Here are notes and nuggets from the New England Patriots’ 41-16 demolition of the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field on Sunday night:
— Even with starting right tackle Marcus Cannon sidelined due to an ankle injury, New England excelled at keeping Tom Brady upright. Denver registered just four quarterback hits in the contest, and its lone sack came on a safety blitz by Boston College product Justin Simmons.
Von Miller, the Broncos’ All-Pro pass rusher, finished with just one tackle and one QB hit thanks in part to another strong effort by Cannon’s replacement, LaAdrian Waddle.
Waddle allowed one QB hit and two total pressures in 38 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Left tackle Nate Solder also played well, allowing just two pressures in 35 passing snaps.
“The offensive line played great,” Brady said in a postgame interview with NBC’s Michele Tafoya. “I think they were locked in all week. Any time you face this defense, it’s a big challenge, but they came ready to play, and they did a great job, both in the run game and the pass game.”
— The Broncos now have six losses on the season, making it very unlikely the Patriots would see them again in the playoffs. Malcolm Butler has to be happy about that.
Butler struggled mightily against Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who caught six passes on 11 targets for 137 yards in a losing effort. The bulk of Sanders’ receptions came with Butler in coverage, though he did beat Jonathan Jones for a 38-yard gain during the first quarter.
Late in the game, Butler showed his respect for Sanders, hugging the wideout after one of their many battles.
While Butler was trying his best to keep up with Sanders, Stephon Gilmore spent most of the night shadowing Demaryius Thomas. Gilmore did allow a touchdown to Thomas and also was flagged for defensive holding, but the cornerback showed more positives than negatives after missing the previous three games with a concussion.
Speaking with reporters after the game, safety Devin McCourty praised Gilmore for the work he did away from the field while he was sidelined.
“It just built our secondary stronger,” McCourty said of having Gilmore back in the mix. “Steph was in all the meetings, kind of prepared like he was playing in the games that he missed. So I thought that continued our communication with him, but then it also added (Johnson Bademosi) in there, who had to fill in and step up.
“And now, instead of having two guys on that outside that you felt really comfortable (with), we have three (in Gilmore, Butler and Bademosi). And when (injured cornerback Eric) Rowe comes back, that will be another guy that can play outside and inside that’s been keeping up, that’s been out there practicing again. So, I think injuries are always tough, but when you’re able to play well through injuries, you kind of just build and add more depth to the secondary.”
Thomas finished with five catches on eight targets for 44 yards and one score. Six different Patriots players recorded a pass breakup against Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler (Gilmore included) and safety Patrick Chung had an interception.
— The Broncos, who are known for having a dominant defense, have allowed a total of 92 points in their last two games. Woof.
Denver defensive end Derek Wolfe was brutally honest about his team’s struggles after the game, telling reporters the Broncos have played like “a whole new (expletive) team.”
“We used to be a championship team, and now we stink,” Wolfe said. “Nobody respects us.”
The Patriots, on the other hand, have not allowed more than 17 points in any game since their 33-30 loss to the Carolina Panthers back in Week 4.
— New England was fantastic in the kicking game all night, but it could be without one of its top special teamers going forward.
Special teams captain Matthew Slater left the game with a hamstring injury in the second quarter and did not return. Slater missed the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, so there’s a chance he aggravated that same ailment.
— The lopsided nature of the Patriots’ victory allowed them to empty their bench.
Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer — playing in his first game for New England since Super Bowl XLVI after signing with the team during the bye week — took over for Brady late in the fourth and completed all three passes he threw, totaling 37 yards.
Special teamer Brandon Bolden also saw some late-game action at running back, touching the ball on offense for the first time since Week 4 of last season.
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