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BOSTON (CBS) — Tom Brady. Peyton Manning. Sterling Moore.
Two surefire NFL Hall of Famers, and one guy who wasn’t deemed worthy of a spot on the Oakland Raiders last year.
Yet, despite the much-hyped matchup between the two quarterbacks, it was the play by that unheralded cornerback that may have gone the longest way in affecting the outcome of Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium.
On the opening drive of the game, Manning connected on a deep ball to Demaryius Thomas, with Moore trailing behind the receiver. One step after hauling in the pass, Thomas was swindled at the Patriots’ 17-yard line, with Moore knocking the ball free then recovering the loose ball.
With three hours of football and 52 combined points following that play, it’d be easy to forget just how impactful that play by Moore really was. But without it, the Broncos would have probably led 7-0 just three minutes into the game, and the Patriots would’ve been playing catch-up from the get-go.
The play didn’t come out of nowhere for Moore, though, as it was his heads-up play in last year’s AFC Championship Game that took a conference-winning touchdown catch out of the hands of Lee Evans, thereby keeping the Patriots’ season alive. This one wasn’t nearly as big a moment, but it’s exactly the type of play that changes football games. Moore isn’t the second coming of Ty Law (or the third, fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh coming), but he knows how to make some big plays, huh?
None of that is to see we’re all dumb for getting excited about Brady-Manning XIII, but it is to serve as a reminder that Brady’s 9-4 record in those meetings has a lot more to do with his teammates than anything else.
Now, let’s get into all the leftover thoughts from the Patriots’ 31-21 victory over the Broncos.
–While Peyton Manning rolled right and ran for a first down on the opening drive, I filed my taxes, changed my health insurance, brushed my teeth and wrote a haiku about leaf peeping. I’d like to see the all-22 of that one, because Vince Wilfork probably could’ve picked up that first down … while carrying Marcus Cannon on his back.
–What does Chandler Jones have to do to get a holding call? Here are four sceren shots from various points of the game, none of which resulted in a penalty being called:
–Have we seen a complete change-over of the Manning Face from the raised arms/shrugged shoulders/incredulous look to the two-handed helmet slap? I feel this may be the most overlooked story of the NFL season.
– I like the little game of the Patriots floating it out pregame that Rob Gronkowski is more hurt than we know, leading to questions as to whether or not he’ll play, only to see the Patriots throw to him on the first offensive play of the game, when he shed one would-be tackler and ran right through the chest of another.
Pretty much if Gronkowski can walk and count to three, he’s going to play. They’d probably let him play if he could only count to two. And he’s probably going to run through other human beings.
–With all due respect to the folks that are in charge of the game presentation at Gillette Stadium, it is a bit ridiculous to blow the foghorn 20 times in the first seven minutes of the game. I’m not sure a foghorn really pumps anyone up to begin with, but when it’s used seemingly every other play, it kind of loses its effect.
–I’ve written this probably 100 times in the past to no avail, but oh well, here goes: It’s Juh-rod Mayo, not Gerard Mayo. It’s not that difficult. Are you reading, television announcers? ARE YOU???
–I’m not trying to be a downer, because I love football as much as anyone, but it’s scary and all sorts of wrong to see Joe Mays standing on the sidelines, eager to get back into the game, just a minute after lying dazed on the turf. It’s admirable that guys like that are so tough that they’re willing to play through pain, but when they’re doing that after getting hit in their heads, it’s a problem.
–The Patriots’ first scoring drive was just about perfect. Wes Welker caught four passes for 40 yards and three first downs and a touchdown, including an outstanding grab of a Brady fastball on second-and-7 for a gain of 9 yards. That catch was followed by a gashing run by Stevan Ridley, after which Phil Simms explained, “Nate Solder just … kills his guy.”
We critique and analyze for a full week after these games, but sometimes the big difference between a bad game and a great game is guys simply making catches, blocks and runs and being great in short bursts. It’s easy to criticize when balls get dropped and blocks aren’t made, but it’s sometimes easier to look past them when they’re actually made.
What I’m trying to say is that the first scoring drive should be framed and hung in the locker room to serve as inspiration. If you could, you know, frame football drives.
–On the touchdown pass to Welker, he adjusted to a pass thrown behind him, spinning around to catch the ball while keeping his momentum going toward the end zone. I thought passes that are slightly off target were impossible to catch, no? At least that’s what I gathered from all the people blaming Brady for his “bad pass” in the Super Bowl, which hit Welker in both hands.
The point is that a reception is a two-man job. Just because one guy’s not perfect doesn’t mean the other guy can’t usually make up for it.
–Before cutting to commercials after Welker’s touchdown, CBS showed a replay from a corner end zone camera, which showed Brady in the background as Welker made the catch and run for the score. Brady was so nonchalant, he looked like a guy walking to return his library book. Yet another reminder that Tom Brady is cooler than we are.
–Even when Brady spiked the ball after his rushing touchdown, it looked like he was just doing it for the sake of doing it.
–It must suck to be a Gronkowski not named Rob.
