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Monday, November 25, 2013

Patriots Set a Franchise Record by Rallying from 24-0 Deficit, Beat Broncos 34-31 in OT

Sunday night's game at Gillette Stadium between the Patriots and Broncos defied explanation. Denver (9-2 overall, 3-2 away) stormed out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and led 24-0 at halftime. New England (8-3 overall, 6-0 home) began by fumbling time after time before playing like a whole different team in the second half. Stephen Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal in overtime was the game-winner as the Pats beat the Broncos 34-31, a victory that will live forever in team lore since it set a record for the largest comeback in franchise history.

Tom Brady (34 of 50, 344 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) improved to 10-4 in his career vs. Peyton Manning (19 of 36 for 150 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT). It was a throwback to the championship days of the last decade for the Patriots as Brady performed so well in frigid conditions while Peyton wilted in the spotlight. We can only hope that same thing happens in the postseason since these two teams looked destined to meet again come January.

New England's gameplan on defense was obviously to let Knowshon Moreno (career-high 37 carries, 224 yards, 1 TD) run it all the time and contain Denver's lethal passing game. In that sense, mission accomplished. Rookie Logan Ryan even had an interception of Manning.

Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount fumbled on consecutive drives in the first half to they were benched for the rest of the game. Shane Vereen (60 yards receiving, 31 yards rushing) is making a case to start although you have to worry about his injury history. It makes you wonder if Ridley will ever get over this terrible affliction? Wes Welker's (4 catches, 31 yards) return to Foxboro was mostly forgettable save for the fact that the game was basically decided by his mistake. Fielding a punt in OT, he didn't yell at teammate Tony Carter enough so the ball bounced off him and was recovered by Nate Ebner at the Broncos 13. Game over.

After being a non-factor for weeks, Von Miller (8 tackles, 6 solos, 2 sacks, 3 QB hits) is definitely back on his proper "training regimen" (cough, cough). He returned Ridley's fumble 60 yards for a score then forced a Brady fumble that Denver turned into a 2-yard TD run by Moreno. Matt Prater added a 27-yard field goal and Jacob Tamme caught a 10-yard TD in the second quarter for a truly stunning 24-0 Broncos advantage.

With so much hype around Welker and Danny Amendola (3 catches, 17 yards), wouldn't you know the best slot receiver in the game turned out to be Julian Edelman (9 catches, 110 yards; 3 punt returns, 39 yards). He got the rally started with a pretty 5-yard TD catch. Brandon Bolden cut it to 24-14 with a 1-yard TD run. That was set up by Montee Ball's fumble, caused by Dane Fletcher and recovered by Brandon Spikes.

As usual, nobody on the Broncos could contain Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 90 yards) who caught a 6-yard TD with 19 seconds left in the third quarter. The Pats ended up with 31 unanswered points as the injuries piled up for the Broncos secondary. Edelman put New England ahead 28-24 with a 14-yard catch and run then Gostkowski hit a 31-yard field goal.

The only time Peyton ever looked comfortable was on Denver's final drive of regulation when they tied it on a beautiful 11-yard catch by Demaryius Thomas. Denver lost the coin toss in overtime but the always clever Bill Belichick chose to take the 20+ mph wind, trusting his defense not to allow a TD on the Broncos' first drive (thus ending it).

As of right now, there isn't another team over .500 remaining on New England's schedule. To use Dan Shaughnessy's favorite phrase, it's one tomato can after another. This means that the Patriots will win the AFC East for the millionth time in a row (duh), get the No. 2 seed and go from there. Truthfully, in the AFC who do you fear besides the Broncos? I say nobody. Tonight's incredible win, especially the way it played out should go a long way for this team (and hopefully have the opposite effect on Denver).

Next Sunday (1, CBS), New England visits Houston (2-9, 3rd in AFC South) who have lost their last seven games in a row including 13-6 today at Reliant Stadium vs. similarly hapless Jacksonville.

UPDATE 11/26: The Patriots made a bunch of minor roster moves today. They signed tight end D.J. Williams and released defensive tackle Marcus Forston. Defensive tackle A.J. Francis was claimed by the Dolphins from New England's practice squad. Finally, the Pats waived cornerback Justin Green but he has practice squad eligibility so he should be back there and they tried out former offensive lineman Nick McDonald. Got that all?

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