The New England Patriots take on the Denver Broncos in a regular season game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday, December 18, 2016.
Here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the Patriots 16-3 win in Denver as the team collects hats and t-shirts for clinching yet another division crown and first-round bye in the playoffs.
Julian Edelman –* *When Tom Brady and the passing game started off slowly, it was Edelman that got things rolling with TB12's first completion of the day. He was the most consistent aspect of the receiving corps, including a pretty jumping, toe-tapping sideline grab for a 17-yard gain. Edelman finished the day with team highs of six catches on 12 targets for 75 yards, and the inefficiencies could be attributed more to Brady's inaccuracy and good defense than anything Edelman did. He also held down the fort on punt returns with three clean returns for a 21-yard average and a long of 16.
Malcolm Butler – New England's No. 1 cornerback was tremendous for most of the day, a lot of the game spent chasing longtime Patriots killer Emmanuel Sanders. The playmaker didn't have a reception until well into the second half and still only finished with three catches for 48 yards. Butler is clearly the Patriots best pass defender and is playing maybe his best football as the season heads toward January.
Dion Lewis – Most expected New England to run the football early and often against the Broncos 29th-ranked rush defense. The Patriots did that, but not with LeGarrette Blount leading the charge early. Instead Lewis was the primary ball carrier notching career highs with 18 attempts for 95 yards (5.3 avg.) with the bulk of the work coming as a between-the-tackles runner with a long run on the afternoon of 14 yards.
Devin McCourty – The Pro Bowl safety is starting to pile up the playmaking. A week after a nice pick against the Ravens, McCourty had a huge hit on Demaryius Thomas to force an incomplete pass on a would-be completion on the sideline and then scooped up Jordan Norwood's fumble to close the door on any potential Broncos comeback hopes. McCourty was then vocal in the postgame locker room for a defense that clearly has heard some of the disrespect from fans and media during the season and is firing back as it plays its best football down the stretch. McCourty's hit on Thomas may have been his biggest play, certainly his biggest hit, of the year.
Joe Thuney – The ultra-impressive rookie guard had by far his worst day of the season. He was the guy who allowed a pair of sacks, the only two of the day by the Broncos, though he did have the good fortune to recover the loose ball on Jared Crick's strip sack. He also earned a holding call on one of the sacks. Tough day for the young stud.
Cyrus Jones – The rookie top pick was once again a healthy scratch, the fourth time that's been the case this season. His spot on the inactive list was forced by his continued issues on punt returns, including last week's muffed punt. The move forced the team to put Julian Edelman into the role, which may not be ideal given the slot receivers heavy load in the passing game.
Chris Hogan –On a day when very few Patriots were not up to the fight with the Broncos, Hogan had a key drop on a third-down play on a perfect throw from Tom Brady. Hogan finished with just one reception for 18 yards as an ineffective part of what was a mostly ineffective passing game.
Marcus Cannon –* *The big offensive lineman was a bit part of the problem in last January's AFC title game loss in Denver. But he's been much better this season and was much better as probably the best lineman on the field for New England against the best pass-rushing team in the NFL. Denver managed just two sacks and five QB hits on the day. Cannon was just plain good as the Patriots churned out 39 attempts on the ground.
Tom Brady –Three. That's now the number of wins Brady has collected in Denver in his career. It was a struggle improving his record to 3-7. Brady felt some pressure at times and anticipated it at times. He was inaccurate early, going 0 for his first 6 throws. Even many of his completions weren't great. Brady threw off-balance too often and not always out of necessity. But, he got the job done to win in a place where that has never been easy, finishing completing 16 of 32 passes for 188 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for a 68.1 rating, 20-plus points below his previous worst performance. But a win is a win.
Stephen Gostkowski –The kicker is back atop his game and doing the job as he should. Only memories of the early-season slump linger as the postseason nears. Gostkowski hit his field goals from 45, 40 and 21 yards as well as his only PAT attempt. His two field goals in the second half were the only points for the Patriots after the break. #SG3 seems to be back, baby!
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