The Patriots came ready to represent America’s armed forces on Sunday as they defeated the Denver Broncos. However, in a way, the Broncos beat themselves. Bad play by the special teams, quarterback, and defensive line only gave assistance to New England’s win. With a final score of 41-16, there is a lot of praise to be spread around the Patriots’ team. Much of that praise goes to the running backs who have improved tremendously this season.
Rex Burkhead was due for a good game and the statistics speak for themselves. Burkhead finished the game with 10 carries for 36 yards, 3 receptions for 27 yards, one touchdown, and one blocked punt. Burkhead’s touchdown was the first of the game and came early in the first quarter. His overall performance was spotless as he converted for first downs and pushed the tempo of the game.
The running back’s most prominent moment (because he had quite a few of them) was a blocked punt towards the beginning of the second quarter. The ensuing drive didn’t do much and the Patriots had to settle for a field goal. Burkhead was able to turn a fourth down into a first down after a failed quarterback sneak by Brady. Burkhead’s explosiveness was a solid representation of how the running backs as a whole have enhanced their play.
The next best player in the game was none other than Dion Lewis. Lewis whipped up another stellar performance, ending the night with 14 carries for 55 yards, two touchdowns, and 103 yards on a single punt return. The running back made good plays by using his agility against the helpless Bronco defense. He particularly embarrassed them during his full field punt return. Lewis breezed into the end zone after missed tackles halfway through the first quarter.
Towards the end of the third quarter, Brady noticed a lack of Denver defenders on the field and took full advantage. A quick handoff to Lewis resulted in a seemingly easy jog to the end zone, even though he had a defender hanging onto him the entire time. All in all, Lewis just can’t be stopped. Together, Lewis and Burkhead have turned around the Patriots running game and the best is yet to come.
For the first time all season, the offensive line finally appeared to have gotten its act together. Throughout the entire game, Brady was only sacked just once and hit four times. Compare this game’s statistics to those of any other game and the difference is phenomenal.
For instance, in the Patriots first game of the regular season against the Kansas City Chiefs, Brady was sacked three times and hit six times. Against the Carolina Panthers later in the season, three sacks and seven hits. The offensive line was getting worse instead of better. Changes were certainly made since New England’s last game two weeks ago and all fans can say is thank you for finally doing your job. Obviously, they still have work to do but their spectacular performance was worth recognizing.
Malcolm Butler and the secondary have been giving the Patriots team whiplash with their inconsistent play. Butler ended the night with three combined tackles and one pass break. Butler spent the majority of the night being humiliated by Emmanuel Sanders.
By mid second quarter, Sanders had gone head-to-head against Butler nine times. Sanders was target four of those times and caught three for 66 yards. Butler gave Sanders a giant pocket and still got beat off the run, either because he was too slow or wasn’t watching his man. Regardless, this isn’t the first game the cornerback has proved ineffective. Butler and Gilmore need to become shut down corners; if they don’t, we have a problem.
Closing the night similarly to Butler with 3 tackles and 1 pass break, Stephon Gilmore was virtually useless against Denver. Gilmore’s name wasn’t mentioned much throughout the night, but when it was there wasn’t anything good to say. At the beginning of the second quarter, Gilmore received a defensive holding penalty which gave the Broncos a fresh set of downs. Luckily Denver couldn’t do anything with the extra downs and was forced to punt. A punt that was blocked and recovered by Rex Burkhead. The cornerback also missed crucial tackles that allowed Osweiler to push his offense down field where Gilmore was beaten for a touchdown. Sloppy play by Gilmore and Butler has to be corrected if the Patriots want to continue their five-game win streak.
For the most part, the defensive line held its own against the hardy Bronco offense. The main problem concerning the line is their lack of quarterback pressure. In every single game, the opposing team’s quarterback has been able to escape the pocket and get rid of the ball before a defender came within five feet of him. These crucial extra seconds allow the receivers to find holes in the secondary and exploit them for big runs. This consistent problem with the defensive line has to change because otherwise the secondary will continue to be torn apart.
All the green lights were on and functioning last weekend. We’d like to see more of the same play offensively as small adjustment are made defensively. With a five-game win streak on the line, the Patriots head to Mexico City to face the Oakland Raiders.