By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
Final, 16-3 Patriots: An ugly ending for Denver’s offense, as Siemian got called for intentional grounding while getting hauled down by Sheard, and then Norwood fumbled all on his own over the middle of the field. McCourty recovered and took a knee, before Brady came out to do the same, and this one’s history.
It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t always exciting. But that was a massive win for New England.
Fourth quarter, 1:54, 16-3 Patriots: After the 15 gifted yards from T.J. Ward, the Patriots went strictly on the ground. It drained valuable time off the clock, down to the two-minute warning, before the Patriots decided to run a play on fourth-and-3 instead of attempting a field goal.
They didn’t convert, but the Broncos take over at their own 26-yard line with not a lot of time left and needing two touchdowns.
Fourth quarter, 3:42, 16-3 Patriots: The Broncos had stopped the Patriots on third down. But T.J. Ward decided to go Macho Man on Julian Edelman following an incompletion. It was as unintelligent a penalty as any player could ever commit, and it sunk any chance the Broncos might have had of coming back in this one.
First down for the Patriots, and the Broncos are out of timeouts.
Fourth quarter, 5:58, 16-3 Patriots: The Broncos looked like they had just converted a fourth down and were in position to get into the end zone for the first time of the day.
But then Devin McCourty showed up.
Thomas leaped in the air to catch Siemian’s pass on a fourth-and-2 from the New England 30-yard line. He hauled it in, but as soon as his feet hit the ground, McCourty came flying through the receiver’s spine, jarring the ball loose for an incompletion and a turnover on downs.
That play perfectly encapsulates what this defense has done in the second half today. Impressive work.
Fourth quarter, 8:13, 16-3 Patriots: Brady connected with Bennett, who emerged out of a traffic jam in the box for a 34-yard catch-and-run to open the drive. Brady then threw a dart behind Mitchell on a comeback route, and the rookie made a great adjustment to haul in the bullet for a gain of 14 yards on the very next play.
With a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line, Blount and then White were held up at the line. On third down, Brady had nobody open and a collapsing pocket. He wisely elected to hurl the ball out of the end zone.
Gotkowski came on hit the chip shot, and the Patriots stretched that lead while draining valuable time. They now have to guard against the game-breaking deep ball, and they should be fine for the win.
Fourth quarter, 10:56, 13-3 Patriots: The Broncos looked like they were going to pick up a first down. They really did. It was a third-and-1. It was there for the taking. But Trey Flowers came flying up the gut, and Siemian had to run for his life. He escaped, briefly. But Flowers and Malcom Brown remained in pursuit, eventually taking down the quarterback for a loss of 14 huge yards.
Denver had to punt — again — and Edelman made the fair catch at midfield.
Forget scoring — the Patriots can put this game away just by picking up a few first downs and draining clock. That Denver offense is not functioning right now.
Fourth quarter, 12:33, 13-3 Patriots: A nothing drive for New England leads to a quick punt, but it’s a good one. Allen’s punt bounced and rolled all the way to the Denver 12-yard line. Not much has been happening in this half, but the Patriots’ defense only needs a couple of more stops to make that all A-OK.
Fourth quarter, 13:39, 13-3 Patriots: Make it four straight three-and-outs for the Denver offense, which collectively looks clueless out there.
They can’t run, they can’t pass, and they can barely pass. It’s like night and day from the first half, as they’ve gained just 16 yards on four drives in the second half.
The Patriots once again take over, this time at their own 35, and it feels as though one more score — touchdown or field goal — will be enough to put the game out of reach.
End of third quarter, 13-3 Patriots: Tom Brady ends the third quarter having gone 5-for-9 for 63 yards. The numbers don’t pop, but the work was immense. He stood in the face of pressure (in the form of a blitzing T.J. Ward) to deliver a strike to James White for a gain of 16 yards on third-and-1 that was this close to breaking for an 81-yard touchdown.
Relying on the run game on this drive, the Patriots drove to midfield. Brady put it in Hogan’s bread basket on third-and-5, which would have put New England in field-goal range, but Hogan dropped it. So the Patriots punted, but downed the ball on the Denver 7-yard line.
The New England offense’s work has not been efective in the classic sense, but it’s done what’s been needed, largely.
Third quarter, 4:25, 13-3 Patriots: Three drives for Denver this half. Three punts.
They nearly broke a big one on this drive, as Siemian lofted a deep ball up the left sideline right into Thomas’ arms, but the receiver couldn’t make the coverage with Rowe in relatively tight coverage.
Edelman scooped up the bouncing punt, so as not to sacrifice any field position, but a holding penalty on the Patriots cost them those yards anyway. They’ll start at their own 10-yard line.
Third quarter, 5:28, 13-3 Patriots: The Pats are back on the board, and they’re now owners of a two-possession lead.
Brady went to his BFF Julian Edelman on that drive for an 8-yard reception on a third down and then again for a 17-yard gain on another third down. In between, Brady casually flicked a pass off play-action to Chris Hogan for a gain of 18 yards.
