BOSTON (CBS) — And so it is over, the “legacies” have been written, the Broncos are on to the Super Bowl and the Patriots season is over. It ended in rather ugly fashion, as the Broncos simply outclassed New England in every phase of the game in what was a precise and thorough beatdown at Mile High.
It shouldn’t have come as a great shock that the Broncos emerged victorious, but what was surprising was the Patriots’ failure to show up and even compete. They may not be as strong as the Broncos, but surely they’re better than what was on display in Denver on Sunday afternoon.
Alas, instead of an epic showdown between two of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL, we witnessed a one-sided affair that was never really competitive.
For Peyton Manning and the Broncos, that means a trip to the Super Bowl and a chance to make history. For the Patriots, it means a long, cold offseason, wondering how they can try to get back to this very point next year.
With regard to that future planning, perhaps Bill Belichick will draw inspiration from the team he watched end his season on Sunday. That’s a team that essentially bought the rights to a future Hall of Famer and then promptly spent every last dime surrounding him with a wealth of receiving talent, knowing that the quarterback’s window for winning a championship would not be open for more than two or three years.
While there are certainly reasons for New England’s lack of receiving options (Rob Gronkowski’s body breaking, Aaron Hernandez spending his days in prison, Brandon Lloyd filming straight-to-DVD zombie movies, etc.), I can’t help but feel like the 2013 season was a bit of a wasted year for Tom Brady. He spent his days working with rookies and journeymen, a reality highlighted by the fact that the was throwing passes to Matthew Mulligan (16 career receptions), Matthew Slater (1 career reception) and Michael Hoomanawanui (37 career receptions) in the AFC Championship Game.
Though Brady helped the group overachieve, that’s not what a team should be asking of its Hall of Fame quarterback. It should be asking him to throw touchdowns to highly skilled receivers.
So for Belichick, there is a great amount of work to be done. Julian Edelman is a free agent, and signing him has to be a priority, considering he accounted for 27.6 percent of the team’s receptions and 24.3 percent of the team’s receiving yards. Some intriguing names will be out there in free agency (Hakeem Nicks, Jeremy Maclin, Eric Decker, Emmanuel Sanders), and it’s fair to say the Patriots will need to add at least one of them, if not more.
The last time this happened for Brady and the Patriots, it came after the team haggled with Deion Branch and eventually shipped him out of town rather than paying him. While this year’s circumstances were a bit different, it still came after the team essentially invited Wes Welker to leave via free agency when that wasn’t his No. 1 choice.
Now, Tom Brady is going to be a 37-year-old quarterback with a one-to-three-year window to realistically be able to lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl. But to get there, he’s going to need some help, and it’s up to Belichick to follow John Elway’s lead and go out there and get it.
Before jumping into the offseason entirely, let’s have one last run through all of the leftover Patriots thoughts from the Broncos’ 26-16 win over New England.
–Wes Welker finished with four catches for 38 yards, which isn’t a tremendous showing, but he did make the single most important play of the game. That play, of course, was when the receiver crashed into Aqib Talib over the middle at full speed, taking out the Patriots’ best defensive back just 16 minutes into the game.
It wasn’t a dirty play (Wes said they “just kind of collided”) but it’s hard to understand how this wasn’t a penalty for offensive pass interference …
but this was:
It’s not often that I quote Phil Simms, but I thought his description of that penalty was pretty good: “Oh my gosh, a pillow fight breaks out and they finally throw a flag.”
–Bill Belichick threw a nutty (relatively speaking) on Monday morning about Welker’s play on Talib, which I think indicates that the head coach holds a personal grudge against Welker more than anything else. Bill’s referring to Wes as “the receiver” tells you all you need to know about why Welker no longer plays in New England.
–You had to have known early in the game that it was not going to be the Patriots’ day. It was clear when Peyton Manning bobbled a shotgun snap for about a half-hour, but he still had enough time to calmly stand in the pocket and deliver a strike to Decker on third down to move the chains.
–If all the talk leading up to this game was about “legacies” and specifically that of Peyton Manning, then it’s only fair to give him all the credit in the world for a solidly executed game plan. I knew he had an outstanding day, but I was a little surprised to see in the box score that he threw for 400 yards. Manning completed 74.4 percent of his passes for 400 yards, two touchdowns and no picks, which means his legacy is just about what it should be: great.
–If there’s one complaint that gets thrown around too much around New England, it’s the one where people scream that the defensive backs “need to turn around.” It’s just not that simple, and in today’s NFL, there is no more difficult position than cornerback. So know that it’s rare for me to shout the common refrain when I say … Kyle Arrington … turn around, brother.
