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Matchup Winners: Waddle, O-line get job done

When the Patriots ran:

Edge: Broncos

Denver came into the game with one of the best run defenses in football and it showed. Despite having complete control of the game the Patriots had a tough time establishing any consistency on the ground. Mike Gillislee was inactive, leaving Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead to shoulder the load in the running game and neither did much. Lewis was the most effective ball carrier and he finished with 55 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries for a 3.9-yard average. Burkhead had 36 yards on 10 carries, although he turned in one of the best runs of the night when he picked up 3 hard-earned yards on a fourth-and-inches play early in the game. Aside from a few successful runs late in the first half when the Broncos were playing pass, New England didn't get much production from the ground game, which wound up finishing with 99 yards on 29 carries for a 3.4-yard average.

When the Patriots passed:

Edge: Patriots

Despite the struggles running the football, the Patriots were able to move it effectively through the air and that all started with solid pass protection. LaAdrian Waddle started at right tackle in place of the injured Marcus Cannon and held up well against the dangerous Von Miller. Given adequate time to deliver a lot of quick, short passes, Tom Brady carved up the Broncos safeties and linebackers, completing 25 of 34 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns. He hit Rob Gronkowski four times for 74 yards and found Burkhead (three for 27 and a touchdown) and James White (three for 11 and a touchdown) out of the backfield. Dwayne Allen made the most of his first catch as a Patriot, grabbing an 11-yard touchdown from Brady to close the first half. Brady connected with nine receivers and was sacked just once while the quick throws allowed the Patriots to control the clock and keep the pressure on the Broncos throughout.

When the Broncos ran:

Edge: Broncos

Denver's one chance to compete offensively figured to be getting C.J. Anderson and the running game going early, but even that didn't do the trick. Anderson was effective before the score got out of hand, finishing with 54 yards on 10 carries with 48 of those yards coming in the first half. Jamaal Charles chipped in with another 38 yards on eight carries for a solid 4.8-yard average and Denver as a team racked up 118 yards on 28 carries (4.2-yard average). Unfortunately for Denver, the Patriots held a significant lead for much of the night and the Broncos were unable to use the running game as often as they would have liked. The Patriots were without Malcom Brown and Dont'a Hightower and the front seven struggled at times in their absence. 

When the Broncos passed:

Edge: Patriots

Brock Osweiler had some success between the 20s but when it came time to put points on the board he managed just one touchdown drive. On a night when his team needed to win a shootout, kicking field goals the way Denver did in the first half wasn't nearly enough. Osweiler took advantage of Emmanuel Sanders' matchup against Malcolm Butler, connecting with the wideout six times for 137 yards including completions of 38, 31, 23 and 23 yards. Overall he hit on 18 of 33 passes for 221 yards with a touchdown and a late pick. He wasn't bad but bogged down in or near the red zone three times and had to settle for field goals that left the Broncos chasing in the second half. Stephon Gilmore returned to the lineup and covered Demaryius Thomas. Gilmore had an uneven performance, getting flagged for a key third-down holding that extended a drive and allowing a touchdown, but Thomas managed just five catches for 44 yards on the night. It wasn't perfect but the secondary did the job when it needed to.

Special Teams:

Edge: Patriots

For the second game in a row the Patriots edge on special teams was enormous and largely responsible for the victory. Denver handed the Patriots points in a variety of ways in the kicking game, starting right from the very start. After the Broncos defense forced a three-and-out to open the game, returner Isaiah McKenzie muffed Ryan Allen's punt and Jacob Hollister recovered the Denver 24 to set up a touchdown. Lewis returned the kickoff following a Denver field goal 103 yards for a touchdown to add to the lead. Rex Burkhead blocked Riley Dixon's punt in the second quarter and the short field led to a field goal. As if all of that weren't enough, Denver's special teams also gifted the Patriots a second chance in the fourth quarter when the punt return team was caught with too many men on the field as Allen booted it away. The penalty resulted in a first down and led to another touchdown. That's 24 points that came either directly or indirectly off the play of special teams, and the Patriots were all too happy to take advantage.

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