AFC East: 2014 Championship Game NWE-DEN

DENVER -- Gathering together some leftover notes from Sunday's AFC Championship Game:

Third-down struggles: The New England Patriots struggled to defend the Denver Broncos on third down, allowing them to convert on seven of 13 tries. "You can't win when you can't get off the field," defensive end Rob Ninkovich said of the woes. "Again, it was just basic fundamental football. You've got to get off the field and they do a good job of keeping the sticks moving with various formations and patterns they run with good receivers and a good tight end."

Pass rush bagel: Another area the Patriots struggled in was generating pressure on Peyton Manning. They didn't register a single sack of Manning and pressured him just three times in 43 dropbacks (according to ESPN Stats & Information), giving him far too much time to settle into his throws. Finding another pass-rusher could be a top offseason priority.

Long drives for Denver: The Broncos were able to sustain long drives on Sunday, as their two touchdown drives accounted for 173 yards on 14:09 of game time and 28 plays. Those kind of sustained drives can leave a defense deflated, particularly in the thin air of Denver.

The day after: The Patriots traveled home Sunday night, with the team wrapping up the season on Monday. Coach Bill Belichick will conduct a news conference at 9 a.m. ET, with players addressing the media from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Allen toughs it out, performs well: Credit punter Ryan Allen for a strong day, as he bounced back from an injury last Saturday night to punt three times, all landing inside the 20-yard line. He averaged 49 yards per punt and did not allow a single punt return.

Edelman logs big day: While some of his production came late in the game, wide receiver Julian Edelman capped an incredible season with a 10-catch, 89-yard effort and another score. He was a standout on offense all year long.

Blount, Pats run game goes nowhere

January, 19, 2014
Jan 19
7:55
PM ET
DENVER -- Employing a game-plan offense, the New England Patriots’ strategy each week revolves around identifying an opposing team’s weaknesses and aiming to exploit them.

[+] EnlargeStevan Ridley
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Stevan Ridley (5 carries, 17 yards) and the Patriots' run game was held in check by the Broncos.
On paper, the Denver Broncos’ defensive weakness was their secondary. Throwing the football seemed like a natural avenue for the Patriots to take on Sunday.

But with the sensational success of the running game of late -- catalyzed by between-the-tackles rushing by LeGarrette Blount -- sticking with the ground-and-pound approach seemed plausible too.

On Sunday, throwing the ball just wasn’t enough, and the ground game was unable to penetrate what has proven to be a stingy Denver run defense down the stretch.

“They were good against the run, good against the pass,” guard Logan Mankins said after the game. “They just took advantage of our offense today.”

Over the past three games entering Sunday, the Patriots had averaged 34.3 carries for 200.3 yards between the tackles, with Blount playing a leading role and scoring eight times during that stretch.

The production from the running game shriveled on Sunday, as Blount had four rushes for 6 yards between the tackles, a far cry from his 18.3 rushes for 130 yards on average over the past three games.

As a team, the Patriots weren’t much better, finishing with 64 yards on 16 carries for the day.

It was just one area of struggle on a day that the Patriots didn’t have the horses to keep up with the Broncos.
DENVER -- After 15 minutes of play, the New England Patriots trail the Denver Broncos 3-0 in the AFC Championship Game. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the first quarter.

1. Pats' O starts slow. The Patriots' offense needed just one play to find the end zone last Saturday, but the start wasn't quite the same today, as the offense went three and out on its first drive and punted on each of the first two drives. Some notable personnel factors: Aaron Dobson is playing some in two-receiver sets, LeGarrette Blount once again is handling lead back duties and both Matthew Slater and Austin Collie have been targeted on third-down plays.

2. Perfect conditions. The weather is idyllic in Denver today, with a temperature of 61 degrees at kickoff. There's hardly a cloud in the sky, and there's minimal wind. A strong glare has made things difficult on returners fielding punts deep.

3. Broncos open the scoring. The Broncos got on the board first with a field goal late in the first quarter. The drive was helped by a long completion from Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas on a third and 10 play. The Patriots were able to hold the Broncos from the 10-yard line, however, forcing the field goal from Matt Prater.

4. Patriots' offense driving. The Patriots' offense generated a little bit of buzz at the end of the quarter, crossing into Denver territory. The second quarter will open with the Patriots facing a fourth down from Denver's 39.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were flagged for penalties during the first quarter: tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (offensive pass interference).

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AFC EAST SCOREBOARD

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