Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots
November, 25, 2013
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Some thoughts on the New England Patriots' 34-31 overtime victory over the Denver Broncos:
What it means: What a game. The Patriots played a pathetic first half and then turned in a stellar second half to roar back from a 24-0 deficit and win in overtime, when Bill Belichick's decision to take the wind had the potential to blow up with "fourth-and-2" type intensity. Belichick always preaches the importance of playing 60 minutes. On this night, about 43 minutes got the job done in what marks the biggest deficit Brady has overcome. A special-teams play was the difference -- the Broncos' Tony Carter touched a punt, which the Patriots recovered to set up the game-winning, 31-yard field goal. The Patriots improve to 8-3, while the Broncos fall to 9-2 in a game that could later have an impact on the race for a top playoff seed.
Brady does it again: In the 14th installment of the Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning rivalry, Brady played the more consistent game. Manning showed he was up to the task by leading a game-tying touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Brady is now 10-4 in his career in games against Manning-led teams. Two great competitors doing their thing.
Stock watch: Running backs Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount both lost fumbles in the first quarter and didn't play again, as their miscues put the Patriots in an early hole. Ball security has been an issue for both players, and their roles going forward could be affected.
Defense does its part: While the Broncos ran the ball more than many anticipated -- and had impressive results -- the Patriots defense held its ground enough against the NFL's highest-scoring team. A forced fumble by linebacker Dane Fletcher in the third quarter, recovered by linebacker Brandon Spikes, contributed to the big momentum swing.
Edelman with the Welker-type effort: Julian Edelman, the receiver once viewed as the replacement for Wes Welker but was then trumped by Danny Amendola, turned in a Welker-type performance. Edelman was sensational in two roles -- receiver and punt returner -- providing a big spark on a night when Welker's return was a big storyline. If there was one downer, it was the missed connection in the end zone that could have given the Patriots a 10-point lead (they instead settled for a field goal) in the fourth quarter.
Welker's return not a big factor: The Patriots played highlights of Welker before the game, and the Kraft family had a thank-you message for him on the scoreboard after the highlights played. The fans cheered. Welker and Belichick shared an embrace after the game. But overall, Welker's return wasn't a huge factor in the game.
Injuries to monitor: Third-year right tackle Marcus Cannon, who has been elevated to the top unit after starter Sebastian Vollmer sustained a season-ending leg injury Oct. 27, left the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. No announcement was made during the game, but Blount might have sustained a concussion on the hit on which he fumbled. Starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard left the game in the second quarter and did not return. He entered the day questionable with a knee injury Receiver Aaron Dobson didn't play on the final five drives, but it was unclear if that was injury-related. Veteran defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga didnt play in the second half, although it was unclear if that was because of injury.
What's next: The Patriots visit the Houston Texans on Sunday, Dec. 1. (1 p.m. ET).