Watching the first quarter of their regular season game with the New England Patriots at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, fans and analysts alike were beginning to think Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos just might pull off the upset.
But in a game of youth vs. experience on both sides of the ball and at many positions, the Patriots showed they are still a dominant force in the AFC.
No matter how porous the Patriots defense may be, they are in every game as long as they have Tom Brady and weapons around him like Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch and even Ochocinco.
But another thing is certain, and that is the fact that the Broncos learned from their mistakes in that game and are hungry at the chance at a rematch. Frankly, this is a team that has a good shot at winning, but only if they execute the following five keys to victory.
During their regular season matchup with the Patriots, the Broncos jumped out to a quick 11-point lead in the first quarter, but three turnovers in the second half led to 17 easy points to seal the Broncos’ fate.
If the Broncos are to have any chance in this game they have to have zero turnovers on offense. The Patriots have too many weapons on offense to give a short field to.
Defensively, the Broncos also have to set their offense up for easy points with turnovers of their own. If the game against the Steelers last week taught us anything, it’s that even a slow-starting Tim Tebow led offense can capitalize off of turnovers in the opponents’ own end.
Early on during the last game between the Broncos and the Patriots in the regular season, Tim Tebow silenced the criticism that he was a slow starter by leading the Broncos on two touchdown drives and an 11-point lead in the first quarter.
But the team fell apart in the second quarter and was too far behind in the second half to complete a signature fourth-quarter comeback. For the Broncos to be successful against the Patriots this weekend, they will have to play a complete game and avoid the three-and-outs that have plagued the offense all season.
Teams like the Buffalo Bills were successful against the Patriots this season by maintaining an offensive tempo throughout all 60 minutes of the game.
The Broncos special team unit has been their best unit all season, and is one of the main reasons the team has found its resurgence this year. Despite this fact, it wasn’t the case in their previous game against New England.
Quan Cosby’s multiple muffs in that game cost the team possession of the football once, and his poor decisions in the return game also cost the team precious field position. Field position is an effective part of coach John Fox’s coaching style and strategy, so it was no surprise that Cosby was without a job just a couple of weeks later.
With Eddie Royal in the return game the Broncos have a good decision maker, but also a player who has the potential to run one back for a score. In the kicking game, kicker Matt Prater and punter Britton Colquitt have been having Pro-Bowl deserving seasons, despite not getting the nod. Both will have to continue their success despite dealing with adverse weather and not having the aid of the Mile High air.
Fans and followers of the Broncos this season know what this means. Eatin’ Greedy is Von Miller’s signature sack dance, and he won’t be able to showcase it without getting to Tom Brady.
The Broncos certainly were greedy against the Steelers, totaling five sacks with two from Robert Ayers and one apiece from Miller, Elvis Dumervil, and Brodrick Bunkley.
The team will have to get at least five to start rattling Tom Brady, and must take advantage of the fact that he is a quarterback that likes to sit in the pocket. Speed bursts off the line will be key, because Brady gets the ball out quickly.
It happened the last time the Broncos faced the Patriots in the playoffs back in 2005—Champ Bailey single-handedly took control of the game and handed Tom Brady the first playoff loss of his career.
Six years later, Brady is a smarter and deadlier opponent. Although Bailey may have lost a step since then, he is still the Broncos’ main hope in stopping the Patriots offense.
With Dawkins still out, Bailey also plays the role as the heart of the defense and on the field coach. In last week’s game, Quinton Carter looked lost early, but after some jawing from Champ, the rookie came through with a key interception. Bailey has to light the same kind of fire under his defense in this week’s game.
So there you have it—if the Broncos execute all five of these keys to victory I believe they have more than a fair shot at playing in the AFC Championship next week.