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Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Most Cut and Dry Patriots Playoff Loss that I Can Ever Remember

Well I think today's AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and Broncos left no doubt who the better team was today, tomorrow and in two weeks: Denver. The Broncos controlled play from start to finish and won 26-16 at Sports Authority. New England overachieved all season and at some point, you knew that their lack of playmakers on both sides of the ball would catch up to them. Unfortunately, this afternoon was that painful time.

I honestly can never recall a loss in the playoffs by the Patriots that was so simple. No drama, no bad calls (either by their coaches or refs) in terms of affecting the contest in a major way or things to second guess. Nope, this was an old fashioned beatdown. The Broncos should have won by 20+ points and if they were decent in the red zone (2 for 6), they would have accomplished that.

The lazy/hot sports take way to look at this result is that Peyton Manning (32 of 43 for 400 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) badly outplayed Tom Brady (24 of 38 for 277 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs). Clearly, Peyton was better but this just came down to his abundance of weapons and Brady's utter lack of anything outside of Julian Edelman (10 catches, 89 yards).

Denver got up 10-0 in the second quarter and 20-3 in the third quarter, thus eliminating New England's favored mode of attack: running the ball. SI cover boy LeGarrette Blount predictably plummeted back to Earth with five carries for six yards.

Meanwhile, the Thomas brothers-DeMaryius (7 catches, 134 yards) and Julius (8 catches, 85 yards)-dominated the Pats sorry secondary which lost Aqib Talib to a knee injury. PS they're not related. That makes it two years in a row that he went down with an injury in the AFC Championship Game. However, like last season I don't think his absence was the difference between a win and loss. Make no mistake, the Broncos would have won this game 10 out of 10 times.

Matt Prater opened the scoring with a 27-yard field goal in the first quarter. Jacob Tamme caught a 1-yard TD from Manning halfway through the second quarter for a 10-0 lead. New England's only points of the first half was a 47-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. Prater added a 35-yard field goal with 25 seconds left in the first half for a 13-3 Broncos lead.

Demaryius Thomas caught a 3-yard touchdown in the third quarter and Prater's 19-yard field goal increased Denver's lead to 23-3 early in the fourth quarter. As they did all season, the Pats showed plenty of pride by not rolling over when most would. Edelman caught a 7-yard TD but Prater's 54-yard field goal and a missed two-point conversion after Brady's 5-yard TD run sealed New England's fate.

It doesn't make up for two weeks of crap but Broncos-Seahawks should be an excellent Super Bowl. More importantly, the Patriots need to get to work immediately to figure out how to maximize the next few seasons. Brady and Bill Belichick won't be around forever so they need to show more urgency by spending as much as they can and getting better players all around them.

If the last few years have taught us anything, it's that Brady and Belichick can rack up the (meaningless) regular season wins and even a few playoff games (assuming they face some scrub team) but they need way more help to beat super squads like the Broncos.

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