It's easy to look at an 18-point victory and forget about some key plays here or there that really could have made a difference. But in the Patriots huge road win over the Broncos there were several individual moments that allowed New England to come away with an instrumental victory that has it back on top in the AFC.
Two in particular that flew under the radar but caught our attention both came in the second quarter - one early and one late. The first was basically a showdown between the coaches and Bill Belichick made John Fox blink.
The Broncos were rolling early with a 13-7 lead and pressing for more. Tim Tebow had led his third straight drive deep into Patriots territory and faced a third-and-six from the New England 13. He tried his luck on a running play over left guard and came up less than a yard short of the first down, but Denver's Chris Kuper was called for holding.
Belichick opted to decline the penalty, basically daring Fox to go for the fourth-and-one from the Patriots 8. Had he accepted the penalty, it would almost certainly have forced Tebow to throw on third-and-16, something the Broncos quarterback hasn't proven to be efficient at just yet. But still Belichick felt comfortable that Fox would simply kick the field goal.
Fox obliged, sending Matt Prater out to kick a 26-yard field goal despite the fact that his team was basically killing the Patriots on the ground to that point. Just two plays into the second quarter the Broncos had already rung up 172 yards rushing and were 8 yards away from scoring their third touchdown in as many possessions. There was nothing to indicate the Broncos wouldn't have been successful if they out the ball in Tebow's hands
Yet Fox still chose the conservative route and instead of potentially holding a 20-7 lead he settled for a 16-7 edge and soon the Patriots would have momentum on their side.
The second curious coaching move Fox made came late in the quarter with the Patriots holding a 24-16 lead. Denver was reeling following back-to-back fumbles that led to short fields for the New England offense. The Broncos took over at their 13 with 1:08 to play and the Patriots holding just one timeout.
With a quarterback who hasn't been able to throw accurately on a consistent basis, and a team on its heels, Fox chose to throw on first and second down. Both fell incomplete and used a total of 10 seconds. The Broncos ran on third down but Lance Ball came up 3 yards short of the first down and the Patriots used their final timeout, allowing them to get the ball back with 40 seconds to go.
Even though the Patriots failed to take advantage initially, the clock-saving measure forced the New England to punt and return man Quan Cosby couldn't handle the kick. The Patriots recovered with :03 left and tacked on a late field goal that would not have been possible had Fox kept the ball on the ground and eliminated the chance for the Patriots to get the ball back.
Two coaching decisions that cost Denver points - one as a result of being conservative when his team was in control and the other being aggressive when his team was reeling. Strange indeed.