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Random Thoughts: Broncos at Patriots -- Secondary shuts the door on Broncos

The Patriots turned Brady-Manning XVI into a rout thanks to some physical play from the secondary.


The New England Patriots take on the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, November 2, 2014.

Familiar foes –** It's safe to say that Kyle Arrington saw his share of Wes Welker during their time together as teammates in New England. Based on the way Arrington has covered the slot receiver the last two years it looks like the corner learned a few things along the way. While the rest of the Patriots secondary was mixing and matching in terms of their assignments, Arrington appeared to lock up with Welker exclusively and was in his shirt on virtually every play. Welker was similarly a non-factor in the two matchups last year as Arrington appeared to know his every move on his various routes between the numbers. At times Welker appeared to be confused and reacted late to passes thrown his way, and in the second half he had a bad drop that led to Brandon Browner's interception. Welker finished with three catches for 31 yards.

Hurry up and fail … Part II – Once again the Patriots tried to catch an opponent off guard on a short-

yardage play and once again it failed. After a short pass to Rob Gronkowski created a third-and-one late in the first half, the offense rushed to the line and attempted to run the play before the Broncos were properly aligned. As was the case a week earlier against Chicago, it didn't work as Denver was ready for Brady's play-action and Derek Wolfe's pressure forced a throwaway and a punt. The Patriots tried the tactic on two other occasions following first downs and each was stuffed for short Shane Vereen runs. Time to put the element of surprise away and stick with conventional offense, which has worked wonderfully for the last month.

No running zone – The Broncos ability to run the ball was a huge part of last year's regular-season meeting. With the Patriots struggling to contain opposing ground games this season, it was understandable that Peyton Manning tried to get the run game going early – particularly with the Patriots employing a lot of light fronts with multiple defensive backs. The difference was staggering. After rushing for 280 yards last November, the Broncos couldn't muster anywhere near the same kind of production Sunday afternoon. Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson combined for 10 rushes for 19 yards midway through the third quarter, at which point the Patriots were in control with a 37-14 lead. They finished with 12 attempts for 22 yards. Give Vince Wilfork, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower a ton of credit because they did it without much help.

Secondary shuffle – For the second straight week Alfonzo Dennard was inactive in favor of rookie Malcolm Butler. Butler did not play much against the Bears, entering the game mostly in garbage time in the second half. But against the Broncos he played a prominent role early. He entered the game in the first quarter in place of Patrick Chung while Browner moved from the outside to Chung's spot. Butler lined up opposite Emmanuel Sanders for several plays while Browner took tight end Julius Thomas. Butler was beaten at times but also displayed competitive coverage on others. Interesting to see Dennard as a healthy scratch in a game where Bill Belichick obviously knew he was going to need multiple defensive backs.


Let's get physical –** The Patriots certainly had to be happy with the way the game was officiated, particularly in the first half. The defensive backs had several plays in which they displayed tight, physical coverage and for the most part Walt Anderson's crew let the hand fighting go and only called the egregious penalties. Browner and Chung benefited the most as they really went at it against tight ends Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme, respectively. It was refreshing to see a game in which defenders were allowed to bump the receivers a bit without getting called every time.

Heavyweight bout – Brady-Manning deservedly received all the pregame hype but the game also featured an interesting matchup of top cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Aqib Talib. Unfortunately the drama there never really developed as neither played particularly well. Revis was beaten early and often on the Broncos first scoring drive while switching sides and matchups. Meanwhile Talib had trouble with Gronkowski's physicality and Julian Edelman's elusiveness. He allowed several key completions on third down, including one to Brandon LaFell in the second half. Both will need to be better for their teams in the event of a rematch in the postseason.


Just go for it –** The trickeration for the Patriots wasn't limited to conventional offense. Leading 43-21 with a little more than six minutes to go New England faced a fourth-and-inches in Denver territory. The punting team came onto the field and the Broncos countered with their punt receiving team. The Belichick ordered the offense back onto the field and Denver frantically tried to match with its defense. Sebastian Vollmer was then called for a false start, forcing the Patriots to punt after all. Again, if the intent is to attempt to pick up the first down, just go for it and forget the tricks.

Extra points – The Patriots won for the 34th straight time at home against an AFC opponent and the 14th straight time at home overall. … New England also has now won 72 straight when leading at the half after taking a 27-7 lead into the break against Denver. … The Patriots had 14 points off a pair of Denver turnovers and now lead the NFL in points off turnovers with 60. … The Broncos game marked the 200th career start for Brady, making him the eighth quarterback to reach that plateau. He now has 155 career wins, 19 more than Peyton Manning. … Brady threw for 333 yards, giving him 51,541 for his career. He moved ahead of John Elway into fifth place on the all-time list. … Julian Edelman returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown, his fourth with the Patriots, the most in team history. … Gronkowski scored his 50th career touchdown in his 59th game, tying Randy Moss for the second-fastest to 50 touchdowns. Lance Alworth tops the list, turning the trick in 54 games. … Ryan Allen turned in a career-long 67-yard punt. … Stephen Gostkowski went 3-for-3 on field goals and improved to 24-for-25 on the season. … Akeem Ayers recorded his second sack in as many games with the Patriots, this one coming on a key fourth down in the second quarter.


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