The New England Patriots seemingly came off their bye week stronger than ever.
Many expected the Broncos to play the Patriots close at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, but New England blew Denver out of the water — or off of a mountain top in this case.
The Patriots won 41-16 and now are 7-2 on the season. Though the Pittsburgh Steelers technically would have the No. 1 seed if the season ended today, the Patriots have proven to be the AFC’s best and most consistent team.
Beating a team like the Broncos in Denver only tightened the Patriots’ stranglehold atop the conference.
Here are key takeaways from the game.
— Quarterback Tom Brady was 25-of-34 for 266 yards with three touchdowns. Among his nine incompletions, Pro Football Focus counted one as a drop for Dwayne Allen and two as throwaways, meaning he had just six inaccurate passes. It was one of Brady’s better games of the season overall.
— Brady was just 1-of-3 for 25 yards on passes 20 yards or more, however, and he was 2-of-7 for 47 yards on passes over 15 yards. So, while Brady was strong on short to intermediate throws, his deep ball was lacking.
LaAdrian Waddle: one QB hit, one hurry
Shaq Mason: one QB hit, one hurry
Nate Solder: two hurries
James White: sack
— Waddle, filling in for Marcus Cannon at right tackle, did a fantastic job neutralizing Broncos pass rusher Von Miller. Waddle has turned into a very solid backup tackle.
— Center David Andrews was perfect in pass protection. Players are supposed to have their best seasons in contract years. Andrews is having his after he signed an extension over the offseason. Guard Joe Thuney also was perfect in pass protection.
— The Patriots’ offensive line has stood up to two consecutive top-tier challenges going up against pass rushers like Miller, Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. The unit is much improved from where they were around the quarter-mark of the season.
— Running back Rex Burkhead raised his elusive rating on the season by forcing two missed tackles in the run game.
— Dion Lewis also forced two missed tackles, while Brandon Bolden forced one.
— The Patriots averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, but they did a nice job draining the clock late in the game.
Trey Flowers: on QB hit, two hurries
Kyle Van Noy: three hurries
Deatrich Wise: one QB hit
Malcolm Butler: one QB hit
Lawrence Guy: one hurry
Adam Butler: one hurry
David Harris: one hurry
Elandon Roberts: one hurry
— Van Noy took on a much greater pass rush role, dropping into coverage just six times. He hasn’t been as productive as a pass rusher as Dont’a Hightower was yet.
— Flowers continues to be the Patriots’ most productive and consistent pass rusher.
Malcolm Butler: 5-9, 99 yards, PBU
Jonathan Jones: 3-5, 52 yards, PBU
Stephon Gilmore: 4-7, 39 yards, TD, PBU
Patrick Chung: 3-4, 14 yards, INT
Elandon Roberts: 1-1, 11 yards
Devin McCourty: 1-1, 5 yards
Trey Flowers: 1-1, 1 yard
Marquis Flowers: 0-1, PBU
David Harris: 0-1, PBU
— Butler had a tough start to the night but finished strong. He let up almost 100 yards in the first half but didn’t allow a reception in the second.
— Gilmore was mostly strong in his return to the field from a concussion, though he did let up the touchdown. Jones allowed a big 40-yard catch to Emmanuel Sanders but calmed down after that.
— The rest of the Patriots were solid in coverage.
— Patriots defensive tackles Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Ricky Jean Francois and Alan Branch all made “stops” in the run game. Pro Football Focus constitutes a stop as a “loss” for the offense.
— Van Noy had two stops, while Harris had one.
— Harris played a much bigger role than normal. He was on the field for 26 total snaps and fared well again.
— The Broncos’ running backs averaged 4.4 yards per carry, but the Patriots were happy to keep letting them run the ball while down by multiple scores in the second half.
Stats via Pro Football Focus