The Patriots’ second-half comeback is still unbelievable.
Hope was entirely lost in the first half. The crowd was dead — the upper deck filtered out after the second quarter ended, the team looked uninspired and the mood in the press box was tepid at best, downright pessimistic at worse. The general consensus was that the Patriots had lost and that it was better that they finished the job as quickly as possible.
Now, that game will likely be replayed on NFL Network over and over again, perhaps for the rest of our lives. It will likely be known as “The Wind Game.” Patriots fans will intently tune in to see Tom Brady topple Peyton Manning, and Broncos fans will shudder at its very existence.
This game was more than just a one-off exhibition, though. It placed the Patriots in the driver’s seat for the No. 2 seed and opened the possibility that New England could come away with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with the No. 1 seed.
Patriots fans can hope for two outcomes for the rest of the season. The risk-takers can hope for a Denver win next week against Kansas City, followed by the Patriots winning out and the Broncos losing to San Diego in Week 15. They can also hope for a Kansas City win. The Chiefs play Indianapolis in Week 16 and the Chargers in Week 17.
The safer thinkers should hope for Kansas City to beat the Broncos. It’s more important for the Patriots to have home-field advantage against the Broncos than Chiefs.
Before we look too far ahead, let’s get into this week’s five takeaways. Check them out below.
1. Kyle Arrington helps shut down Wes Welker.
The Patriots (and the weather) did what seemed impossible early in the season: They held Manning to under 200 yards. Manning completed just 19 of 36 passes for 150 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. It was Manning’s worst game of the season, and it’s not particularly close.
A big part in shutting Manning down (other than the fact that it was 18 degrees, felt like five and there were 22 mph winds) was that the secondary played extremely well. Arrington was lined up in the slot across from his old friend Welker, Aqib Talib was lined up across from Demaryius Thomas for the most part and Logan Ryan spent a lot of time on Eric Decker. It helped that Julius Thomas was out of the game.
Alfonzo Dennard, Marquice Cole and Justin Green also mixed into the secondary. Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon spent most if not all of the game at safety.
New England mixed man and zone coverages on Welker. Sometimes Arrington would track the former Patriot across the field, and sometimes he would drop and cover the shallow outside portion of the field.
Arrington was targeted two times and did not allow a reception. He had a pass breakup on a throw to Welker. Harmon had some trouble on tight ends, but allowing 31 yards is nothing to shake a stick at. That’s very good for a rookie defensive back.
McCourty was not only not thrown at, he wasn’t even thrown near. He didn’t come away with any big plays because he wasn’t given any opportunities to.
Check out this week’s pass-coverage charting stats below.
Duron Harmon: 3-4, 31 yards
Aqib Talib: 3-6, 30 yards, PBU, TD, holding penalty
Dont’a Hightower: 2-4, 15 yards, TD
Brandon Spikes: 3-5, 6 yards
Jamie Collins: 1-2, 6 yards, PBU
Alfonzo Dennard: 1-1, 5 yards
Logan Ryan: 1-4, 4 yards, INT
Kyle Arrington: 0-2, PBU
Rob Ninkovich: PI
And the totals on the season:
Dennard: 29-59, 439 yards, 2 TDs, INT
Arrington: 30-58, 398 yards, 4 TDs, INT, holding penalty
Talib: 16-41, 238 yards, 4 INTs, 1 TD, pass interference penalty, 2 holding penalties
Ryan: 16-34, 195 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs
Hightower: 20-36, 182 yards, TD
Mayo: 14-27, 146 yards
Gregory: 10-22, 139 yards, TD, pass interference penalty
McCourty: 9-16, 114 yards, 2 TDs, INT, holding penalty
Spikes: 12-17, 102 yards, TD, INT
Cole: 8-13, 94 yards, TD, INT
Collins: 6-8, 59 yards
Harmon: 5-8, 45 yards, 2 INTs
Ninkovich: 6-9, 31 yards, pass interference penalty
Chandler Jones: 1-1, 7 yards
Fletcher: 1-3, 5 yards, TD
2. Chandler Jones gets double-digit sacks.
The Patriots did not have a ton of success getting after Manning, but Jones crossed an important milestone. He now has 10 1/2 sacks on the season. Jones has a while to go before he gets close to Andre Tippett‘s single-season record of 18 1/2 sacks, but for a second-year player, 10 1/2 is very respectable. And Jones still has five games to go.
