Even after losing to the Patriots in Week 15 by the score of 41-23, the Broncos remain in first place in the AFC West with two weeks remaining. Unlike the three other teams in the division — all of which are mathematically alive in the race for the playoffs — Denver is the only one that controls its own destiny. Win out, with a road game at Buffalo before the home finale vs. Kansas City, and the Broncos will be playoff-bound for the first time since 2005.
However, in order to do that, the Broncos must play better than they did on Sunday against New England. After scoring 16 points in the game's first 17 minutes, the Broncos were held scoreless for the following 34 minutes of game time. In that span, the Patriots scored 27 points and took complete control of the contest. Tom Brady threw for 320 yards and two TDs, showing the Denver faithful what an accomplished pocket passer looks like.
The PFW Spin
Despite what the scoreboard read at Sports Authority Field on Sunday evening, the Patriots are not 18 points better than the Broncos. They might be superior in many areas of the game — especially at quarterback — but the Patriots did not dominate Denver the way the final score indicates.
In fact, the Broncos were competitive early on in the game. Tim Tebow led the offense on a nine-play, 80-yard drive that was capped off by a nine-yard touchdown by Tebow himself, then followed it up with four-play, 82-yard drive that was concluded with a 32-yard Lance Ball touchdown run. Two drives, two touchdowns, 13 points. On defense, the Broncos did a solid job of limiting Brady's two favorite targets, WR Wes Welker and TE Rob Gronkowski, holding them to a combined eight receptions for the entire game.
But it was the mistakes the Broncos made that cost them the game and inflated the Patriots' margin of victory. A pair of fumbles — one by Ball, the other by Tebow — put a sudden end to the momentum the Broncos' offense had early in the game; Brady took full advantage, cashing in those miscues for 10 points. Then, after the Denver defense forced a punt to seemingly end the second quarter, Quan Cosby muffed the return. Dane Fletcher of the Patriots recovered, allowing Stephen Gostkowski to kick a chip-shot field goal to end the half. Up 13-7 after one quarter, the Broncos were down 27-16 after two.
The game's final 30 minutes were more of the same. Though Denver didn't cough up the ball to end any of their five second-half drives, mistakes were a recurring theme throughout for the Broncos. Ill-timed penalties, off-target throws and defensive mishaps were just some of the ways the team continued to trip over their own feet. Part of it was because of the way the Patriots were playing, but much of it was just the Broncos having a rough afternoon.
Thankfully for John Fox and his club, neither the Bills or Chiefs will pose the same type of threat the Patriots did. The Broncos are not the type of team that will play a perfect 60 minutes — anybody who saw them during their six-game winning streak knows that. Denver's formula for success is limiting mistakes early and pulling out games at the end. Against New England, that didn't come close to happening. To clinch a playoff berth, the Broncos must return to their style of play, which means holding on to the ball and being mistake-free when it matters most.
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