Patriots Fall To Denver As Season Comes To An End
The New England Patriots season has officially ended, as the team fell to the Denver Broncos, 20-18, in the AFC Championship Game Sunday.
Here are some initial thoughts on the loss:
Season A Failure- The Patriots don't play to have a winning record on the year. They don't play to win the AFC East. They don't play just to make the playoffs or the AFC Title Game. They Play to win championships, plain and simple. Since they have no chance of that now, this season should be labelled a failure, in the big picture. Of course, they had a solid season and did some special things that in the near future can be lauded, but when it comes to the overall goal they failed. With all of the controversy swirling around, at the start of the year, with the Deflategate nonsense, this season was different. It was one in which the team had to band together to support their leader (Tom Brady) and one that saw them come out for blood from the get-go. They dealt with a rash of injuries (ones that would have destroyed other teams) and still put themselves in position to get to back to back Super Bowls. As a fan and a writer, who has followed this team closely through the controversy, it's tough to see the season end in this fashion.
O-Line Exposed- It's pretty simple really; the Patriots lost this game in the trenches. Their offensive line, which hadn't really been good all year and had largely been covered up by Brady's special ability to get rid of the ball so quickly, was disgustingly bad in this game. Right tackle Marcus Cannon legitimately looked as if he had never played football before, letting Denver linebacker Von Miller put together a career day that included 2.5 sacks, two tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, a pass deflection and an interception. While the deflection and pick came in pass coverage, pretty much the rest of Miller's tremendous statline can be directly linked to how badly Cannon played. Now, it's clear that Miller is one of the best pass rushers in the league and there's no denying the fact that he had the best game of anyone on the field today, but if Cannon could have at least put up a little bit of a fight things could have been a little bit different. The worst part about Cannon's poor play is that, while he was horrible all day long, he wasn't the only one. Left tackle Sebastian Vollmer spent most of his day turning around and watching Denver defensive end DeMarcus Ware make Brady's day a living hell from the other side of the line. Mix those two poor efforts in with a dumb Bryan Stork penalty in the first half and a poor job by guards Josh Kline and Shaq Mason and the whole unit was pitiful.
Taking A Beating- One final thought on the despicable play of the offensive line; they almost allowed Brady to get killed. All in all, Brady got hit a season-high 23 times, including four sacks. This game had all the makings of a New England playoff loss; Brady takes a beating and the offense never gets rolling.
Denver Woes Continue- This game further enforced the fact that the Patriots' top kryptonite is Denver. No, not the Broncos, but Denver, itself. It's astonishing, but the Patriots just do not play well in Denver. They fell apart in a game they had in hand in the mile-high city, during the regular season, and they got little production from their healthy and dominant offense in the biggest game of the year. It wasn't just this year that New England struggled on the road against the Broncos. This has been a regular problem for Brady and company since the beginning of his tenure.
It Was Still Right There- The absolute worst part of this loss is that for as bad as the New England offense was, the defense did such a good job, especially in the second half, that the Pats had multiple chances to tie or win it in the final minutes of the game. With the exception of a couple of breakdowns in coverage in the first half, that led to easy Denver scores, the New England defense stymied Peyton Manning and company. In the second half, they gave up just a field goal and gave the offense a lot of opportunities to make plays and bust the game open.
Missed PAT Is Dagger- Speaking of missed opportunities, the Patriots were failed by one of their most consistent and dominant players. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who had been a perfect 52 of 52 on PAT attempts during the regular season, made three of them last week and had recorded successful attempts in 523 consecutive tries, is ultimately going to be blamed for the loss by many for his inability to connect on an extra point attempt in the first quarter. The missed PAT forced the Pats to have to go for a 2-point conversion in the final seconds of regulation after Brady's miraculous connection with tight end Rob Gronkowski in the back of the end zone. If the All-Pro had made his first PAT and was able to connect on a second, the game could have potential gone into overtime and had a different more exciting ending for New England. Unfortunately for Gostkowski and the Pats, that's not how things worked out. While it is mind boggling that he missed the kick, he is far from the biggest issue in this game. You can look to the offensive line if you really want to blame someone.
One For The Thumb Must Wait- The "One of the Thumb" Super Bowl run to get Brady a shot for his record setting fifth championship ring is now on hold until next year. The good new for Pats fans is that Brady looked so great all year long, despite off the field distractions and a wealth of injuries for most of the year. He and the guys will be back next year looking for his thumb ring.