Nobody does “workmanlike” with panache of New England
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.”