With Von Miller and company looming on the defensive side of the ball, it didn't take a football savant to understand that the Patriots would need to alter their offensive approach for another trip to Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels accomplished that by committing to the run (Dion Lewis’ 95 rushing yards was a career-hight) and maintaining short pickups via the arm of Tom Brady. The longest pickup of the game for either team, in fact, was a 34-yard pass from Brady to Marcellus Bennett with 10:56 remaining in the fourth quarter. Denver came into the game allowing 127.2 yards per game on the ground, only 29th-best in the NFL. The Patriots figured to exploit that weakness with Lewis and LeGarrette Blount running the ball, but the question lingered whether McDaniels would stick to the run if the game plan ran into any trouble. At the end of the day, the Patriots ran the ball 29 times while Brady threw it 31 more. It’s that kind of balance, not to mention the talented personnel to pull it off, that led to New England’s first win in Denver in exactly five years.
The slot solution
Patriots wide receiver Juan Edelman wasn't on hand the last time New England played in Denver, last season’s AFC Championship in January. Injured for that game, Edelman was a pivotal factor for Brady in the sequel — six receptions for 75 yards — and was a prime example why it can be argued that he’s a more important player on the Patriots’ offense that the missing Rob Gronkowski. Now, granted, Gronkowski is the hammer, perhaps one of the most dynamic weapons that the franchise has ever possessed on that side of the ball. But Edelman’s loss was truly felt during last January’s loss at Denver. His consistent presence and ability to find himself open for Brady is a comfortable security blanket for New England. He represents a methodical approach the Patriots need to employ against a defense like Denver’s, the best in the NFL. Without Edelman — or injured Danny Amendola for that matter — the Patriots wouldn't have escaped with the game plan they had in tow this time around. With Gronkowski and without Edelman, the end result would have been a lot different.
Give the defense its due
Yeah, yeah, Trevor Siemian and the Broncos’ offense aren’t exactly going to keep the scoreboard operators on their toes for the bulk of any game, but the Patriots’ defense deserves heaps of praise following its second-straight strong outing of the month. Two turnovers helped lead to 10 of the Patriots’ 16 points, including their only touchdown as a result of Logan Ryan’s first-half interception. Defensive end Tre Flowers came up with two sacks of Siemian, while Devin McCourty put an exclamation point on the defensive effort with a walloping hit on Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas during a late Denver drive in the fourth quarter, jarring the ball loose and essentially sealing the win for the Patriots. The hope always lingered this fall that the Patriots’ defense would mature at some point, even with the absences of Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones. That has seemingly been fulfilled. The Patriots have officially clinched the AFC East — again — and a first-round bye. Next step, home-field advantage is on their minds with a Christmas Eve tilt against the New York Jets coming up.