Picked-up pieces from the second half of the New England Patriots' 26-16 loss to the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game:
1. The Patriots' offensive line once again had no answer for Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. The fifth-year pro from Temple continued to dominate center Ryan Wendell, delivering a solid initial strike and plowing him back into running back Stevan Ridley, who was stopped for a loss of 1 yard by Knighton himself on second-and-2 (3:20 remaining in 3rd). That was a big play that contributed to the Patriots' 13-play drive stalling, with Knighton knocking left guard Logan Mankins' hands away on fourth-and-2 and bursting through to sack Tom Brady to turn the ball over on downs.
2. No surprise that on the Patriots' failed two-point conversion rush late in the fourth quarter, it was Knighton in the middle of the pile to chip in with stopping running back Shane Vereen. Knighton held his ground against right guard Dan Connolly, shed, and combined with Shaun Phillips (coming off the edge) to make the stop.
3. On third-and-3 from the 8-yard line, with the Broncos driving for a score in the third quarter, the Patriots substituted run-stuffing defensive tackle Sealver Siliga and inserted nickel rusher Andre Carter into the game. Based on the result of the play, a 5-yard Montee Ball run up the middle, it leads to a natural second-guess. Not that Siliga would have ensured a better result, but when the Patriots went to their lighter d-line, Peyton Manning consistently checked to a run with success. That was part of the chess match that Manning is so adept at playing.
4. The Patriots mostly rushed the standard four throughout the game, while sprinkling in a few three-man rushes and a few five-man pressures. When they did bring five, there was a good example of how Peyton Manning is so quick to diagnose and deliver to effectively negate the blitz -- 14:08 remaining in third quarter, 18-yard completion to Eric Decker. On the play, cornerback Kyle Arrington blitzed off the left slot and does a nice job to slip past running back Knowshon Moreno, but just can't get there quick enough to cause the desired disruption.
5. Tight end Jacob Tamme's 23-yard catch and run on the Broncos' final drive came against six-man pressure. Manning just gets it out so quick. He was in command throughout.
6. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower was a contender for an “up” based on his performance, perhaps over Chandler Jones, and we'd point to his solid work diagnosing and sniffing out a shovel pass to tight end Julius Thomas (1-yard, 12:50 remaining in 4th) as one example of his solid play. He was particularly strong at the line of scrimmage in this game, although the 28-yard run by Moreno in the second quarter was one play he'd probably like to have back.
7. Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins also held his own, although one play he'd like to have back was a 37-yard catch by tight end Julius Thomas up the left sideline in the fourth quarter. Great throw by Manning, but also a case where it looked like Collins' technique at the line of scrimmage put him at an initial disadvantage, with Thomas getting a clean release against a lazy jam and early separation to the outside.
9. It seemed like Patriots coach Bill Belichick took a little extra time with Broncos coach John Fox than he normally does with the postgame handshake. That was a nice moment.