This week’s article is brought you by Nanook of the North, Yukon Cornelius, and Frosty the Snowman.
I swear I thought I heard this during one of Peyton Manning‘s audibles: “OMAHA…OMAHA…HOLY COW, IT’S FREAKIN COLD OUT HERE…HURRY HURRY!!!”
So Manning and the Denver Broncos may have survived the arctic conditions in Foxboro, MA. Unfortunately they could not survive the second half offensive onslaught of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The Broncos blew a 24-0 halftime lead and lost to New England 34-31 in overtime. This was the classic tale of two halves. So who were the good Broncos, who were the bad Broncos, and which one never defrosted on Sunday night.
The Good: Knowshon Moreno had the best game of his professional career. Moreno toted the rock 37 times for 224 yards and one TD. That is 6.05 yards per carry with a long of 18 yards. Those are some numbers that are indicative of how hard and effective he ran all night. Coupled with the fumbling woes of Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, the rushing duties are Moreno’s to have and to (hopefully) hold.
Former Broncos’ head coach, Josh McDaniels must have had a bit of a smirk on his face watching Moreno torch his current team for 107 of his game total of 224 yards in the first half. That was the first 100+ yard half for the Broncos since Selvin Young‘s (remember him?) 143 first half yards vs the Chiefs in 2007. McDaniels drafted Moreno with his first pick as Denver’s head guy in charge (12th overall) in the 2009 draft. Until the second half of the 2012 season, Moreno had been labeled as a bust. However, he is a bust no more as he has become, arguably the second most important player (Manning) on the Broncos offense.
Even though the Broncos seem to be ignoring my weekly rants about protecting the ball and winning the turnover battle, the defense did force three fumbles on the Patriots first three possessions. Wesley Woodyard forced the first fumble when he laid a shot Stevan Ridley, jarring the ball loose. It was subsequently picked up by Broncos linebacker, Von Miller who returned it 60 yards for the touchdown. Miller also got into the act on the second fumble as he came off the edge and blind-sided Brady. That fumble was picked up by Terrance Knighton who rumbled, stumbled, and bumbled 13 yards to give Denver a first and goal at the New England 10. That was capped off by the Moreno TD from two yards out. The third fumble occured when running back, LaGarrett Blount took the handoff from Brady off left tackle for 9 yards, then was plastered by Duke Ihenacho. Once again the ball was put on the ground and this time it was recovered by Danny Thevathan. The Broncos parlayed that turnover into a 27 yard Matt Prater field goal. So if you’re counting, put away those fingers and toes, that is a 17-0 Broncos lead 12 minutes into the game. In fact, early in the second quarter, Trevathan forced yet aother fumble on punt coverage which was recovered by the Patriots. On the night, Denver’s defense forced 4 New England turnonvers. They also made the pocket a very uncomfortable place for Brady to be during the first half; sacking him 3 times. Miller corralled him twice and Kevin Vickerson got to him once. If there was one really encouraging aspect of last night’s heartbreak, it was that Von Miller seems to be rounding into midseason form…and not a minute too soon.
The Bad: Well it is the same as “The Good”, only different. This time, it was the Broncos turn to recognize this as the season of giving. Trindon Holliday fumbled again. With five seconds left in the first half, Holliday muffed a punt that he should have avoided. The strong winds may have made it tough sledding. However, it appeared that he was looking to field it and make a big play. The Pats didn’t score, but in a diving attempt to pick off Brady’s ‘Hail Mary” on the last play of the half, the Broncos best cover corner, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie injured his shoulder. He did not return in the second half.
After an opening second half scoring drive by the Patriots that saw them cut through the Broncos defense like a hot knife through butter (assuming that butter had been sitting on the Broncos sideline Sunday night), the Broncos started their first drive on its own 15 yard line. They started to methodically move the ball, running right at New England and regaining momentum. Then Montee Ball fumbled after receiving a screen pass from Manning. That fumble was turned into another 7 points and with 5:40 left in the 3rd quarter, the Patriots cut the Broncos lead to 10 at 24-14. Ball went to the doghouse and the next man up was C.J. Anderson.
