Given the Patriots long history of weird games in Denver I fully expected Sunday night to be a close, weird game despite the Broncos stinking. Thankfully I was dead wrong as the Pats blasted Denver 41-16 in the kind of feel good explosion they seemed to be missing this season. To this point last night’s game has to be the signature win of the 2017 season, with the Pats breaking 40 points for the first time.
The Pats are 7-2 and once again, everything appears on track for another Belichick-Brady Super Bowl run.
Make no mistake, special teams led the way in this one. A blocked punt, a recovered muff, a kick off return for touchdown and a perfect Stephen Gostkowski (2/2 FG, 5/5 XP) gave the Pats the early advantage and they never looked back. After two weeks of talking red zone problems, the offense scored four touchdowns on six trips inside the 20.
Overall the balance of the offense was on full display, with the versatility of Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead giving Denver’s defense problems all night long. This has been what we’ve been waiting for. The Pats were successful on early downs and never had to rely on the deep passing game until they had Denver on their heels. Then, in the second half, Brady took to the air to knock Denver out for good.
Defensively, it was Bend-Don’t-Break at it’s finest, led by what I thought was the biggest key to the game — stopping the run. The Pats didn’t have a sack, but got off the field when they needed to, only allowing one touchdown in three Bronco red zone trips. They executed the gameplan in a quiet, unspectacular fashion and that’s just what you need to do to beat a team like the Broncos in Denver.
This is the kind of team win that should leave us feeling pretty good about this Patriots team despite the litany of injuries that have befell them this season. They aren’t without weakness, but when games unfold like Sunday night’s did they look near unbeatable.
More on all of it in this Posits…
— NFL (@NFL) November 13, 2017
— It was such a feel good win, let’s start with the ONE thing people will surely be bitching about this morning — Malcolm Butler vs. Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders finished with six catches for 137 yards, and got Butler on at least a couple double moves. The secondary has been disappointing and inconsistent this year, but this gameplan left the defensive backs largely without much help. There was a ton of Harris/Roberts fronts designed to stop the run. The Broncos were bound to make some pass plays so this just feeds into doing what it takes to win and not overreacting to the scoresheet, which is what I’m sure the negative nellys will be doing all this week, complaining about Butler non-stop while minimizing the win because the Broncos aren’t what they were just a couple seasons ago.
— Again it was one of those games where Belichick’s investment in special teams was the key difference in getting the win. We all sigh painfully when some special teams ace is added, but time and again it’s been proven how valuable they can be. They flipped the game early with Burkhead’s block and that set the tone for the night.
— This was the Rex Burkhead coming out party we’ve been waiting for, and the fact that he chipped in an unexpected blocked punt just made it all the more exciting. He hits the hole hard in way I’ve longed for since the early sparks from Stevan Ridley, who could just never sustain it. Between Burkhead and Lewis, with the sprinkling of clutch James White, the Patriots have a backfield like we’ve never seen, one that perfectly fits their style of play and isn’t overreliant on anyone. I’m just praying they can get to the playoffs with the three key guys healthy, and if Mike Gillislee comes around it will be even more hard to stop.
— This is the rushing attack the Pats must’ve dreamed of to help protect Brady in his later years. I know it’s the one I dreamed of. To be able to lean on them and keep Brady clean almost the entire game was just how you would draw it up. I can only imagine future opponents scouting the Pats and wondering if Brady is even the first problem to think about. We’ve seen plenty of evolutions of the offense with Brady, the bombs away of 2007, the two tight end domination of 2011, but nothing quite compares to what they can do with a ground game that is equal parts smash and dash. This is a winning formula as we enter the stretch run.
— I think we’re finally at the point where, despite the injuries, we can feel pretty good about the Patriots defense. Simply put, they are what they are and that’s what they’ve always been — a fundamentally sound defense that can stop the run, tackles well and doesn’t beat itself. That’s the style they’ve always strived for, and we’ve almost always gotten it by November in every season no matter how they start out. They’re not flashy, not overwhelming, but they’re solid and more than capable. There will be tougher challenges down the road than Brock Osweiler, and facing mobile QBs still makes me queasy, but for now the defense has come a long way since September.
— Yes, the Pats won in Denver last year, but that was a slog-fest. This one finally scratched that itch we’ve all had since the 2013 AFCCG, 2015 regular season and 2015 AFCCG losses. This was one of those blowout wins that should really give the team confidence, especially considering their past struggles there.
— Matthew Slater was lost with another hamstring injury, that’s a tough blow to special teams and the team overall. He’s battled hamstring issues all season. Otherwise he was the only injury which at this point is good news. We are now assured the Pats are pretty good and will make a Super Bowl run, and every game they escape without an injury that alters their offense or defense it’s a win in and of itself. But again, losing Slater hurts even if his impact is mostly special teams and leadership.
— For the first time this season we saw Belichick go with a good old cutoff gray hoodie look. This was the 2017 hoodie that he took the scissors to and as a certified hoodie nerd, it was exciting to see him get away from the Hot Jacket.
— ’03 Kliff Kingsbury (@fearthe_beard11) November 13, 2017
The 2017 Pats are on track and as the rest of the league tries to sort itself out, New England’s football machine remains the one constant. After losing Hightower and Edelman, along with a number of significant offseason veteran departures, I wondered how quickly this edition of the Pats could find their proverbial identity. Well, we’re off on the second half of the season and I think we finally know who they are becoming.
Maintaining health and consistency on offense will be a challenge, but if they continue down the track they’ve been on they’re going to provide a unique set of challenges to any potential playoff opponent, ones far different than the usual “take away Edelman and Gronk and they’re toast.”
What a time to be a Patriots fan.