Akeem Ayers, Patrick Chung Among Patriots’ Unlikely Defensive Heroes

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Peyton Manning, Akeem AyersFOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ pass defense ranking might take a hit after Sunday’s 43-21 win over the Denver Broncos, but sometimes, as Bill Belichick once succinctly put it, “stats are for losers.”

The Patriots walloped the Broncos, and their defensive performance was spearheaded by newcomers to Belichick’s squad. Cornerback Darrelle Revis, signed to a one-year contract this offseason, was asked if the defense considers allowing 21 points and 429 passing yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions a “win.”

“The scoreboard was what? That explains it,” Revis said in the Patriots’ locker room. “We won. It really don’t matter. We’re playing against one of the greatest quarterbacks to every play this game. We understood, he’s gonna make some throws.”

Revis allowed three receptions for 56 yards to the Broncos and helped limit Denver’s high-powered offense despite its otherworldly passing numbers. Helping him was newly signed cornerback Brandon Browner, who switched from cornerback, covering Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, to a hybrid role at safety/nickel, where he took on tight end Julius Thomas.

Akeem Ayers, whom the Patriots acquired from the Tennessee Titans two weeks ago for a paltry sum, recorded a game-changing sack near the end of the second quarter, when the Broncos, already down 20-7, went for it on fourth-and-6 while. Apparently the Patriots saw something more in Ayers than the Titans, who barely played the fourth-year pro. Ayers started the game at right defensive end, in place of Chandler Jones, and played nearly every defensive snap.

Linebacker Jonathan Casillas, acquired for a slightly less paltry sum from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers minutes before Tuesday’s trade deadline, made an impact, too. He recorded three special teams tackles and sparked wide receiver Julian Edelman’s 84-yard punt-return touchdown with a key block.

Even undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler, whom Manning targeted early and often after Patrick Chung briefly left the game, made some key plays down the stretch. When the Broncos were fighting for their lives at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Butler made two key pass breakups on targets to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

Butler is known for his epic celebrations after preventing a pass.

“I’m just letting you know I’m here to play and letting my teammates know they can depend on me,” Butler said. “I’m just playing ball and having fun.”

Chung, a Pats Nation scapegoat since being drafted in 2009, also got in on the fun, continuing his strong return to New England after a one-year hiatus with the Philadelphia Eagles. Chung defended two passes, including Manning’s fourth-down heave into the end zone to tight end Jacob Tamme.

The Patriots also signed defensive tackle Alan Branch, who declined to talk after the game, on a one-year flier last week, and he helped the run defense limit the Broncos to just 17 rushes for 43 yards. New England’s run defense had been horrible coming into the game, and Branch, along with defensive end Rob Ninkovich and defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Casey Walker, helped revitalize the front seven.

It’s amazing to see the Patriots seem to improve after losing key players, but they’re playing their best football after defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Jerod Mayo suffered injuries. If anything, it’s a testament to Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia’s coaching that Ayers, Casillas, Branch and countless other have been able to acclimate so easily and be key contributors.

Photo via Steven Senne/Associated Press

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