Clearly, the game plan was to rope-a-dope the Broncos… right?!
A disastrous first quarter saw the Patriots lose fumbles on their first three possessions, leading to 17 Broncos points and a 24-0 deficit by halftime. New England could do absolutely nothing right in the first two quarters.
The Broncos took ownership of both lines of scrimmage in the first half, imposing their will on the New England d-line when Denver ran the ball and dominating the Patriots o-line to harass Brady with pressure and sacks. Going into the wind in the first quarter, Denver was wisely electing to run, run, run. The Patriots defense knew it was coming, but was powerless to stop it. On the night, Denver rushed for nearly 300 yards.
The Patriots had the Broncos right where they wanted them, apparently. The momentum pendulum swung entirely in the opposite direction immediately following the half. Denver began self-destructing, while the Patriots clicked on offense and got stingy on defense.
Players have a difficult time explaining how they can look so bad in one half and so good the next. It all comes down to staying positive and executing their assignments, they say. Maybe that is all it is, but it's still remarkable to see it unfold – especially in a game as hyped as this one was.
Brady-Manning XIV was a classic after all, but not in the way anyone ever could have predicted.
And the much-anticipated return of Wes Welker to Foxborough?
Well, it proved consequential, too, but not in the way he'd hoped. Welker and former Patriots cornerback Tony Carter responsible for New England recovering the game-winning turnover at the end of overtime. Welker misjudged a short punt and couldn't get under it in time. He let it hit the ground, but then it hit Carter and fell right into the waiting arms of Nate Ebner.
Yes, Nate Ebner.
It was that kind of game, folks.
Just like we all expected… right?!
Other observations on the night:
… New England actually won the overtime coin toss, but head coach Bill Belichick elected to choose the strong wind at his team's backs rather than receiving the ball first. Had the Broncos managed a touchdown on that first possession of OT, the game would've ended there. But Belichick's risk was rewarded.
…RB Stevan Ridley's fourth fumble of the season (all lost) gave the Broncos their first touchdown of the game. Clearly, the problem wasn't just his, as Tom Brady and LeGarrette Blount also lost fumbles that led directly to Broncos points, but Ridley was clearly upset with himself on the sideline, slamming his helmet onto the bench. The normally even-keel Ridley is beginning to show signs that his problems holding onto the football is more mental than physical. You have to feel for him, but also wonder how much longer the team will tolerate these ever-more-frequent miscues.
…Neither Ridley nor Blount returned to the game after coughing up the football. In Blount's case, however, it may have been injury-related. Though nothing was officially announced by the team, Blount clearly took a hard hit to the head on the play when the ball popped loose, so, it's conceivable that he was forced to sit and watch the remainder of the game from the sideline. Ridley's case, meantime, was a classic benching.