New England stayed in nickel for most of the game. That meant Jones and Rob Ninkovich were allowed to rush the passer, leaving Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher, Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower in coverage. As you can see above, Ninkovich did drop at times. He had a pass interference penalty called against him.
Joe Vellano and Chris Jones got a ton of reps in the middle of the defense. Neither excelled against the run or pass at first glance.
Check out this week’s pass-rushing charting stats below:
Chandler Jones: sack, 5 hurries
Rob Ninkovich: 3 hurries, QB hit
Andre Carter: 2 hurries, QB hit
Jamie Collins: QB hit
Dane Fletcher: hurry
Chris Jones: hurry
Kyle Arrington: hurry
Brandon Spikes: hurry
And the season totals:
Chandler Jones: 10 1/2 sacks, 36 hurries, 12 QB hits (59 pressures)
Ninkovich: 5 sacks, 37 hurries, 10 QB hits (52 pressures)
Chris Jones: 5 sacks, 10 hurries, 2 QB hit (18 pressures)
Kelly: 2 1/2 sacks, 12 hurries, 2 QB hit (17 pressures)
Buchanan: 2 sacks, 10 hurries, 3 QB hits (15 pressures)
Hightower: 1 sack, 9 hurries, 3 QB hits (13 pressures)
Vellano: 1 sack, 10 hurries, 2 QB hit (13 pressures)
Carter: 1 sack, 6 hurries, 4 QB hit (11 pressure)
Spikes: 6 hurries, 1 QB hit (7 pressures)
Fletcher: 2 sacks, 4 hurries (6 pressure)
Wilfork: 4 hurries, 1 QB hit (5 pressures)
Mayo: 1 1/2 sacks, 1 hurry, 1 QB hit (4 pressures)
Collins: 3 hurries, 1 QB hit (4 pressures)
Ryan: 2 sacks, 1 hurry (3 pressures)
McCourty: 1 hurry, 1 QB hit (2 pressures)
Cole: 1 hurry (1 pressure)
Bequette: 1 QB hit (1 pressure)
Gregory: 1 QB hit (1 pressure)
Sopoaga: 1 hurry (1 pressure)
Arrington: 1 hurry
3. Patriots limit drops.
Of Brady’s 16 incompletions, only three were drops. And Shane Vereen was responsible for two of them. Vereen now has four drops in his two weeks back in the offense. Vereen dropped a ball on a wheel route that looked nearly identical to the same mistake he made against Carolina. Amendola had the third drop.
Eight incompletions can be “blamed” on Brady, though some of them were smart decisions. His incompletion to end the first half can be chalked up to heavy wind. The ball basically hit a wall midway down the field and dropped.
Two of Brady’s passes were throwaways and three were great defensive plays. Two balls were knocked away (one was the play Brady and Bill Belichick freaked out on the refs because they didn’t throw a flag on a pass intended for Kenbrell Thompkins) and Brady was hit as he threw one pass.
4. Kenbrell Thompkins and Dane Fletcher replace Aaron Dobson and Dont’a Hightower, respectively.
After the first half, we saw a lot more of Thompkins and Fletcher and a lot less of Dobson and Hightower. Fletcher said after the game that he expected to play more in the second half, but he didn’t expect to play every down.
Fletcher played well, though. He caused a fumble and looked adept in coverage and against the run. Both Fletcher and Thompkins should get more snaps moving forward.
Thompkins caught six passes for 56 yards while Dobson was not targeted.
5. Random observations.
Rather than a typical fifth takeaway, here are some quick-hit thoughts from my live watch and a brief rewatch of the TV film:
-Will Svitek looked good replacing Marcus Cannon, but Nate Solder had a tough time on Von Miller, as everyone does.
-I tweeted after the first half that it would take a lot for the Patriots to win the turnover battle. Well, a lot happened, including four Denver turnovers in the second half.
-I didn’t notice Stevan Ridley or LeGarrette Blount get a carry after their fumbles.
-I haven’t given up on Ridley, but I’m willing to admit the fumbles are a problem. He’s still the most talented every-down back on the team.
-Ryan played very well at cornerback for Dennard. Dennard limped off the field midway through the second quarter. It was shocking to see him on the field at all after he reportedly had his meniscus scoped.