By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s usually not that easy when the Patriots travel to Denver.
But they crushed the Broncos on national TV Sunday night, picking up their fifth straight win with a 41-16 victory. The Pats improved to 7-2 on the season, and sit atop the AFC with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tom Brady hit nine different receivers as he threw for 266 yards and three touchdowns to pick up his 86th career road win, breaking a tie with Peyton Manning for the most all-time. Bill Belichick picked up his 270th career win as a head coach, tying the great Tom Landry for third-most all-time. The win was even more special considering Belichick notched it thanks to a huge game from the New England special teams.
The Patriots cruised to a relatively easy win, so instead of four ups and four downs, we’ll give you a few more ups and two less downs from this one.
Special Night For Special Teams
Recover a fumble off a muffed punt? Check.
Return a kickoff for a touchdown? Check.
Block a punt? Check.
Have the punter quick-snap the Broncos into a too many men penalty? Check.
Yeah, the Patriots special teams unit did just about everything on Sunday night. While much of it was boneheaded plays by the Broncos, the Patriots took advantage. That muffed punt they recovered turned into a Patriots touchdown (after they started the game with a three-and-out). Dion Lewis took a kickoff 103 yards to the house. The blocked punt led to a field goal, and the Patriots scored a touchdown when given another opportunity thanks to that dumb fourth quarter penalty by the Broncos special teams.
Add it all up and that’s 24 points the Patriots scored because of special teams. It was the first time since 1979 that the Patriots’ special teams had a takeaway, a blocked punt, and a kickoff return for a touchdown. That’s a strong to very strong performance from the unit.
A Rex That Patriots Fans Can Love
Rex Burkhead was responsible for that blocked punt, and had a huge game in the offense as well. He caught Brady’s first touchdown pass of the game, one of his three receptions on the evening, and ran for 36 yards on 10 carries.
After missing time with a rib injury earlier this season, Burkhead is rounding into form as a dangerous weapon in this offense.
Brady was sacked just once and the Broncos only recorded four QB hits on Sunday night. The New England offensive line kept their quarterback clean and opened some big holes for their running backs. LaAdrian Waddle was great filling in for the injured Marcus Cannon, keeping Von Miller out of Brady’s face all night.
Dwayne Allen Checks In
Dwayne Allen made his first catch of the season and it was a big one, as the tight end hauled in an 11-yard touchdown late in the first half to give the Pats a 27-9 lead. He did so with Von Miller draped all over him, making the catch even more impressive.
Allen also made some key blocks throughout the night. With the depth chart getting a little crowded at tight end thanks to the addition of Martellus Bennett (three receptions for 38 yards), Allen had his best game in a Patriots uniform.
Improved Play In Red Zone
The Patriots left points on the field in the first half as they settled for a pair of field goals in the red zone. One was questionable, as it appeared Rob Gronkowski came down with a touchdown grab, but it was ruled an incomplete on the field and the officials didn’t see enough evidence to overturn it after the Patriots challenged. Gronk was none too pleased about it after the game.
But New England finished the night 4-for-6 in the red zone, showing some improvement in an area the offense has struggled in all season.
Getting It Done Before The Half
That Allen touchdown continued a great trend for the Patriots this season. Here’s an incredible stat from Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald: The Patriots have scored in the final minute of the first half in seven of their nine games this season, including each of their last six.
The Patriots certainly take care of business before heading into the locker room.
Bonus: Hilarity On The Denver Sideline
The contest is over. Give this man the $10,000 prize:
The gentleman who took a football to the dome is OK, so we have the green light to laugh. As much and as hard as we want.
Malcolm Butler Struggles
Butler couldn’t cover Emmanuel Sanders, who exploded for 137 yards on six catches. It was tough to watch at times.
Matthew Slater’s Injury
Special teams captain Matthew Slater suffered a hamstring injury in the first half and did not return. He missed two months with an injured hammy earlier this season, so this is a concern going forward.