It looked like it had the makings of a game-defining touchdown drive, but Andrews snapped the ball on third-and-4 from the 22-yard line while Brady was scanning his options to the left. Brady fumbled the snap and recovered it, but he was quickly collapsed upon by the pass rush. He threw harmlessly over the middle for an incompletion.
Gostkowski drilled the 40-yarder, keeping his perfect day intact. And the Pats lead by 10.
Edelman has caught six passes for 75 yards, by far leading the team in both categories.
Third quarter, 10:49, 10-3 Patriots: The Broncos would have had a third-and-1, but a holding penalty knocked them back into a second-and-18 situation. Siemian threw incomplete to nobody on that play, and on third down he went with a short pass to Thomas, who was stopped well shy of the first-down marker.
Edelman made a fair catch on the punt, and though he protested that he was contacted in the face while making the catch, he couldn’t coax the official into throwing the flag.
And so, the Patriots will try to mount the first real offensive drive of the second half, starting at their own 17-yard line.
Third quarter, 12:16, 10-3 Patriots: Brady threw incomplete to Bennett on a second-and-9, with Talib in tight coverage, and then Joe Thuney got smoked off the line by Shane Ray on third down. Thuney yanked Ray down to the turf, drawing a flag, but Ray continued on, sacking Brady for a loss of seven yards and forcing a punt.
Barkevious Mingo went flying through the air like a human torpedo to drill Norwood on the return, and the Broncos take over at their own 37-yard line.
Third quarter, 13:39, 10-3 Patriots: The second half began with Jabaal Sheard absolutely bullying Donald Stephenson to sack Siemian on the first play. Two plays later, Derby had what would have been a first-down pickup, but he turned up the field before completing the catch. Denver had to punt, and Edelman returned it from his own 9-yard line to the 25-yard line.
Third quarter, 14:53, 10-3 Patriots: Gostkowski’s kicked was returned out past the 30 by Cody Latimer, and the second half has begun.
Halftime, 10-3 Patriots: Indeed, the Broncos didn’t even try to drive, settling for a short run and letting the clock run out on the half.
The Logan Ryan interception was the play that defined that first half, as it kept the Broncos from taking a lead and led directly to the Patriots’ go-ahead touchdown.
Stat-wise in the passing game, the Broncos are piling it up. Siemian is 15-for-21 for 147 yards, while Brady is just 8-for-16 for 73 yards. Lewis’ 59 rushing yards are more than the Broncos’ team rushing yards, while Edelman’s 50 receiving yards have buoyed the offense.
Of note: Derek Wolfe headed to the locker room early. He’s a valuable member of that Denver D-line, and his potential absence could open up even more room for Lewis and Blount.
Second quarter, :32, 10-3 Patriots: New England didn’t score on that drive, but big first-down pickups by Edelman (on a third-and-5) and Lewis (on a second-and-10) helped ensure that Denver wouldn’t be getting the ball with much time left in the half. And Kubiak essentially conceded the end of the half when he opted to not take a timeout after a short completion from Brady to Bennett on third down.
Allen’s punt bounced into the end zone, but Denver likely won’t be even trying to mount much of a drive here.
Second quarter, 5:14, 10-3 Patriots: Trey Flowers picked up his sixth sack of the year, and it was a good one. But the Broncos quickly converted the ensuing third-and-12, with Jordan Taylor finding space in the Patriots’ zone to haul in a 15-yard reception. But on a third-and-8 from the New England 31, Forsett lost six yards on a reception, pushing the Broncos out of field-goal range.
Dixon’s punt came down at the 8-yard line, where Edelman made the fair catch.
Second quarter, 11:01, 10-3 Patriots: Tom Brady finally completed a pass — four of them, in fact — and the Patriots found themselves down by the goal line. Following three catches by Edelman — one an absolutely ridiculous toe-tapper in double coverage while flying out of bounds — Brady bought time and stepped up in the pocket before delivering a strike to an uncovered James Develin. The fullback set up a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line.
Dion Lewis did score on the first down, but the officials on the field didn’t notice. They were instead distracted by Lewis’ fumble while he had the ball outstretched over the goal line. The Patriots opted to not challenge the play, instead handing to Blount on second down. The big man rumbled into the end zone for six points — his 15th touchdown of the season.
That Siemian pick proved awfully costly for the Broncos, who now find themselves trailing by seven.
Second quarter, 14:50, 3-3: Logan Ryan picked a mighty fine time to make his first interception of the year.
Ryan was covering Sanders on an out route and jumped in front of the receiver, easily picking off Siemian’s pass and hitting a whole lot of open field with a full head of steam. Ryan ran it back out to the Denver 46-yard line, keeping the Broncos off the board and setting up the Patriots with their best field position of the day.
End of first quarter, 3-3: The first quarter comes to a close with the Broncos once again driving. Siemian found the largely unknown Jeff Heuerman on consecutive passes — the first for a gain of 31 yards, and the next for a gain of 9 yards. He got behind Van Noy in zone coverage to end up wide open on that 31-yarder. Siemian then completed a pass to Thomas while on the run for a gain of 12, and the quarter ended with a 6-yard pass to A.J. Derby.