Even PFM showed his human side. On 3rd-and-5 late in the third quarter, again moving the ball effectively, Manning rolled left to avoid the pass rush and put the ball on the ground. Fortunately he recovered his own fumble but Denver was forced to punt. Then he threw the ball into that strong wind and it fluttered into the hands of Patriots safety, Logan Ryan. That turnover resulted in a 3-play, 30 yard Julian Edleman touchdown. Denver’s lead was cut to 24-21 at that point.
Stupid penalties, again hurt the Broncos. First off, there was a face-masking penalty by Chris Harris late in the first quarter which turned a 3rd and 11 to 1st and 10. Sylvester Williams got flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty late in the first half when Denver’s defense was about to force New England off the field. One could claim, “no harm, no foul” as that penalty was responded to by one of Von Miller’s two sacks. Then the Broncos defense stiffened and forced a Patriots punt. A hands to the face penalty committed by Kayvon Webster on 1st and 19 from the Denver 32 yard line gave the Pats a first down and ten from the 27. That led to a Stephen Gostkowski 31 yard field goal and a 31-24 New England lead.
Denver pass catchers also dropped way too many passes. I could list all who dropped at least one, but nobody was immune from the “dropsies”. Accomplishing anything, except frost-bite, is hard enough in frigid temperatures. However we know that there is a stigma attached to Peyton Manning and playing in the cold. The receiving corps did nothing to help shed that reputation. Don’t get me wrong, PFM deserves as much blame for the loss as anybody. However all it takes is one or two of those dropped passes to be caught, and we know what kind of a rhythm that can result in with this offense.
I have been saying it all season long, eventually the Broncos will play a team good enough to make them pay the price for these kinds of mistakes. Now if I can only parlay that clairvoyance into coming up with those six magic numbers…
The Frigid: Man, it was wicked cold in Foxboro! (HOW COLD WAS IT?) It was so wicked cold that it was more enticing to stay in and watch “Southies Rules” than it would have been to be at the game. Well actually, I think I’d rather sit in the stands and freeze while being pelted with snowballs, but that’s a different article for a different time. In all seriousness, we watched the two greatest quarterbacks of their generation – and maybe of all time – play dump and chase (hockey reference) and look nothing like what we’ve been used to over the past decade and a half. Manning’s 1st half line: 8/14, 61 yards 1 TD. Brady’s 1st half line: 10/17, 81 yards. Brady got untracked and had a great game. He finished 34 for 50, 344 yards and 3 TDs. As for Peyton, while he was light years away from his normal production, he did put together a Manning-like drive at the end of regulation to force overtime. The Broncos needed one more of those though.
The stone cold truth is, IF the Broncos make it to the METowlands on February 2nd, they are going to have to figure out a way to overcome this negative frigid weather psyche…especially Peyton Manning.
The Broncos did not come out of the game unscathed as it relates to injury. Moreno was in a walking boot today due to a bruised ankle. DRC suffered that shoulder injury at the end of the first half which kept him out for the remainder of the game. I am not sure if the cold weather had anything to do with these injuries, but just hitting the turf in that weather looked really painful. According to interim head coach/defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, both are listed as day-to-day but are expected to no only practice during the week, but should be a go for Sunday at Arrowhead. Del Rio indicated that we should see Julius Thomas and Champ Bailey back on the field Sunday as well.
Next Up: Familiarity will most certainly breed contempt as the Broncos travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Kansas City Chiefs for the second time in three weeks. As if the familiarity factor wasn’t enough to stoke the fire this Sunday, the winner of this rematch will be in the driver’s seat in the AFC West. Both teams head into next week at 9-2. Having beaten the Chiefs in week 11, a second victory against its division rival would effectively give the orange and blue a two game lead (if you consider that the Chiefs would lose the head-to-head tie-breaker). If KC wins, they will have a one game lead and control their own destiny. This game was moved from an 11:00 AM Elway Standard Time kickoff to 2:25 PM, also Elway Standard Time. I am going out on a limb and say that CBS’ A-Team of Jim Nance and Phil Simms will have the call.
I wish everybody a safe, healthy, and Happy Thanksgiving! Treat each other well and enjoy the football.