Good Morning/Afternoon, Broncos fans! There are a few enduring truths about the 2011 New England Patriots:
- They score points in piles: 32.1 per game prior to last night - and against everyone: at least 30 points 12 times in 16 games.
- They do so by amassing tons of yards: 428 per game - also against everyone: at least 362 yards 15 times, the only exception being the stingy Steelers defense.
- It also happens that they give up a whole lot of yards: 411.1 per game - to everyone: at least 361 yards 15 times - everyone except the anemic Jets offense.
- Prior to last night, it was stressed that the Pats had no quality wins; 12 of their 16 prior opponents had scored at least 20 against them; even the Colts, Jets, Dolphins (twice) and Redskins had done so
Given these facts, there was one thing the Broncos needed to do last night more than anything: score points, and a whole lot of them. They were going to get their yards, that was a certainty. Only, they didn't. Six days after hanging 447 yards and 29 points on the Steelers (175 more than the season average they'd allowed prior), the Broncos scratched out just 10 points and 252 yards - and 139 of those yards came on their last three possessions, when they were already down by five touchdowns - in a 45-10 thrashing at the hands of a coldly efficient Tom Brady (six TD passes, 363 yards, zero sacks).
Naturally, there will be those who want to pin this loss solely on the Denver defense, and they'll have a case - New England put up 35 points on 351 net yards of offense in the first 20 minutes of the game. But the Patriots score at will against almost everyone, and the Tim Tebow-led offense eked out just 120 net offensive yards and 20 net passing yards in the first half. And, Denver's lone touchdown came only after their defense gave them the ball on the New England 24.
Aside from kneeling out the last five seconds before half (And why do that, down 28? You could get a PI call and kick a FG, right?), the Broncos had seven first-half possessions. The first went 35 yards and ended in a Tebow fumble, which was half Orlando Franklin's fault, half Tebow's long and loopy throwing motion's fault; there was the touchdown, and there were five punts. Only that opening possession went for more than 26 yards or two first downs.
And, that was that. The game and Denver's season were over by halftime, if not long before that. John Fox threw in the towel shortly thereafter, even electing to kick a field goal while down 35 points in the third quarter (Why?!). His defense allowed 509 net yards, his quarterback completed just nine passes to Brady's 26. In the teams' first meeting, Denver was unable to contain TE Aaron Hernandez (129 yards, nine catches, one TD). Last night, Hernandez was a dual rushing/receiving threat (116 yards on four carries and five catches, one TD), and his TE partner Rob Gronkowski nabbed 10 catches for 145 yards and three scores.
The offseason begins now, and it appears the Broncos will select 25th in April's draft. There will be plenty of time to assess the season, but for now let's just say it was an entertaining run. We'll hear it was a success because Denver added a division title and a playoff victory to their franchise ledger; but going 9-9 is never the goal, nor is being outscored by 110 points over that span. That's not to say it's Super Bowl or bust, but rather that progress should be measured in terms of what can be sustained and what is/are real step(s) that can be built upon in years to come.
Denver made substantial gains on defense (24th in points, 20th in yards after ranking 32nd in both categories last year), but on offense they slipped from 19th in scoring and 13th in yardage to 25th and 23rd, respectively. Their QB completed just 45.6% of his passes and more than 13 in a game just twice (each time requiring 39 attempts to do so); for many months to come the debate will wear on: can the Broncos continue to center their offense around an option QB who struggles reading coverages and progressions, and who does not make precise throws with regularity? Will they build around him, or will they commit to a more conventional passing attack and have Tebow compete with a veteran or highly drafted rookie next summer? It'll be interesting to find out...
Mike Klis, Andrew Mason, Judy Battista, and Peter King recap the game, plus notes from Mason and the DP: Brian Dawkins is considering retirement, while the injuries to David Bruton (concussion) and Quinton Carter (neck) are not seen as long-term issues.
Sam DeWitt agrees that last night was more about the offense's ineptitude than that of the defense, and that Tebow's inaccuracy was their fatal flaw.
As Doug Farrar illustrates, Phil Simms was terrible again last night.
Jason Cole says the Patriots reintroduced Tebow to reality.
Jonathan Comey recaps the days action, stressing that Tebow "can’t throw the intermediate routes that dominate today’s NFL, and if he can’t learn it he’s not going to make it." He also sees some parallels between Tebow and a young Jim Zorn.
Ryan Wilson isn't certain that Tebow will be Denver's starter in 2012, plus he considers some other options for the Broncos.
Les Carpenter thinks the Broncos "would be silly" not to draft a QB in April.
Tom Krattenmaker reminds us of the perils of attaching claims of divine intervention to feats and failures on a football field.
Andrew Sharp of SBN explains why he's not a fan of Tebow, including a reminder he's not really an underdog.
Naturally, there's now Tebowing food - in the form of a pretzel.
The Niners and Alex Smith outdueled (no, really) Drew Brees and the Saints in a wild 36-32 win, capping it off with a TD pass to Vernon Davis that recalled the Steve Young-to-TO scoring pass against the Packers. Doug Farrar, Don Banks, Matt Bowen, Greg Bishop and Jeffri Chadiha recap/analyze the game.
Atlanta hired former Jags OC Dirk Koetter as their new OC to replace
Mark Mike Mularkey, who's now the Jags HC; Denver had targeted both last offseason prior to hiring John Fox.
St. Louis is interviewing Brian Schottenheimer for their OC vacancy.
Scott Kacsmar serves up Part 2 of his Divisional comeback column, with plenty of John Elway goodness including the Drive II.
In his Sunday column, Dan Pompei includes John Fox among his top choices for coach of the year.