–Willis McGahee almost certainly got that first down which Bill Belichick challenged, but I’m sick of seeing a replay from one angle that shows where the knee is down without having an angle on where the ball is. A simple solution can be simply synching the cameras to a clock, and switching from one angle (the one that shows the knee down) to another angle (which shows where the ball is) at the same exact time. This isn’t rocket science, right? I think it’s time to take the guesswork out.
–That being said, that was a terrible challenge to take. Even if Belichick won it, the Broncos would have had fourth-and-inches at the Patriots’ 25-yard line. Not much reward there.
–On the first down that followed on the next play, Chandler Jones batted down Manning’s pass at the line and looked up to try to make an interception. This was his fifth NFL game.
–There was a Danny Woodhead rush early in the second quarter where he cut back to avoid a defensive lineman and then just literally disappeared from the TV screen. What happened to him is anyone’s guess. I imagine he was enveloped in Wesley Woodyard’s chest and entered a parallel universe.
–Ridley’s obviously great, as evidenced by 151-yard day, but the best thing about his game is that every touch manages to be a positive one. Always. Even if he’s hit in the backfield or met at the line by a defender, he’ll manage to get a couple of yards. It’s no small feat to gain 3 yards on any given play. Second-and-7 opens up so many more options than second-and-10, and Ridley’s at least getting the Patriots that setup nearly every time he touches the ball.
–On the negative side, I’ve adamantly argued for a while now that Ridley doesn’t have a fumbling problem. I may have been wrong. On this fumble, I think he was just absolutely gassed. His two fumbles in the past two weeks have both come in the fourth quarter, which is going to have to be a consideration late in games going forward.
–Shane Vereen: One carry, one yard, one touchdown. That’s weird.
–We knew Brandon Lloyd had a number of offensive skills when he came to New England, but we didn’t know that tap dancing around the end zone after making diving catches at the 1-yard line was one of them.
–For that matter, I never knew Stevan Ridley had the circle button spin move in his arsenal, either.
–This is what a man who’s upset about his one incompletion on a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive looks like:
–Rookie corner Alfonzo Dennard finally got some playing time, and he didn’t look bad at all. He did a great job of delivering a shot to Brandon Stokley right at the limit of the 5-yard window, which disrupted the timing of the pattern and thus destroyed the play and forced the Broncos to punt.
–This is just a cool shot:
There’s nothing better than the Patriots offense going five wide. Nothing. Why they didn’t come out that way in Super Bowl XLII, I’ll never, ever know. Why I’m talking about Super Bowl XLII, I likewise will never know.
–It’s clear the Patriots are committed to running the ball this year, and what I like about it is how they declare that they’re running the ball and simply challenge the opponent to stop it. If they’re running the no-huddle and Brady runs up under center, there’s likely a 90 percent chance they’re running the ball. And most of the time, it works. That’s a testament to the offensive line and Dante Scarnecchia, who’s somehow managed to keep the words “Donald Thomas” off the local radio airwaves the past two weeks.
–Danny Woodhead could have simply stepped out of bounds after his big 25-yard third-down conversion. Instead, for some reason, he leaned into Mays and Mike Adams. That was kind of a crazy decision, in the true sense of the word “crazy.”
–Deion Branch had not yet appeared on the stat sheet at the two-minute warning before halftime, but he made it on TV by making a great block on the big Brandon Bolden run for 24 yards. And he probably smiled while making it.
–On the goal line just before the half, Bolden got the ball over the goal line on second down. His knee may have been down before he got the ball over it, but in live speed, it sure looked possible that he scored.
Instead, the ball was ruled down short of the goal line, Bolden lost four yards on the next play, and the Patriots had to settle for a field goal. The booth should have called for a challenge, at least, and we would have known for sure. That was a potential four-point swing.
–Peyton Manning’s arm strength, or lack thereof, has been one of the major topics around the NFL all season long. For me, it’s not so much the interceptions in Atlanta that are proof of that, but passes like his touchdown throw to Joel Dreessen. That thing was a wobbly floater, but it was still only about half as terrible as his touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in Atlanta a few weeks ago. He’s still the smartest quarterback in the NFL, and he can still make more passes than most. But if you tell me I’m nuts for thinking his arm strength is awful, I would kindly say this: Plllleeeeeeease.
–Running an inside handoff out of the shotgun on third-and-4 (and getting stuffed) reinforces my belief that even the Broncos’ coaching staff has its concerns about that arm.
–”Lasso! Lasso! LASSO! ….. 52′s the Mike.” — Tom Brady
–On a second-and-6 incompletion over the middle, I think Brady skipped the ball to Welker because a completion there might have meant certain death for Welker, given that there were two linebackers looking to knock his head off. Maybe I’m giving Brady too much credit there, but I’m not sure that’s possible.
–Zoltan Mesko punted a little more than a minute into the second half, and the cameras showed the red rich people seats were a complete wasteland. What do they have inside the rich people area there? Free massages and chocolate fountains and one of those glass tube things you go into and money flies around and you have to grab it and stuff it in your shorts? If you’re paying $300 or more to go to a football game, I just don’t see why you’re not going to watch … the football game.
