"The Night is Dark and Full of Terrors." —Melisandre of Game of Thrones
After a dark and terror-filled start, the New England Patriots' nightmare of a first quarter—including three fumbles—finally came to an end.
A miraculous second-half comeback culminated in a Stephen Gostkowski game-winning field goal in overtime to bring the final score to 34-31.
Teams trailing by 24+ at the half are now 6-485 all time. That's how miraculous this win was!!!— Glenn Ordway (@GlennDOrdway) November 25, 2013
Here are grades for each Patriots player.
Tom Brady: A-
There wasn't a classical Brady-to-Gronkowski exclamation point to end the game, but his five surgical drives to start the second half—resulting in four touchdowns and a field goal—shocked the Broncos into submission.
Completing 34 of 50 passing attempts, Brady was able to connect with six different Patriots for a total of 344 yards and three touchdowns.
I'm going to stop short of giving Ridley a failing grade. He was running well—gaining 14 yards on four tough carries—but it is hard to question Bill Belichick's decision to glue him to the bench after three key fumbles in the past three games.
LeGarrette Blount: D-
I'm also going to save Blount from the dreaded "F" due to the fact that he may have been knocked out on the play that he fumbled. Hopefully, he is able to go next week. The Patriots love to have his powerful, hammering, running style at their disposal.
Shane Vereen: B
Shane Vereen wasn't without error—two bad drops were especially egregious—but he consistently kept drives going for New England. Vereen ended with 91 all-purpose yards on 18 combined touches.
Brandon Bolden: A-
Bolden held on to the ball, which is more than you can say about Ridley and Blount. He had one long run for 33 yards and ended with 58 yards on 13 carries.
James Develin: B-
Develin had some hammering lead blocks and missed a few as well. He is a valuable part of the running game at this point.
Aaron Dobson: I
Dobson ended up somewhat of a scheme-casualty, as the Patriots went with Kenbrell Thompkins in response to some of the coverages employed by the Broncos.
Julian Edelman: A
I'll let Belichick say it himself, via Ian Logue of PatsFans.com Edelman was phenomenal Sunday night.
Julian did a great job. First of all, he did a good job of handling the ball, especially in the 3rd and 4th quarter there. He made a couple of good runs with the ball in his hands, also got open, caught the ball. The under route he got there gave us the field position in the overtime, it was a big play. I mean, look, we had a lot of guys step up. You could rattle off 35-40 guys here and we’d be talking about every one of them. Julian’s a tough competitor, all those guys are.
Danny Amendola: C+
Amendola—targeted six times—only caught three balls for 17 yards on the night. Wes Welker—the man Amendola was brought in to replace—only had four catches for 31 yards, so there won't be much made of the Welker homecoming.
Kenbrell Thompkins: B+
Thompkins made six huge catches for 56 yards on only nine targets. He was able to win at the line of scrimmage and present a target early to Brady—quite helpful with Von Miller breathing down your neck.
Rob Gronkowski: A-
Same result, different day. Gronkowski muscles safeties and linebackers, gets open and makes chunk plays down the field. Of 10 passes thrown his way, Gronkowski brought in seven of them for 90 yards and a touchdown.
Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas get a lot of press, but there isn't a better all-around tight end in the league.
Matthew Mulligan: C-
Despite a couple of decent blocks in the run game, Mulligan was called for a holding penalty late in the game that could have been very costly.
Marcus Cannon: I
Will Svitek: C+
Nate Solder: C
Logan Mankins: C+
Ryan Wendell: C+
Dan Connolly: C+
The Patriots lost Marcus Cannon—their backup right tackle—early in the game and were forced to play swing-tackle Will Svitek for the majority of the game. Svitek filled in admirably and was not a liability.
Nate Solder had the toughest assignment of anyone, trying to block Von Miller. Miller consistently chopped Solder's hands and caused him to lose his center of gravity. Without getting a lot of help, Solder did well limiting Miller to only three hits on 50 dropbacks.
Chandler Jones: B+
I can't give Jones a top grade here, as he failed on his run assignment far too often. That said, his two sacks—including the grounding penalty—and overall physicality proved to be enough to will the Patriots defense to some big stops in the second half.
