New England had two keys to beating the Denver Broncos Monday night: Stop their potent offense and take advantage of their porous defense. Mission accomplished.
Sammy Morris was the offensive star of the first 30 minutes before not returning after halftime with a leg injury. His 138 yards staked the Patriots to a 20-point lead but more importantly, took the will completely out of Denver's defense. Even BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 65 yards on only 15 carries in the second half.
Matt Cassel chipped in with three touchdown passes, two of them to Randy Moss, and 185 yards passing (18 of 24), good for a 136.3 passer rating.
On defense, New England held Jay Cutler to 168 yards passing and picked him off and sacked him twice.
The win keeps the 4-2 Patriots one game behind the Buffalo Bills for the AFC East lead.
First half turnovers plagued the Broncos.
After opening the game with 12 straight plays, Lewis Sanders knocked the ball out of Andre Hall's hands on the 13th and LeKevin Smith recovered for the Patriots on the New England 32. The Broncos defense then saw a steady diet of Morris runs for 8, 10 and 5 yards after which Cassel hit Watson on a short pass that the tight end took 29 yards with some nice downfield blocking by David Thomas. Things were looking good for the Patriots down at the Broncos 14 but an 8-yard sack of Cassel by Ebenezer Ekuban set the drive back and Stephen Gostkowski came on for a 31-yard field goal to give New England the early 3-0 lead.
On the very next series, Denver turned it over again, this time on a Michael Pittman fumble forced by Ty Warren. Jerod Mayo eventually fell on the bouncing ball around 25 yards upfield at the Broncos 37. Tack on an unnecessary roughness penalty on Denver's Ryan Harris and the Patriots had it first and 10 at the 22. That was it however as three plays netted only a yard and it was Gostkowski again with a 40-yard field goal.
Morris continued to run through and over the Broncos as play moved midway through the second quarter. On first and 10 at the Denver 47, he broke through the left side of the Patriots line and went for 34 yards to give him 100 to that point in the game. Three plays later he picked up another 4 yards -- and a touchdown -- on fourth and 1 from the 4 to make the score 13-0 with 7:34 left in the half.
Very early in the game, Cutler got hit in his backfield and landed on his throwing hand. Since that time, he was seen shaking his finger and holding his hand. Now late in the second quarter he looked deep to Darrell Jackson but the ball was slightly underthrown and Brandon Meriweather was in perfect position for the interception.
]()The Patriots took over at their 16. Cassel was sacked for the fourth time in the game on second down bringing up third 17 from the 8. Cassel dropped pack to pass and again was in the sights of the Denver rush. As he threw the ball away to avoid a safety, Jamie Wilborn grabbed hold of Cassel's facemask, pulling him down to the ground. The refs caught it and with the penalty, New England was first and 10 at the 23. Another penalty, roughing on Ekuban two plays later and it was first and 10 at the New England 49.
Cassel looked to Moss over the middle for 9 yards but Morris was stopped for no gain on two consecutive runs after that. With less than two minutes left in the half and facing a fourth and 1 at the 42, New England elected to try Morris one more time. This time he broke free down the left sideline for 29 yards to the 13.That set up Cassel finding Moss in the end zone to make the score 20-0.
New England forced yet another turnover before the half ended. Mike Wright sacked Cutler and Gary Guyton recovered but with Cassel getting sacked yet again after New England took over, the half ended with no further impact to the scoreboard. In the rushing column, Morris had amassed 138 yards on 16 carries, a personal best. Unfortunately for Morris and the Patriots, when the play resumed after halftime, Morris was nowhere to be found and it was announced he had a knee injury and his return to the game was questionable.
New England added seven to its lead midway through the third quarter. Wes Welker set up the scoring drive with a 44-yard punt return to the Broncos 28. After a loss of 2 on a Green-Ellis catch and a gain of 3 on his run, Cassel threw quickly to Moss around the line of scrimmage on third and 9 from the 27. Moss went down low for the catch, kept his balance, broke a tackle and sailed into the end zone down the left side of the field.
To say Denver was having a bad night was a severe understatement. Champ Bailey had already left the game in the first half with a strained groin but even with him in the game, the Broncos run defense had been non-existent. Green-Ellis was beginning to pick up solid yards as Morris' replacement and the Patriots running game had totally softened up the Broncos.
With still over two minutes left in the third quarter, New England made the score 34-0 on a 6-yard touchdown catch by Welker. The drive was almost cut short when Cassel made a bad throw near the end zone that Calvin Lowry seemed to have picked off. Upon review, however, it was determined he never had control of the ball as he hit the ground. That made it second and 10 from the Denver 14. Cassel hit Kevin Faulk for 8 yards and then called Welker's number for the score.
Cutler and his offense finally started putting together plays while taking care of the ball. A 20-yard catch by Brandon Marshall had 15 yards added to the end with a personal foul call on Jonathan Wilhite. After Pittman ran for 2 yards, Cutler scrambled for 8 but on the play, Rodney Harrison got his cleat caught in the turf as Cutler dodged him and Harrison went down in a heap. He was carted off the field.
Denver went on to score on the drive, a 10-yard catch over the middle by Dan Graham to make the score 34-7 with 13:21 left to play.
No matter who or how New England ran the ball from that point, Denver was defenseless. Green-Ellis, just a week off the practice squad, had two more carries for 10 yards each. Faulk gained 16 yards on third and 10 and then another 15 yards down to the Denver 1. Green-Ellis was rewarded for his work with the call on the next play, a 1-yard run that he took untouched into the end zone.
To that point (around three minutes left to play) New England had amassed 260 yards on the ground and a 41-7 lead. If there was a white towel to wave it would have been waving long before Green-Ellis' score.