It’ll be third-and-3 from the New England 14-yard line to start the second.
First quarter, 4:51, 3-3: The Patriots actually gained some yards this time, with Lewis breaking a 14-yard run to open the drive. He ran for eight more yards the next play, and then a Denver penalty advanced the Patriots beyond midfield. But there, Brady threw incomplete to Bennett before Lewis was stuffed at the line. Brady threw to White on third-and-10, and for the second time, White dropped it.
So, they punted, and Matthew Slater downed the punt inside the 10-yard line.
Brady is 0-for-6.
First quarter, 6:58, 3-3: The Broncos picked up some large chunks of yardage on that drive, notably with a 23-yard reception by Demaryius Thomas to get into field-goal range. Once there, the Patriots’ defense stiffened, and Siemian overthrew Booker in the end zone on third down.
McManus kept his kick just inside the left upright for a successful 33-yard field goal, and this one is tied.
Of note, Broncos tight end Virgil Green left the game due to injury on that drive.
So far, the Broncos have gained 67 yards, compared to the Patriots’ 13 yards.
First quarter, 9:53, 3-0 Patriots: Tom Brady is 0-for-4. The Patriots have punted twice.
This time around, they weren’t fortunate enough for a Denver miscue, as Norwood made a fair catch at his own 38-yard line.
As for the offense’s inability to function early on, it appears as though nobody is really moving at full speed. Perhaps the cold combined with the altitude is giving Denver a slight advantage in that department in the early stages of this game. This drive began with a two-yard loss by Blount, followed by a four-yard run by Blount. On third down, Brady waited in the pocket for White to break off his route, but the timing was off, as was Brady’s pass.
First quarter, 11:18, 3-0 Patriots: Justin Forsett got the Broncos started with a 13-yard run, but that was all the Broncos would really muster on their opening drive. He picked up six more yards on a second-and-10, but Siemian’s pass to Derby out by the right sideline on third down resulted in just a minimal gain.
The Patriots forced the punt, and they’ll take over at their own 14-yard line.
First quarter, 12:27, 3-0 Patriots: The Patriots’ offense is off to a real shaky start. After getting the huge break, Brady short-hopped a first-down pass to White before White let a ball clank off his hands. On third-and-10, Lewis ran up the gut for a short gain.
Gostkowski came on for a 45-yard field goal, and he perfectly drilled it. So the Patriots have a lead. But their offense did not look good to open the game.
First quarter, 13:18, 0-0: The Broncos’ defense did just what it wanted on the opening drive. They stopped Dion Lewis on two straight runs before batting a pass at the line on third down, thus forcing a New England punt.
But Jordan Norwood muffed the punt, and Jonathan Jones was there to plop on the loose ball. Huge break for New England, who are in business at the Denver 31-yard line.
First quarter, 14:55, 0-0: Dion Lewis returned the opening kick out to the 24-yard line. We’re underway.
4:24 p.m.: The Patriots lost the coin toss, and the Broncos deferred, so the New England offense will start on offense.
3:08 p.m.: Rookie Cyrus Jones got a pretty long leash this season from Bill Belichick. But he may have used every last inch, as Jones finds himself inactive for this game in Denver.
Corberback Eric Rowe will return to game action this week. Here are both teams’ inactive lists:
Woodrow Hamilton, DL
Danny Amendola, WR
Cyrus Jones, CB
D.J. Foster, RB
LaAdrian Waddle, T
Michael Floyd, WR
Jordan Richards, S
Austin Davis, QB
Kalif raymond, WR
Lorenzo Doss, DB
Brandon Marshall, LB
Vontarius Dora, LB
Connor McGovern, OL
Ty Sambrailo, OL
2:25 p.m. ET: It’s a cold, cold day for football in the Mile High City, where the Denver Broncos will be playing their Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.
Yup — the defending Super Bowl champions are at just 8-5 on the year, on the fringe of the postseason picture, and they’re left to treat this Week 15 matchup as if it’s the Super Bowl.
“Denver isn’t winning the championship. Not this season,” Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla wrote. “It’s preposterous to think they can make it all the way back to Super Bowl LI in February and defend their NFL crown. So bring it, New England. The Broncos are ready to go down swinging. This is a broken and bleeding champ’s last hurrah.”
If the Broncos do indeed bring that type of a championship effort, then it ought to be a spectacle on the field this afternoon.
For the Patriots, the Super Bowl isn’t on the line — but the AFC East is. The Dolphins’ victory last night in New Jersey postponed the inevitability of the Patriots’ clinching of the division, and that’s something they can accomplish today.
As for the game, new wide receiver Michael Floyd is not expected to suit up for the Patriots, meaning they’ll once again be thin at the receiver position. That hurt them — at least temporarily — last week when Chris Hogan injured his finger on a play. With nobody on the sideline to replace him, the Patriots had to burn a first-half timeout. Now on the road in a raucous environment, those timeouts become a little bit more precious, so keep an eye on such things when the offense is on the field.
As for the rest of the action, check back with the live blog early and often, as we’ll have updates and analysis until a winner is decided.