Von Miller was a menace when the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos met in last season’s AFC Championship Game, hounding Patriots quarterback Tom Brady from kickoff to final whistle. The same cannot be said for Sunday’s rematch.
New England successfully kept one of the NFL’s premier pass rushers in check during its 16-3 win at Sports Authority Field, preventing Miller from notching a single sack or quarterback hit in the contest.
Right tackle Marcus Cannon atoned for his rough showing this past January by consistently keeping Miller away from quarterback Tom Brady, and tight end Martellus Bennett also chipped in to keep the defending Super Bowl MVP at bay.
“I had to pass protect a couple of times against him,” Bennett told reporters after the game. “I was trying to frustrate him a little bit. Every time someone gets a tight end, they get excited, so I thought I handled that pretty well up front.”
The Patriots also were able to establish the run Sunday, something they failed to do in the AFC title game. Dion Lewis enjoyed his most productive game of the season with 95 yards on 18 carries, and LeGarrette Blount carried the ball 17 times for 31 yards and scored New England’s lone touchdown.
This productive ground game kept Denver’s defense honest and prevented the Broncos’ crew of talented pass rushers from pinning their ears back and rushing Brady with reckless abandon. After allowing 17 quarterback hits in the teams’ previous meeting, the Patriots surrendered just five on Sunday.
“(The offensive line) played great,” Brady told reporters. “We ran the ball so well with both LeGarrette and Dion. The pass protection was great. They did a great job. They’ve been doing a great job all season, so we have to keep it up.”
Miller entered the game tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 13 1/2.
Some additional notes from Sunday:
— The Patriots clinched their eighth consecutive AFC East title and a first-round playoff bye with the win, prompting a hat-and-T-shirt-filled celebration in the locker room after the game.
— Blount took home the jersey of former Patriots teammate Aqib Talib, as captured by USA TODAY photographer Ron Chenoy.
— Julian Edelman was Brady’s favorite target Sunday, catching six passes on 12 targets for 75 yards. This catch he made early in the second quarter might be the best any Patriots receiver has made all season:
— The game-time temperature was 18 degrees, making this the coldest game the Patriots had played in since Jan. 23, 2005 (11 degrees in an AFC Championship Game win over the Pittsburgh Steelers) and their coldest regular-season contest since Dec. 26, 1993 (19 degrees in a win over the Indianapolis Colts).
— Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who missed an extra point in Denver in last season’s AFC Championship Game, was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals Sunday, hitting from 45, 40 and 21 yards. He also converted his only point-after try and now has gone three consecutive games without missing a kick.
Thumbnail photo via Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports Images