But then again, there are many things I do not understand about the very wealthy … such as …. knowing how to become very wealthy.
–If 12 men on the field is a 5-yard penalty, can’t 14 men on the field be a 15-yard penalty? On that note, how does an NFL team get stuck with 14 men on the field? I don’t even think my Pop Warner D squad team had those kind of issues back when I was in fifth grade.
–While Brady and Manning are the topic du jour, I’ll add Reggie Wayne into the mix. He seemed nuts for staying in Indy without Manning and also for passing up the opportunity to play with Brady in New England. Well, with 13 catches for 212 yards in a win over the Packers, he doesn’t look all that crazy.
–The Patriots faced a third-and-17 in the third quarter. Danny Woodhead (or “Little Danny Woodhead” as the TV networks are required to call him) ran for 19 yards. That was so Patriots.
–The Elvis Dumervil offsides on the goal line was as costly a 1-foot penalty you could ever really see.
–One thing I would never want to be: An NFL football, lying on the turf as the extra-large white numbers “7″ and “5″ start falling on me. RIP: The Football Recovered By Vince Wilfork.
–On Manning’s 38-yard completion to Thomas in the third quarter, Patrick Chung took another ugly angle to the ball and receiver. It was a pass that surely could have been picked off, or at least knocked away, but Chung misjudged the pass and allowed Thomas to make a relatively easy grab. Chung needs to be better there.
–After the Decker touchdown, Jim Nantz said, “That’s 90 yards in 3 and a half minutes.” Vintage Manning right there.
–I saw far too many winter hats on the Denver sideline. It was 60 degrees out! I thought you guys came from Denver, not Houston. (Yes I’m going to ignore the shot of Brandon Deaderick wearing a winter hat because it works against my observation of the Broncos being overly sensitive to 60-degree weather.)
–Rob Gronkowski probably wouldn’t have committed pass interference if he hadn’t run the “spin around and stay in the same place” route, which he probably made up as he did it.
–On the opening play of the fourth quarter, the Patriots faced a third-and-12. Who did Tom Brady go to? Deion Branch, of course. That’s exactly why you have Branch on the roster. He may finish the game with one catch, but it will probably be a big one.
Also on that play, Tom Brady was under a little bit of pressure and slipped right up and had a wide open field and all the time in the world. Vintage Brady.
–Vintage Brady went away shortly thereafter on consecutive plays though, when Brady seemed unconcerned with throwing the ball and took consecutive sacks, feeling phantom pressure on one of them. That was … strange.
–The punting unit has been so routinely excellent since Zoltan Mesko was drafted in 2010 that a poor punt from start to finish has been a rarity for New England during that time. So it was rather inopportune timing for one of the worst punts of the Mesko era to come in the fourth quarter against Peyton Manning, when a punt from the New England 44 ended up at the Denver 29 after a bad punt and a bad hold.
–At one point, Chandler Jones absolutely crushed Manning, and you could see Manning’s neck snap back upon impact and again upon hitting the ground. That was the hit I was worried about with him. He popped right back up and seemed OK. That’s a great sign for his health.
–Wes Welker’s best play may have come on third-and-3 with 9:45 left in the game. He ran a 3-yard out toward the left sidelen, but Brady threw it basically at Welker’s left shin. Welker twisted his body and reached down to grab it, then absorbed a hit from Adams on his way to the ground to pick up a first down. It helped the Patriots burn nearly 90 seconds of clock in what turned out to be a very tight game. If he drops that, nobody blames him. But instead he catches it, and it goes by mostly quietly, and nobody will really ever mention it because it will go down as just a 5-yard gain.
–On that same drive, I was calling for the Brady pooch punt on fourth-and-5. It would have been perfect. Instead Brady was sacked and stripped. If Brady got a decent pooch punt off out of the shotgun, it could have easily made a 40-yard difference in field position.
–Despite the bad outcome on that fourth-down try, the Patriots are fortunate that Tom Brady’s knee didn’t get ripped to shreds on that strip sack. Don’t watch that replay. Seriously.
–”Hey, we’re going whiskey!” — Tom Brady
–Quick AFC East side note: So much for that much-improved Bills defense. Woof.
–If it’s not a penalty when legs get tangled up with receivers, defensive backs should just try to step on receivers’ feet more often. It seems like the most effective way to actually cover a guy these days.
–OK, one last Welker note. On a third-and-3 with 3:27 left in the game, the Patriots needed one first down to win the game. They could have played it safe and run the ball, but they instead came out in the shotgun with five wide. That was gutsy enough of a call for Josh McDaniels, but the execution was even better.
Welker was bracketed between two defenders but managed to slip free over the middle. Brady waited for Welker to get away from the linebacker and cornerback then buzzed the pass in over the middle before the safety could make a play. It was only a gain of 9 yards, but it put this one away.
–Until next time, Manning Face. Until next time.
Screen shots courtesy of NFL.com/GameRewind.