DENVER — The issues that plagued the New England Patriots all season came back to haunt them in their AFC Championship Game defeat.
The offensive line clearly was the Patriots’ weakest link all season, and it showed off all its warts Sunday against the Denver Broncos in a 20-18 loss. Offensive tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon couldn’t protect quarterback Tom Brady from Broncos pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, and the interior line couldn’t open even a two-inch crease for Patriots running backs to slip through for yardage.
To make matters worse, center Bryan Stork was flagged for a dumb- and costly-as-hell personal foul when he head-butted Broncos defensive lineman Vance Walker late in the first quarter. Guard Josh Kline and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon also were hit for false starts.
And in the end, acting out Patriots fans’ worst fears, Peyton Manning outplayed Brady, though both players looked years removed from their prime. Brady was 27-of-56 passing for 310 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. Manning was 17 of 31 for 176 yards and two TDs with no picks.
Looming large at the end of the game was Stephen Gostkowski’s missed extra-point attempt. Had he made the kick, the Patriots wouldn’t have been forced to go for two with the game on the line.
The Patriots also passed up field-goal attempts twice. They elected to go for it on fourth-and-6 at the Broncos’ 14-yard line with 2:25 left in the game, when they could have kicked a field goal and hoped to drive back down the field for the win. They didn’t convert, and it cost them later. They also could have kicked a field goal on fourth-and-1 at the Broncos’ 16-yard line.
This is a case where one play or one decision didn’t define the entire game, however. The Patriots’ porous offensive line play loomed much larger.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images