Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

January, 19, 2014
Jan 19
4:28
PM ET
DENVER -- Sharing halftime thoughts at the AFC Championship Game from a New England Patriots perspective (Patriots trail, 13-3):

Tough calls go against Patriots, but still plays need to be made: Should Broncos receiver Wes Welker been penalized on the play Aqib Talib was injured? Should offensive pass interference been called on the play Logan Ryan was flagged for defensive holding? Fair questions to ask and the missed penalty call on Welker was most egregious from this viewpoint. At the same time, those calls can go either way over the course of a game, and there were other plays to be made on the Broncos’ impressive long second-quarter scoring drive. Can’t pin that all on the officials.

Broncos’ run defense answering the challenge: The Patriots have been one of the NFL’s hottest running teams, but the Broncos have shut them down and are controlling the line of scrimmage in the run game. With the Broncos’ offense arguably the most lethal unit in the NFL, it puts pressure on the Patriots’ offense in terms of sticking with the run. Not the way many thought this first half would go. Not a great spot for the Patriots through 30 minutes.

Brady's deep ball hurting the Patriots: Two deep balls from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady -- one to Julian Edelman in the first quarter, one to Austin Collie in the second quarter -- were overthrown. Those are missed opportunities that have hurt.

Time to get creative in the passing game?: The Patriots obviously need to find something that works for them consistently on offense, and with the running game not producing the desired results, coordinator Josh McDaniels might have to get creative in the passing game. Maybe getting the running backs involved more in the passing game, with Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden, is something to consider.

Red zone defense at 50 percent: The feeling entering the game was that the Patriots defense had to be 50 percent or better against the Broncos in the red zone for the best chance to win. They are 1 of 2 to this point. The Broncos finished the regular season No. 1 in the NFL in red zone offense, with 51 touchdowns in 67 trips. That has kept the score close, but the Patriots are also close to being put on the ropes here.

Late lapse on defense gives back points: Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard looked like he struggled on the Broncos’ final drive of the second quarter and Denver had a couple of long gainers after Andre Carter drew a holding penalty to set up a second-and-20 situation deep in Broncos territory. That was a situation where the Patriots were in a desired spot but couldn’t close the deal, ultimately giving back the three points they had just scored.

Broncos get ball to open half: After winning the opening toss and deferring, the Broncos get the ball to open the second half. The Broncos controlled the first half, and are in the ideal position, but the Patriots are still in striking distance.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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