The Patriots can point to specific “what-ifs” in each of their three losses this season.
What if the rain in Cincinnati didn’t suddenly pick up, making passing the ball nearly impossible as the Patriots tried to drive with 1:48 on the clock against the Bengals in Week 5? Would the drive have still ended in an interception?
What if the officials hadn’t decided to call Chris Jones for pushing his own teammate on the Jets’ overtime missed field goal in Week 7? Would the Patriots have been able to drive down the field to score from their own 38-yard line?
And what if the officials hadn’t decided to pick up the flag on an obvious pass interference penalty on the final play in Week 11 against the Panthers? Would the Patriots have plowed in from the 1-yard line for the score and the win?
Of course, those specific plays or instances are not the only reasons New England lost those games. The Patriots put themselves in those situations to lose.
There was another “what if” that would have come in Week 12. This was was more the fault of the team’s than elements or officials, but it was still game changing.
What if the Patriots hadn’t lost three fumbles on their first three drives of the first quarter? Everything changed after those back-to-back-to-back mistakes. It looked like a cakewalk for the Broncos. They would continue to run the ball through the Patriots’ defense, eat clock and finish the blowout.
But at the half, New England took fate into its own hands.
It would have been impressive to see the Patriots churn out a 34-31 win over the Broncos. But it was an even bigger feat to see them score 31 unanswered points against Denver.
The three turnovers were not freak occurrences, but more the result of single players making a string of mistakes. If the Patriots had lost, it would not have been so much a statement on the team, but on individual errors.
It was a team win, though. At halftime, the Patriots knew what they had to do to pull off the victory. Tom Brady led the offense on five straight impressive drives, the defense forced Denver to make their own mistakes and Bill Belichick made the right decisions when the game was on the line by choosing to take the wind and electing to take a pass interference penalty rather than tempting fate on fourth and inches.
Beating the Broncos is difficult in its own right. Doing so when down 24-0 at the half is impossible for most teams.
The win over Denver should vault the Patriots up in the power rankings this week. If they’re not rated as the top AFC team, they probably should be. New England has lost three games by a total of 14 points and just beat the team most pundits consider the best team in the conference.
Now, the Patriots are hoping to win out. A Broncos loss would go a long way in ensuring the team would not have to travel to Denver to play Manning in the playoffs.
It seems odd to declare the Patriots the top team in the AFC with their numerous flaws. But after New England beat the Broncos is such impressive fashion, it would be nearly impossible to still give that crown to Denver.
There were many times this season when it seemed like New England just didn’t have it this year. The offense wouldn’t click and the defense had too many injuries. But now the offense is playing at the top of its game and the defense — or pass defense at least — is still chugging along.
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