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Denver Broncos' Week 15 Report Card: Grades for Every Starter

Christopher SmithCorrespondent IIIDecember 19, 2011

Denver Broncos' Week 15 Report Card: Grades for Every Starter

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    The Denver Broncos' terrific winning streak is over.

    The New England Patriots clinched the AFC East while dismantling the Broncos' defensive unit on Sunday.

    But luckily for the Broncos, they're still in the lead of their division and in the fast lane for a playoff spot in Jan. 2012.

    There are two more weeks to play to ensure a bid, so these Broncos need to keep the pedal to the metal and squeak out a couple more wins.

    Let's take a look at the starters on Sunday and grade their performances in the 41-23 loss.

Wide-Receiving Corps

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    Demaryius Thomas led the Broncos in receiving again on Sunday, as he reeled in seven catches for 116 yards.

    Lance Ball, a running back, served as the second-leading receiver with only 41 yards.

    Aside from the two, there are hardly any receivers to mention for the Broncos on Sunday.

    It doesn't mean they get a bad grade, however.

    This team was just too committed to the run, and for good reason.

    The dropped passes did seem to vanish this week, as they were a plague for the Broncos just a week prior. So, it seems this corps is doing a better job of keeping their mitts on the ball.

    The receivers helped Tebow to a total of 194 yards through the air this week.

    Grade: B- 

    No drops, but hardly any participation from receivers other than Thomas earns this corps a B- this week.

Running Backs

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    The run game for Denver was stout on Sunday.

    It started with over 160 yards on the ground in the first quarter.

    Tebow led the pack with a total of 93 yards rushing on the day, but the stars in the effective early running game were Willis McGahee and Lance Ball.

    Even third-string running back Jeremiah Johnson chipped in with a 25-yard scamper through the Patriots' secondary.

    This rushing attack was very efficient to start the game, but unfortunately, they couldn't keep it rolling past the first quarter.

    Both Tebow and Ball lost a fumble to add to the one lost by Quan Cosby on a punt return.

    Turnovers hurt the team badly in the second quarter, and the run game was partly to blame for that.

    Grade: C+

    The running backs earned only a C+ this week. The one quarter of dominance was not enough to take this game, nor was it enough for them to garner anything better than a C+. Turnovers and sloppy play through three quarters won't get the job done. Hmm, that sounds familiar.

Quarterback

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    Tim Tebow played a pretty good game on Sunday. That is, until he started losing fumbles and running backwards.

    Tebow lost 53 yards on five sacks on Sunday.

    He passed for 194 yards while adding 93 more on the ground.

    Unfortunately, his game was reversed against the Patriots, and instead of the late-game heroics, the team started fast and basically stopped for the whole second half.

    Tebow only contributed one of the Broncos' three turnovers and was otherwise effective during most of the game.

    It wasn't until very late that the sack yardage grew so high, as Tebow found himself running in the wrong direction on one of the game's very last plays.

    Grade: B+

    Tebow was able to stay efficient for most of the game, but turned over the ball by fumbling once again. He gets a B+ for the outing.

Offensive Line

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    The story is the same for almost every unit of this Broncos offense: a quick start and faded finish.

    The offensive line played beautifully to get this game rolling and allowed the Denver offense to rush for over 160 yards in the first quarter alone.

    Late in the game, however, the push weakened, and the opposing defensive line started working its way into the Broncos' backfield.

    The rushing yards started to dry up, and the sacks started to pile up—five sacks on the day for a total loss of 53 yards.

    The line can't be blamed entirely for the sacks, considering Tebow likes to run around in the backfield very often. Most of the sack yardage came on one play featuring Tebow running backwards for what seemed like forever. 

    Grade: B

    Just as the others, this unit showed great ability in the first quarter and then flat out fizzled later in the game. None of these units get an A for Sunday. They played up only to a B. Consistent play and a win would have earned this squad some better grades.

Defense

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    It's difficult to separate the units of a squad that did so poorly on Sunday. This entire Broncos defense was just plain awful against the Patriots.

    It was up to them to keep the score within reach for an offense that doesn't put up huge numbers.

    They couldn't stop Brady, and they couldn't stop his tight ends.

    While everyone was intently watching Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, tight end Aaron Hernandez gashed the Broncos defense for 129 yards and a touchdown.

    Meanwhile, only two total sacks were accrued by Elvis Dumervil and Quinton Carter.

    It's been said over and over and over, if you plan on stopping quarterbacks like Tom Brady, you've got to get in his face and get him on the ground.

    The Broncos were unable to do that and allowed Brady to pass for a total of 320 yards and two touchdowns.

    They also allowed over 100 yards on the ground to accompany Brady's prolific passing day.

    Dumervil's huge sack on Brady was the only real highlight for Denver on the defensive side of the ball. And it was short-lived, as the Patriots were already very much in the lead.

    Grade: F

    There was nothing happening for the defense on Sunday, and the Broncos are now an 8-6 team. This defensive unit did just enough to earn an F for the day. If there was such a thing as an F-, they would be getting one. No turnovers, only two sacks and non-stop production from the opposing offense makes for a bad day.

Special Teams

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    Here's another unit that did nothing to help the Broncos on Sunday.

    Quan Cosby could hardly hold the ball on returns. He lost one fumble and recovered one muffed punt.

    Eddie Royal contributed only four yards returning the ball on the day.

    Meanwhile, long-snapper Lonie Paxton missed the snap on the first extra point of the day.

    This resulted in the Patriots returning the ball all the way to the other end zone—which, by the way, earns them exactly zero points, but was nevertheless crushing to the Broncos early on.

    Britton Colquitt remains the shining star on an otherwise lackluster special teams unit. Colquitt added another 60-yard punt to his resume on Sunday.

    Grade: D-

    Prater was good for every kick he attempted. Colquitt was decent in the punting game. Every player on special teams, aside from the kickers, was awful and contributed nothing to Denver's game on Sunday.

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