FOXBORO, Mass. — If the Patriots failed at one thing on Sunday night, it’s that they didn’t play a full 60-minute game.
However, they certainly chose the right 43 minutes and four seconds to play. After falling behind 24-0 at the half thanks in part to losing fumbles on their first three drives of the game, it was almost as if the Patriots had to win two games in the second half and overtime. First, they had to match Denver’s first-half point total, then they had to stop Denver while attempting to get a lead.
New England made it look easy in the second half, though putting up 21 points in the third quarter is no small feat. The Patriots came out of the locker room with an obvious spark, yet everyone who spoke after the game said there wasn’t much commotion at halftime.
“I think what the great thing about this team and this group of guys is we all just knew,” Dane Fletcher said. “It goes without being said. Everybody’s gotta start doing their part. Because nobody did their part in the first half. In that second half, we tried to come up and change it up.”
The Patriots were actually able to move the ball in the first half, but the turnovers killed them. In the second half, Tom Brady and the offense were able to finish drives. Some big plays by the defense certainly helped, too.
“We know what we need to say to each other,” Kyle Arrington said about the team’s mentality at halftime. “Things were said and we were able to turn it around, fortunately.”
It really was like night and day for New England (or since the game was on Sunday night, night and night). The phrase “the tale of two halves” has never been so apropos.
The Patriots had 306 yards in the final 43 minutes to 134 in the first two quarters. They gave up 142 yards in the second half to 188 in the first. And, of course, they outscored the Broncos 34 to 7.
“I’d just say, coming out with a little spark,” Fletcher said about the difference between the first and second halves. “Sometimes that’s all you need. And really, just harnessing in that this is our home and we’re used to this weather. We know Denver plays in the cold too. But it’s embarrassing to come out like that in the first half. You just have to do something different, anything different.”
There was a huge difference. The Patriots rallied off 21 points in just 15 minutes by charging down the field and halting Peyton Manning. They knew they were playing with the wind for 15 minutes, and they made the most of it while Manning and Denver’s offense couldn’t.
That had to have played into New England’s decision to take the wind in overtime after the Broncos had come back to tie the game at 31. The decision paid off for New England as the Patriots stopped Denver twice after the end of regulation.
“The wind, it was a strong wind,” Belichick said on the decision to defer in overtime. “We just had to keep them out of the end zone, obviously. I just felt like the wind would be an advantage if we could keep them out of the end zone on that first drive. We were able to do that. The wind was significant in the game, it was definitely significant.”
Belichick even had his own players confused when he sent the call into the middle of the field.
“Bill’s a genius,” Devin McCourty said. “He’s a genius. I mean, even the captains didn’t know. We [were] like, ‘Defer? Take the wind?’ And, it was obviously the best call, and it was a great call by him.”
The Patriots wasted the wind in the first quarter, coughing up the ball three times. It takes a special team to come back from down 24-0 to any team. But doing it against a quarterback like Manning is something else altogether. This team doesn’t need any fiery speeches at the half to know what to do. And the fact that they have accomplished it twice now against Miami and Denver proves this was no fluke.