After every game this season, cover32.com’s Shawn Drotar takes a look at what went right and what went wrong for the Broncos, in each phase of the game. Welcome to the Broncos Breakdown!
In a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated, the Broncos dominated the Patriots on both sides of the ball, holding Tom Brady and Co. to a mere three points through three quarters while Peyton Manning dissected the New England defense with aplomb. The Broncos easily claimed the AFC crown and the right to advance to their seventh Super Bowl, where they’ll face the Seattle Seahawks.
What went right: Peyton Manning wasn’t sacked — again — as the offensive line continues to play spectacular football week after week. Manning’s quick recognition and release played a major role, as well — the Patriots rushed him aggressively, but rarely even made any impact whatsoever. Manning went 32-of-43 for a staggering 400 yards and a pair of touchdowns, logging a quarterback rating of 118.4. Demaryius Thomas took full advantage to an injury to Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, catching seven passes for 134 yards and a touchdown.
What went wrong: Essentially nothing. The Broncos had their best overall aerial attack of the season against their toughest opponent — at the best possible time.
What went right: The Broncos did just enough to keep the Patriots’ defense honest, rushing 28 times for 107 yards. Some bold and clever rushes took the Patriots by surprise, including a long 28-yard jaunt by Knowshon Moreno on third down and a six-yard scamper by tight end Virgil Green, who lined up behind Manning as the halfback. Creative play-calling kept the Patriots on edge, and gave Manning the opportunity to make plays downfield later in the game.
What went wrong: Take away the 28-yard run by Moreno, and he only gained 31 yards on 13 carries — an awful 2.4 yards-per-carry average. Backup Montee Ball only mustered 3.6 yards per carry. The Broncos did just enough to win, but it wasn’t spectacular by any means.
What went right: Tom Brady shredded the Broncos’ defense back in November, and that unit still had Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr. and Kevin Vickerson on the field — none of whom played on Sunday. Nevertheless, Brady was limited to 277 yards and sacked twice. Only Julian Edelman (10 catches for 89 yards and a touchdown) had more than 59 yards receiving. Given the circumstances, it was one of the Broncos’ most inspiring performances of the season.
What went wrong: Edelman got loose with some frequency, and the Broncos were very fortunate that Brady wasn’t playing well early; passes sailed over open receivers on more than one occasion. Had Brady connected on those, Sunday’s game would have been very different.
What went right: Pundits who thought the Patriots’ newf-ound power-running game would gain traction in Denver were sorely mistaken. Ineffective on the ground and falling behind in part of it, New England all but abandoned the run game, carrying the ball only 16 times for 64 yards and a touchdown — scored on a Tom Brady scramble. LeGarrette Blount, who decimated the Colts in the Divisional round, was a non-factor in Denver, gaining only six yards on five carries. Tough play by the Broncos’ front four — and from tackle Terrence Knighton especially — dictated the Patriots’ offense for them.
What went wrong: After relieving Blount, Shane Vereen used his speed to get to the outside, where he was effective in limited carries. Vereen only had four attempts, but he gained 34 yards on the ground — an 8.5 yards-per-carry average. Brady’s scramble was disappointing, as he broke a tackle to get into the end zone.
What went right: Matt Prater hit both his field goal attempts — including one for 54 yards — and didn’t allow a single kickoff return for the Patriots. Britton Colquitt only needed to punt once, and because that punt was a touchback, the Patriots’ dangerous return duo of Blount and Edelman never had a single opportunity during the game.
What went wrong: Nothing whatsoever; the special teams play was essentially impeccable.
Sunday’s AFC Championship was the clutch, complete game the Broncos have been working toward since the day Peyton Manning signed with the team as a free agent, and it paid off in spectacular fashion. Despite a matchup with an tough and effective Seahawks team in what’s expected to be frigid New York, if the Broncos can play like they did on Sunday, it’s hard to imagine anyone beating them.
The next two weeks of waiting might become unbearable, but it’s far better than the alternative. For the first time since John Elway retired — 15 seasons — the Broncos are but a single step away from football immortality. A third Lombardi Trophy is well within their reach.
Shawn Drotar is in his 20th year as a national sportswriter and editor, and his work has appeared on ESPN, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, Yahoo! Sports and in the USA Today, among others. He’s appeared on television on ESPNEWS and the Altitude Sports Network, and can currently be heard on Denver’s KKFN-FM/104.3 The Fan as a sports-talk radio host.
Follow Shawn on Twitter: @sdrotar
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