Isaac Sopoaga: C-
Chris Jones: C+
Joe Vellano: D+
Jones totaled nine tackles, but when your opponent runs for 280 yards, there is a problem inside. The Broncos' interior line had its way with the Patriots defensive tackles.
Rob Ninkovich: B+
Ninkovich, like Chandler Jones, kept the Patriots in this game. He notched 13 tackles on the night and did all the little things necessary to get his defense off the field.
Andre Carter: C+
Carter was able to get some pressure on Manning in his nickel rushing role, continuing to fill in nicely for the demoted Michael Buchanan.
Dont'a Hightower: D+
I think Hightower misses Jerod Mayo. When I talked with Hightower during training camp, he specifically mentioned just how much Mayo helps him both on and off the field. With Hightower taking over his duties, he looked tentative, like he was thinking too much and doing too little.
He was replaced by Dane Fletcher—a better scheme fit due to his speed—late in the first half.
Brandon Spikes: B
Spikes was worth two linebackers against the Broncos. Without him, Knowshon Moreno might have eclipsed the 300-yard mark on the ground. Nobody in the NFL blows up the pulling guard on power plays better than Spikes.
Dane Fletcher: A-
After taking over Hightower's duties late in the first half, Fletcher provided a spark that helped propel the Patriots to victory. He diagnosed plays early, and his speed to the ball hides the fact that he was a defensive lineman in college. I think we'll see much more Fletcher in nickel and dime moving forward.
Jamie Collins: A
Collins finally showed the dynamic presence that captivated Patriots coaches on draft day. He was all over the field, racking up 10 tackles. He blitzed effectively, tackled well and made an enormous play by rooting the ball out of Wes Welker's hands in overtime.
Devin McCourty: C+
McCourty is usually a sure tackler, but he uncharacteristically missed multiple tackles on Knowshon Moreno from his deep safety position. He was solid in coverage, but this wasn't his best day.
Aqib Talib: B
Playing on a sketchy hip—he didn't finish the game—Talib played a big part in holding Peyton Manning to a ridiculous 150 yards in nearly five quarters of play. Demaryius Thomas was held to four catches on nine targets.
Kyle Arrington: A-
The much-maligned Arrington bounced back from a missed tackle last week and showed up big across from Wes Welker. Welker was held to just four catches for 31 yards, due in big part to Arrington's tight coverage underneath and the efficient passing of Welker between defenders.
Duron Harmon: A-
Harmon played in place of the injured Steve Gregory and certainly didn't look like a rookie. He ended with 11 tackles on the night and was effective in coverage. Harmon looks to be a big part of the future in the Patriots secondary.
Logan Ryan: A
When a rookie picks off Peyton Manning, you take notice. Ryan has shown the ability—much like a young Asante Samuel—to anticipate routes and jump in front of the receiver at the last second. Eric Decker, Ryan's mark for a good portion of the game, ended with just one catch for five yards.
Stephen Gostkowski: A+
No matter the distances, hitting two field goals—including a game-winner—in that crazy wind is a fantastic performance. Add to it some great kickoffs—with and without the wind—and you have a perfect game.
Danny Aiken: A-
Aiken had a tough job snapping in this wind—I could hear Wesley Snipes' character in White Men Can't Jump talking about the wind moving the ball—but the Patriots were able to escape without a gaffe. Aiken has to be glad after a shaky performance last week.
Ryan Allen: A+
Allen averaged 44.5 yards on six punts, including a high-floating bomb in overtime that resulted in a muff by Tony Carter and a winning field goal by the Patriots. Allen was solid fielding snaps, giving Gostkowski a good target on each of his attempts.
Matthew Slater: B+
Michael Buchanan: B
Nate Ebner: A
Marquice Cole: B
Tavon Wilson: B
Trindon Holliday was held to 36 carries on three kickoff returns, while the Broncos averaged only 3.3 yards per punt return. Add a game-winning fumble recovery from Nate Ebner and you have a great special teams performance.