- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Picked-up pieces from second quarter review of the Patriots' 34-31 overtime win over the Broncos:
1. When looking back on punt returner Julian Edelman's fumble (13:00 remaining), the Patriots were extremely fortunate to recover it as rookie defensive end Michael Buchanan had a combination of luck to be in the right spot and also good awareness. Buchanan was the only Patriot in the area with a realistic chance to recover it, while four Broncos dove in his direction. Buchanan hasn't played on defense in three of the past four games -- veteran Andre Carter has taken over his nickel rushing role -- and this was an example of him finding another way to contribute.
2. Running back Shane Vereen obviously makes a big difference to the offense, as he's the team's best pass-receiving running back. Watching him run routes is almost like watching a receiver at times, yet one area where Vereen is still knocking off some rust is in deep throws down the left sideline. For the second straight game, Tom Brady lofted up a nice pass to him that would have been a tough-but-makeable catch and Vereen couldn't come up with it (11:19 remaining). As NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth said, Vereen might be restricted by wearing a soft cast on his previously injured wrist.
3. One of the Patriots' more disappointing plays of the game was their fourth-and-5 attempt from the Denver 30-yard line with 10:42 left in the quarter. They went with an empty set with three receivers, tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Shane Vereen, and the Broncos countered with a four-man rush and man coverage. Everyone seemed well covered on the right side of the field, where Brady's first read (receiver Danny Amendola) was well covered over the middle at the sticks. Amendola adjusted his route to the outside, but at that point the timing of the play was compromised and Amendola would have been short of the first down if there was a completion because he took his route slightly back up field. At that point, the Broncos were in control of the game, and that play in which they won the one-on-one battles was reflective of that.
4. On the play in which Peyton Manning was penalized for intentional grounding (9:03 remaining), it was another strong effort by defensive end Chandler Jones to disengage from left tackle Chris Clark, combined with strong coverage. Yes, that was rookie cornerback Justin Green -- promoted from the practice squad on Saturday -- with a competitive one-on-one matchup against Demaryius Thomas. All of Green's eight snaps in the game came on that drive and the biggest compliment we can give him is that he was hardly noticed.
5. On the third-and-20 screen that went for 31 yards, the Patriots only rushed four. The Broncos countered with four vertical routes that drew secondary defenders down the field, and the timing and execution was well done. Still, linebacker Dont'a Hightower could have made a more competitive effort to slow down running back Montee Ball. It also looked like the Patriots' defensive linemen, who have generally shown good awareness on screen passes to this point of the season, got caught being a bit overaggressive.
6. Hightower's final play of the night was Jacob Tamme's 10-yard touchdown reception with 6:14 remaining. Our sense was that Hightower was dealing with something that knocked him out of the game, as he just didn't look right.
7. The status of veteran defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga is something we'll be watching for as he played just 14 snaps in the game, and none coming after 8:10 mark of the second quarter. His final two plays were the third-and-20 screen and then a 9-yard run in which he was easily single blocked by center Manny Ramirez, lost his balance, and then was finished off by right guard Zane Beadles. Hard to tell if it was ineffectiveness or injury that led to his night ending at that point; we'd guess the latter.
8. On cornerback Alfonzo Dennard's final play of the night, with 6:18 remaining, there was no direct contact. He had been covering receiver Eric Decker, locking him up with a solid jam, and then peeled off to help safety Duron Harmon on the side of the end zone. As Dennard raced back, and attempted to leap over a diving Harmon as the pass sailed out of bounds incomplete, he appeared to injure something either on his landing on prior.
9. With Leon Washington having been released on Saturday, add running back Shane Vereen to the possibilities to fill the role of kickoff returner. While Devin McCourty handled the majority of those duties on Sunday night, Vereen was back for one second-quarter kickoff (touchback), which was something we had missed live.
10. One of our pals had asked before the game when the last time the Patriots were an underdog at home. NBC play-by-play man Al Michaels provided the answer during the broadcast – Week 9 of 2005 against Indianapolis.
11. The Patriots caught a break when Broncos defensive lineman Sylvester Williams was called for unnecessary roughness, and not center Ryan Wendell, with 5:35 left. Wendell, from our view, was much more of the offender on the play. The Patriots couldn't convert, however, as the next play was another Von Miller sack as he beat left tackle Nate Solder on a similar move as he did in the first quarter.
12. Rookie cornerback Logan Ryan more than held his own in the matchup against veteran receiver Eric Decker. That's a promising sign for the third-round pick from Rutgers.