Patriots vs. Broncos: New England's Biggest Winners and Losers from NFL Week 5
The question for the Patriots is: Which players established themselves, and who fell by the wayside?
Winner: Tom Brady
Tom Brady looked cool, calm and collected against the Broncos.
Brady was alert in the pre-snap reads, yelling out cadences and making the right adjustments. And after the snap, he was just as on point.
By the time it was all said and done, Brady completed 23-of-31 passes for 223 yards, one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown.
It may have not been the most gaudy numbers No. 12 has ever posted, but it was a very effective performance nonetheless.
Loser: Sterling Moore
Sterling Moore may have played himself out of a role as the Patriots' nickel corner on Sunday.
CSNNE.com's Tom E. Curran tweeted about the substitution:
Dennard in at the right cornerback spotin place of Sterling Moore whose early play was well...not sterling.
— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) October 7, 2012
Moore did have himself in the right place to recover a fumble in the first quarter, but his coverage problems were hard to ignore.
Winner: Wes Welker
Establishing himself right from the start, Welker gave second-year cornerback Chris Harris a run for his money.
The Patriots' official Twitter account elaborated on Welker's stellar first-half performance:
Wes Welker's 9 receptions today are the most he's ever had in the first half of a game.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 7, 2012
Welker did his best to continue the hot streak in the second half, reeling in four more passes and netting some crucial first downs in the process.
Loser: Devin McCourty
What a difference a week makes for former first-round pick Devin McCourty.
The Patriots' top cornerback was exploited a pass interference penalty on Demaryius Thomas in the first quarter, which placed the ball at the 1-yard line.
In the second quarter, it was more of the same, as McCourty was flagged for pass interference on Eric Decker.
By the third quarter, Eric Decker managed to evade McCourty's coverage for a nifty touchdown. Although for what it's worth, Decker ran a great route and came up with a nice catch in the corner of the end zone.
To make matters worse, McCourty also left the game with an injury, but managed to return. But all in all, it was a 2011-esque day for the Rutgers product.
Winner: Rob Ninkovich
Rob Ninkovich may be the most under-appreciated pass-rusher in the Patriots' arsenal. After all the credit Chandler Jones has gotten at the right defensive end spot, it was the left defensive end who made headlines Sunday.
Ninkovich was in the face of Peyton Manning all afternoon, accumulating four tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles.
The former Purdue Boilermaker halted Denver's drives and played a critical part in New England's win.
Winner: Stevan Ridley
Stevan Ridley had a bell-cow like day for the Patriots, carrying the ball 28 times for 151 yards and a touchdown.
Ridley had 100-plus yards midway through the third quarter, and he added another 50 yards by the final whistle.
Last year's third-round pick did have an untimely fumble late in the game, which was a problem for him as a rookie. But due to his ground productivity and the fact that the Patriots won, Ridley's miscue is swept under the rug to some extent.
Loser: Daniel Fells
Daniel Fells saw plenty of work against his old team, although he didn't exactly make the most of it.
Fells was targeted twice, but he didn't record a catch. On 2nd-and-14 with five minutes left in the second quarter, Fells dropped a pass that would have gotten the Patriots out of the shadow of their own end zone.
The veteran tight end was let off the hook, however, as the Patriots continued to drive down the field before a Stephen Gostkowski field goal made the score 17-7.
But regardless, Fells has to catch every ball he puts a finger on if he wants to get on the field. He's known for his blocking, yet he missed a key block on a Brandon Bolden run with just seconds to go before halftime.
Winner: Danny Woodhead
Danny Woodhead enjoyed his best game of the young season versus the Broncos.
The Chadron State running back was able to make big plays as both a rusher and a receiver, finishing the game with seven rushes for 47 yards and one catch for 25 receiving yards.
He may not be the biggest back, but he's got sure hands and a knack for the first-down marker. As long as Woodhead can do what he did Sunday, he will be in the team's plans, regardless of the other talent on the depth chart.
Loser: New England's Pass Protection
The Patriots' offensive line did an excellent job blocking on run plays. On passing downs, well, it got worse as time wore on.
It could be attributed to fatigue, as the Patriots had the ball for over 35 minutes of the contest. Another explanation could have been the injuries to left guard Logan Mankins and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
No matter the case, the protection got sloppier as the game progressed, and that's a roadblock to winning games.
Winner: Alfonzo Dennard
Active for the first time in his young career, Alfonzo Dennard played like he had something to prove.
The seventh-round pick made plenty of statements Sunday. He replaced Sterling Moore at nickelback and seized the opportunity by making stops.
The Nebraska Cornhusker totaled just one tackle, but he provided excellent coverage on Eric Decker and broke up a pass in the process.
If he can keep this up, he could cement a role for himself as New England's No. 3 cornerback.