One play after infamous Welker pick on Talib, Manning threw a wobbly duck to Wes that was such a lollipop that Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan could have built a tent, created a fire and then roasted some marshmallows while waiting for the ball to get there. Instead, Arrington ran around like a chicken missing its head, and Ryan stayed back as Welker let the ball come all the way into his chest to make a catch and keep the drive alive.
Instead of forcing the Broncos to punt from their own 19-yard line after a three-and-out, the Broncos continued a drive that went for 15 plays, took 7:01 off the clock and ended with a Jacob Tamme touchdown catch. Forget about the non-call on the pick — that lack of awareness (of the ball, of the receiver, of the basic laws of gravity and physics) by Arrington was a game-changing moment.
–The other game-changer came when Brady missed a wide-open Julian Edelman on an early play-action pass that could have given the Patriots a 7-3 lead. Instead, Brady overthrew Edelman, and the Patriots eventually punted.
When you have a receiver running full speed all alone through a defense that completely bit on the fake handoff like this …
… you have to convert that play. You just have to. If that’s Joe Flacco or Andy Dalton missing on that pass, the whole world would be mocking him. That was just not a good game from Brady.
–LeGarrette Blount was on the cover of Sports Illustrated because he averaged 6.7 yards per carry in his last three games. In this one, he averaged 1.2 yards per carry, finishing the day with a whopping six yards on five carries. My fancy, expert take on that one: What the hell?
–I had no problem with Belichick going for it on fourth-and-3 late in the third quarter. Throw all of the normal logic out the window — the Patriots’ D was not going to suddenly figure out how to stop Manning. The Broncos were going to keep scoring, the Patriots needed touchdowns and they knew it. And it wasn’t as if the Patriots had a bad play-call on the fourth-down attempt. Logan Mankins just got beat cleanly on a swim move by Terrance Knighton, who ended up swallowing Brady whole.
–A semi-perfect picture of where Brady currently sits on his career arc in the fourth quarter. Seven years ago, he was putting jukes on the best linebackers in football and faking them out of their shoes, because Brady could seemingly do anything. Now, he can still juke defenders out of their cleats … provided the defender weighs 306 pounds.
–For as much as Belichick was mad about Welker’s hit on Talib, I thought Malik Jackson’s kneeing/kicking of Austin Collie on the ground was a pretty egregious foul. Considering Collie has a long, long history of concussions, that was really a cheap shot that crossed the line. (You can watch a video, albeit a shaky one, here.)
–I have two very important questions: 1. Who is the man who’s in charge of telling the Broncos’ mascot that he’s not allowed to bang a drum on the sideline?
2. How do I get that job?
–I found the Patriots’ general lack of urgency in the fourth quarter to be rather puzzling, and it was reminiscent of the infamous clock-killing “Drive To Nowhere” in their playoff loss to the Jets in 2010. Look at everyone just standing around, watching seconds tick off the clock, as the Patriots were driving to try to make a game of it.
Brady and the offensive line continued to casually saunter up to the line of scrimmage throughout this drive, when they trailed by two touchdowns. It was perplexing.
–CBS cameras showed Eli Manning celebrating with his family, and that’s fine and everything. I mean, I’d probably be happy for my brother if he made the Super Bowl, even if it meant that I wouldn’t be winning it myself. But it got me thinking that the Manning family really ought to spice it up. Eli needs to turn heel on Peyton, to the point where they’re talking Richard Sherman-level trash about each other every chance they get. Frankly, the “Gee, Shucks” personas have gotten old. Give me Evil Eli now.
–Though the season will ultimately be remembered for the team failing to show up in the AFC Championship Game, that shouldn’t overshadow what a fun season it was to watch. For the first time in a very long time, the Patriots were underdogs again, scrapping and fighting any way they could to win football games. They beat the Broncos, Browns and Saints in games they had no business winning, and had it not been for a late deluge, they might have done it to Cincnnati, too. They overcome injuries to the centerpiece of the offense (Rob Gronkowski) and the centerpiece of the defense (Vince Wilfork) as well as their leading tackler and field general (Jerod Mayo). It wasn’t perfect, and if you look at the team in terms of roster talent, it’s safe to say the Patriots either got as far or even farther than they really should have.
For that, they get no parade, and by that measure, the season ended in disappointment. When they come back next year, anything could happen. Another 12-4 season wouldn’t be a shocker, just as an 8-8 or worse record seems fairly plausible. We won’t know that until next winter, but we do know that this team will once again be well worth watching.