con­tain­ing their frus­tra­tion will be dif­fi­cult. It felt too fa­mil­iar when punt re­turner Jor­dan Nor­wood’s muffed op­por­tu­nity led to a Pa­tri­ots field goal and Trevor Siemian’s in­ter­cep­tion led to a huge mo­men­tum swing.

Den­ver cor­ner­back Aqib Talib said he would have thought some­body was ly­ing if they had told him the Bron­cos would hold Brady and the Pa­tri­ots to 16 points and lose.

In­side line­backer Bran­don Mar­shall agreed.

“That’s what makes me sick, when we come out and play stout like we did,” Har­ris said. “We just kill our­selves with penal­ties. Get in third-and-long sit­u­a­tions and we can’t get out of them, so we have to fig­ure out how to stop hav­ing neg­a­tive plays that kill those drives.”

Its run de­fense has kept Den­ver from be­ing as good as it was last sea­son, when it rode its de­fense all the way to a Su­per Bowl ti­tle. But the Bron­cos still have one of the NFL’s bet­ter de­fenses.

The Bron­cos searched for splash plays Sun­day to turn the tide but Brady played it smart with a lead, not tak­ing chances, and New Eng­land (12-2) con­trolled the flow af­ter go­ing up 10-3.

Com­ing into Week 15, Den­ver ranked in the top six in the NFL in av­er­age yards al­lowed per game (310.7), points al­lowed per game (18.6), pass­ing yards al­lowed per game (183.5), sacks (38) and third-down per­cent­age de­fense (.367).

Sun­day, the Bron­cos held New Eng­land to 313 to­tal yards and 29 per­cent on third-down con­ver­sions while also notch­ing two sacks.

“We take pride in ev­ery­thing we do de­fen­sively,” Ward said. “We lost. It’s rough. But if we’re suc­cess­ful, we take pride in it. If not, then what are you play­ing game for? You play to win, but if you don’t win you’ve got to play good your­self. And if you don’t play good your­self, then you just had a bad day.”

Now the lead­ers on the Den­ver de­fense — Ward, Har­ris, Talib, Mar­shall and out­side lineback­ers DeMar­cus Ware and Von Miller — will have to shift into be­ing peace­keep­ers.

“There’s not go­ing to be any fric­tion. I’m the par­ti­tion here,” Miller said. “It’s just a tough loss. You’ve got grown men in here. We’ve got two big games left, and I’m not go­ing any­where. I’ll be ready to go.”

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