Denver has been a house of horrors for Tom Brady and the Patriots in the past. Sunday night, it was a house of horrors for the home team's special teams units.
The Broncos (3-6) muffed their first punt return, gave up a Dion Lewis 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and allowed a Rex Burkhead blocked punt on the way to the 41-16 loss to New England (7-2).
With the few gifts from the home squad, Tom Brady had more than enough of a boost to take a 27-9 lead into halftime to cruise to the uncharacteristically easy win in a place where the Patriots had just a 3-7 mark coming in dating back to 2001.
Broncos coach Vance Joseph told NBC at halftime the problem with his team was, "Special teams." He was right.
It led to a night that saw Brady go to the bench early, giving way to mop-up duty to once-again backup Brian Hoyer, while Brandon Bolden also got some late run in the running game.
It was another week in which the passing backs – Burkhead, Dion Lewis and James White – came up big for the Patriots offense, combining for three touchdowns on the way to the comfortable victory.
There were some big plays allowed on defense, which remains an issue, but otherwise there were certainly key plays in all three phases of the game once again. Heck, Dwayne Allen got his first catch of the season for an 11-yard touchdown. It was that good of a night.
"I thought playing from ahead was really important all night," Brady said. "We played really good, complementary football. We just tried to hold up our end of the bargain.
"Tonight was a really good game for us. Hopefully we can build on this."
Before a week of practice in Colorado to prepare for next Sunday afternoon's meeting with the Raiders in Mexico City, here's a final look at some of the personnel highs and lows against the Broncos.
Rex Burkhead – Since returning before the bye after missing a month-plus to a rib injury, Burkhead has made significant impacts. Coming off his career-high seven catches against the Chargers, Burkhead hauled in a 14-yard catch-and-run score that came immediately after his own 10-yard reception. Later in the first quarter he converted a fourth-and-1 with a 3-yard run on a drive to a field goal. He added a huge play on special teams when he burst through to block a Riley Dixon punt to set up another short drive to a field goal. Overall Burkhead finished with 10 rushes for 36 yards as well as three catches for 27 yards.
Tom Brady – Brady's had some real tough games against the Broncos and in Denver. That was not the case in this one. Brady completed 25 of 34 passes for 266 yards with 3 touchdowns and no picks for a 125.4 passer rating, best of his career in Denver. It's also the sixth straight regular season game in Denver in which Brady has gone without an interception. With the help from the kicking game, Brady had the Patriots putting up 30-plus points for the first time in more than a month. He also had probably his cleanest game of the year, sacked just once and never really taking a big hit.
LaAdrian Waddle –With Marcus Cannon missing the Broncos game with an ankle injury, the veteran swing tackle got his second start of the season at right tackle. He stepped up to the challenge of Von Miller and the rest of the Denver front. Brady was sacked just once on the night and that had nothing to do with Waddle, who was also solid in the pre-bye win over a Chargers squad that sported Joey Bosa/Melvin Ingram. Waddle and the entire line got the job done in Denver.
Mike Gillislee –New England brought the former Bill aboard to be an upgrade over LeGarrette Blount as a restricted free agent signing. That simply has not worked out and Sunday night in Denver the man who led the NFL last season with a 5.7-yard average was a healthy scratch against the Broncos. Gillislee has a 3.6-yard average this season on his 98 attempts. He had notched 10-plus carries in seven of the first eight games but of late Lewis has taken over the lead back role and for at least one game Gillislee was the odd man out.
Malcolm Butler –During the bye New England's former Pro Bowl cornerback talked about getting back to playing the way he expects himself to play. He may not feel the same after his work in Denver. Butler got beaten early on an out-and-up by Emmanuel Sanders for a 31-yard gain. He allowed a first-down to Sanders on a third down shortly after. Sanders beat Butler for a 23-yard gain in the second quarter and spun him like a top on another completion in the second half. Sanders finished with six catches for 137 yards, most of it coming with Butler chasing him in man coverage. On a night when Stephon Gilmore returned from a three-game absence, Butler was seemingly the weak point in Patriots coverage.
Run defense –Certainly the group is undermanned without Dont'a Hightower (IR/pectoral) and Malcom Brown (ankle). But the group needs to find a way to put up more of a fight than it did on Sunday night. Denver ran the ball 28 times for 118 yards and a 4.2-yard average, busting off chunk runs between the tackles a little too often. New England has now allowed 114-plus yards in three straight games and six of nine games this season.
What do you think of our lists? Additions or alterations? Let us know with a comment below!