When the Patriots ran:
The Patriots didn't figure to muster much on the ground against the stingy Broncos and they didn't. LeGarrette Blount was a non-factor throughout, picking up 27 yards on nine carries for a 3-yard average. It marked the third straight week he averaged well below 4 yards per attempt. New England attempted only 16 rushes and gained just 39 yards for a pathetic 2.4 yards per attempt. Of the 16 running attempt the Patriots attempted, just three of those resulted in gains of 4 yards or more or a first down. The offensive line failed to open any holes and Blount is having a hard time hitting them quickly enough to pick up any discernible yardage. James White and Brandon Bolden also got some carries in spread formations but only managed 12 yards on their combine seven attempts. Obviously the Patriots have a pass-first offense but the lack of production in the running game is starting to become a concern.
When the Patriots passed:
For the second straight game Tom Brady was unable to complete a high percentage of his passes. He was at barely 51 percent against Buffalo and on Sunday night it was 54 percent against the Broncos. He finished 23 of 42 for 280 yards and three touchdowns – excellent numbers considering the injury situation among the receiving corps. But the offense only muster 301 yards and was forced to punt 10 times while being controlled by Denver's relentless pass rush that forced the ball out quicker than expected on a number of occasions. Rob Gronkowski enjoyed a solid nigh before leaving with a knee injury, catching six passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. Bolden grabbed four passes for 84 yards including a 63-yard touchdown while Scott Chandler added five grabs for 58 yards. The Broncos pass rush prevented the passing game from establishing any rhythm, and only when the Patriots took over in Denver territory did it seem the offense put any points on the board. The final nail came in overtime when the Patriots went three-and-out courtesy of a sack followed by heavy pressure that forced Brady to throw it away.
When the Broncos ran:
Things started very well for the Patriots run defense, but when C.J. Anderson entered the game midway through the first quarter things changed. New England bottled up starter Ronnie Hillman early on, limiting him to 1 yard on his first five carries. Then Anderson changed things by ripping off runs of 9, 7 and 6 yards on three of his first four carries. He maintained his production throughout, closing the night with a 49-yard touchdown run in overtime and finishing with 113 yards on just 15 carries for a 7.5-yard average. When Hillman returned he, too, was effective. After his slow start he piled up 59 yards on 14 carries for a 4.2-yard average. Overall Denver pounded away with its zone blocking schemes and racked up a season-high 179 yards on the ground against the league's second-best run defense. It didn't help the Patriots cause when Dont'a Hightower left the game late in the first half with a knee injury, but the guys up front seemed to wear down as the game progressed and the Broncos eventually imposed their will.
When the Broncos passed:
Brock Osweiler's numbers were eerily similar to Brady's: 23 of 42 for 270 yards with a touchdown and an interception. But like Brady the numbers didn't tell the full story. The Patriots effectively blitzed him through the A-gap with Jerod Mayo, Jonathan Freeny and Tavon Wilson all running free and taking shots at the young quarterback. The blitzes caught Osweiler off guard and prevented the Broncos from converting on third down (Denver went just 4-for-16), and for most of the night their offense was held in check. Some big plays in the running game allowed Denver to stay close, and to Osweiler's credit he made three huge throws when he needed them on the go-ahead touchdown drive late in regulation. Emmanuel Sanders got the better of the Patriots secondary to the tune of six catches for 113 yards and tight end Owen Daniels added five for 48. But the Patriots managed to hold Demaryius Thomas in check, limiting him to one catch despite 13 targets. The catch was a big one, though, as it went for 36 yards to kickstart the go-ahead touchdown drive. Overall Osweiler and his receivers were not on the same page often enough to move the ball consistently through the air and the timely pressure provided by the Patriots front allowed the visitors to control the matchup.
The Patriots once again did a lot of things right on special teams, except this time they made the game's most crucial mistake and allowed Denver to mount the comeback. Ryan Allen was busy but did well with his 10 punts, averaging 45 yards and consistently pinning the Broncos back in the snow. Stephen Gostkowski nailed a clutch 47-yard field goal with no time left to tie the game. Denver's Britton Colquitt was not especially strong, netting just 38 yards per kick on his eight punts. An early shank allowed the Patriots to take over in Denver territory for their first possession of the night. Neither side did much in the return game, until disaster struck early in the fourth quarter. With the Patriots seemingly in command up 21-7, Colquitt punted to rookie Chris Harper, whose muff allowed Shaq Barrett to recover at the Patriots 36. Four plays later it was 21-14 and it was game on from there. The miscue completely changed the tenor of the game, which is what the Patriots special teams have done so effectively all year long prior to the fumble.