By Gregory Hunt
The 2013 New England Patriots season came to an end Sunday afternoon, thanks to a 26-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos advance to Super Bowl XLVIII, where they will meet the Seattle Seahawks Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Offense Grade: C-
All season long, the Patriots have struggled to maintain a consistent offensive attack. They persevered well enough to earn a 12-4 regular season record and a divisional playoff victory, even upsetting these same Denver Broncos along the way, but their lack of offensive playmaking ability finally caught up with them.
After rushing for 166 yards last week against the Indianapolis Colts, running back LeGarrette Blount ran for only six yards on five carries. As a team, New England ran for only 64 yards, and quarterback Tom Brady scored the team’s only rushing touchdown (a rare event). New England ran the ball merely 16 times after running it 46 times against the Colts, but given that the Denver defense is particularly strong against the run, this number is not too surprising. New England gained a respectable 4.0 yards per rush, but because Denver dominated the time of possession (35:44 to 24:16), New England literally did not have time to run the ball more often. New England ran 15 fewer plays than Denver.
Statistically, Tom Brady didn’t have a bad game, completing 24 of 38 passes for 277 yards and one touchdown, but at times he didn’t look particularly sharp. In the first quarter, he overthrew a deep pass to a wide-open Julian Edelman, negating a beautiful play-action fake. In the second quarter, he overthrew on-again, off-again receiver Austin Collie on a sideline route. Brady’s biggest play was a 27-yard completion to rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson, but he caught only one other pass the entire game. Edelman caught 10 passes, twice as many as any other Patriots receiver, but no one was able to break any game-changing big plays.
Defense Grade: C-
Coming into this game, a goal for the Patriots defense was to hold the explosive Denver offense to fewer than 30 points. This goal was accomplished, but New England gave up 507 yards of offense along the way. Full credit must be given to the Broncos, however. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning was incredibly efficient, completing 74.4 percent of his passes. He never tried to do too much with the ball, always taking whatever the New England defense was giving him. Manning threw the ball 43 times but New England failed to make a single sack.
The killer drive of the game came in the second quarter, when New England gave up a 15-play, 93-yard touchdown drive that took 7:01 off the clock. The Patriots gave up four third-down conversions on that drive, and they also lost Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib to an injury on a collision with former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker. That touchdown gave Denver a 10-0 lead, which didn’t seem insurmountable at the time, but it set the tone for the rest of the game. In the third quarter, New England gave up a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that took 7:08 off the clock. That made the score 20-3, essentially putting the game out of reach.
New England failed to force any turnovers. In fact, neither team threw an interception or was credited with a fumble.
Special Teams Grade: B+
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen were both solid. Gostkowski kicked a 47-yard field goal for New England’s only points of the first half. His four kickoffs included a pooch kick and an onside kick during New England’s late comeback attempt, but his other two kicks traveled through the back of the end zone. Ryan averaged 49.0 yards per kick on three punts, all of which were downed inside the 20-yard line. Denver had no punt returns, and its only kick return went for four yards. Conversely, New England had no punt returns or kick returns at all.
Coaching Grade: D
While the coin flip was out of the control of the New England coaches, kudos must be given to the Denver coaches for electing to kick off after winning the flip. Given the explosiveness of Denver’s offense, it would have been tempting to take the ball first, but by putting the New England offense on the field instead, it gave the Denver crowd a chance to raise its voices right away. It also provided the Broncos with an opportunity to get back-to-back scores on either side of halftime, which it did by getting a late field goal in the first half and a touchdown on its first possession of the second half.
Two calls in the second half by the Patriots coaching staff seemed especially questionable. In the third quarter on a fourth-and-three from the Denver 29-yard line, New England elected to have Brady pass out of the shotgun even though running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen had been rushing the ball very well on that drive. The result was a sack.
Then after a New England touchdown made the score 23-10 with 9:26 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Patriots elected to pooch kick, potentially giving Denver good field position when New England was desperate for a defensive stop. Luckily for New England, the return came back to only the Denver 25-yard line.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on Examiner.com.