No­body does “work­man­like” with panache of New Eng­land

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Terry Frei Terry Frei: tfrei@den­ver­ or @TFrei

It was a work­man­like, grind-it-out ef­fort, de­void of flashi­ness.

But it was good enough Sun­day for New Eng­land to clinch its eighth con­sec­u­tive AFC East ti­tle and a first-round play­off bye and give quar­ter­back Tom Brady only his third ca­reer win in Den­ver in 10 ap­pear­ances.

“That was a real strong ef­fort by our team to­day,” coach Bill Belichick said af­ter the Pa­tri­ots’ 16-3 win over the Bron­cos. “I’m re­ally proud of these guys. It was a short week, a tough game in Baltimore Monday night and then to come out here and play against a great or­ga­ni­za­tion like the Bron­cos was a big chal­lenge for us, but our play­ers did a great job. … We were able to run the ball, con­trol a lit­tle bit of the field po­si­tion in the game on of­fense. Six­teen points was enough.”

Six­teen was enough? Stylis­ti­cally, the Pa­tri­ots played as if they knew that it would be.

For only the sec­ond time in his ca­reer, Brady threw six con­sec­u­tive in­com­ple­tions to open a game, and the pre­vi­ous time was far back, against the New York Gi­ants in Oc­to­ber 2003. His first com­ple­tion, a 17yarder to Ju­lian Edel­man, didn’t come un­til the open­ing minute of the sec­ond quar­ter. He fin­ished 16-for-32 for 188 yards. Six of his com­ple­tions, for 75 yards, were to Edel­man.

Re­tread run­ning back New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back Tom Brady gets off a pass un­der the rush of Bron­cos line­backer DeMar­cus Ware on Sun­day. Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post Dion Lewis, re­ac­ti­vated last month af­ter a 378-day lay­off be­cause of a torn ACL and two surg­eries, rushed for 95 yards on 18 car­ries. The Pa­tri­ots’ of­fen­sive line — with left tackle Nate Solder, from Buena Vista High School and the Univer­sity of Colorado, play­ing a solid game — did a good job pro­tect­ing Brady and fa­cil­i­tat­ing the ground game. Den­ver’s de­fense played well, but the as­ter­isk was that the Pa­tri­ots suc­ceeded at dom­i­nat­ing time of pos­ses­sion and not turn­ing the ball over. If it was rel­a­tively un­am­bi­tious, it was ac­knowl­edg­ment that, yes, some­thing like 16 points would be enough.

“I thought it was pretty good com­ple­men­tary foot­ball,” Brady said. “Our de­fense was just play­ing so great all day. Of­fen­sively, we made some plays, just didn’t make enough to score more points than what we had. But that was enough to­day.”

The Bron­cos again couldn’t run the ball, and while Trevor Siemian threw for 282 yards, the Den­ver of­fense went south af­ter Pa­tri­ots cor­ner­back Lo­gan Ryan’s in­ter­cep­tion of a Siemian pass on the first play of the sec­ond quar­ter swung mo­men­tum. With the score 3-3 and the Bron­cos fac­ing a third-and-3 at the Pa­tri­ots 14, Ryan made the pick of the pass in­tended for Em­manuel San­ders at the 8 and re­turned it 46 yards. Brady hit four passes in the en­su­ing drive, LeGar­rette Blount went over from the 1 and the Pa­tri­ots, as it turned out, had all the points they needed.

“Lo­gan’s turnover was the big one,” Belichick said. “It took points off the board for them in the scor­ing area and put us back on the field.”

Ryan was the fi­nal mem­ber of the Pa­tri­ots’ sec­ondary to get an in­ter­cep­tion this sea­son. “It didn’t even make sense,” he said. “I was ques­tion­ing as to why I was the last one to get it but now ev­ery­thing makes sense, and they know I’m back in the race.”

He noted that Siemian had thrown an­other out ear­lier in the game and he read the pass and cut in front of San­ders.

“I wanted to play the (first down) sticks a lit­tle bit,” Ryan said. “I went with my gut and it paid off.”

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