By Sam McPherson
With a 41-16 victory over the Denver Broncos on the road Sunday night, the New England Patriots are making winning in the NFL look easy again. The defending Super Bowl champions committed just one penalty and didn’t turn the ball over once as they rolled to a fifth straight win in 2017.
With a 7-2 record now and a very manageable schedule ahead, the Pats are on course to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15 with home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs on the line. Yes, that Dec. 17 game is far away, but the way both teams are playing, it’s very likely that game will be huge in determining whether or not New England can repeat as NFL champs.
Behind quarterback Tom Brady, the offense rolled up 396 total yards and didn’t commit a turnover. Brady completed 25-of-34 for 266 yards and three touchdowns. The ground game was effective enough, running for 99 yards, although the Pats were just 4-for-11 on third-down conversions. In a closer game, that could be cause for concern.
As a result, New England’s offense had to settle for two short field-goal attempts in the second quarter. The kick return TD compensated for this on the scoreboard, but it was a little glitch in the offensive game plan that the Patriots didn’t want to see in the red zone after a bye week.
The much-maligned N.E. defense didn’t look great at times against QB Brock Osweiler and the Broncos offense, but it rose up enough to hold Denver to three first-half field goals that could have been touchdowns. That bend-but-don’t-break result is fine against mediocre offensive teams like Denver, but it could cause problems down the line.
The Broncos ran up 339 total yards, including 118 on the ground, to find themselves in scoring opportunities aplenty in the first half, even if Denver scored just nine points as a result. The Patriots forced two turnovers, which helped, and after the Broncos scored first in the third quarter, New England didn’t blink again. That resolve has to count for something.
Special Teams: A
Running back Dion Lewis’ 103-yard kick return for a TD in the first quarter was thing of beauty for the special teams, and placekicker Stephen Gostkowski was once again on the money for all his extra-point and field-goal attempts. The Pats offense was so good in this one, punter Ryan Allen only needed to kick once — a nice 46-yard effort which Isaiah McKenzie couldn’t handle and gave right back to the Patriots. Rex Burkhead also blocked a punt.
The duo of head coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady always will incur criticism and doubt because of the Spygate and Deflategate controversies that surrounded the team’s successes over 17 seasons, but there is no denying the on-the-field accomplishments of this coach-and-quarterback combination. Give them an extra week of prep time like this, coming off a bye, and it’s lights out for the opponent—even if a hostile environment like Denver. Belichick is that good, as his 270 wins show, as he now is tied with the legendary Tom Landry in the annals of NFL coaching history.
Up Next: Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are just 4-5 this season, after losing four straight earlier when the Oakland offense disappeared. Still, the Silver & Black has averaged 417 yards of offense over the last three games. Brady & Co. should able to shred the Raiders defense–ranked 26th in yards allowed—but the Pats defense will get tested, too. Look for New England to beat the bye-rested Silver & Black next Sunday in a high-scoring shootout where both teams score at least 35 points.