With a score of 24-30, the 2015 New England Patriots’ chance at a perfect season came to a screeching halt in Denver. There were many reasons for this crushing and untimely loss.
The officiating was absolutely dreadful on both sides of the ball but seemed to really needle the Patriots with a bunch of phantom calls during crucial moments in the 4th quarter. Most notably, Rob Gronkowski was called for an outrageous offensive pass interference penalty, costing the Patriots a first down and a chance to keep an important drive alive. The play clock fiasco during the Bronco’s injury timeout during the final drive was as confusing as it was accurate. Communication between the officials to the coaches and the players was downright pitiful.
The defending Super Bowl Champions entered the game with several notable star players missing, specifically offensive weapons Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola. Whereas both teams lost crucial players during the game, the losses of Dont’a Hightower and Rob Gronkowski seemed to derail the Patriots considerably. Losing Hightower opened up the run game for Denver, which on a night of snowy conditions was a godsend for their young Quarterback Brock Osweiler. Gronkowski going out with a scary knee injury not only sucked the wind out of the Patriot’s collective sails but removed the final clutch superstar Tom Brady had left to throw to.
Finally and most importantly, Brock Osweiler played well in the 4th quarter, as did the entire Denver Broncos team. Although it is unpopular to say, the truth is given the cast and the set of circumstances The Denver Broncos made the most of their favorable circumstances. The tide turned drastically when Patriots’ rookie wide receiver Chris Harper fumbled the punt return and placed Denver in a scoring position. Did the Broncos take advantage of some slanted penalties and questionable play calls by the Patriots? Absolutely, and had the shoe been on the other foot Tom Brady and company would have done the same.
This game was a gut punch to Patriot Nation, leaving many fans irate that a winnable game and a perfect season had slipped away. Where it is true, the perfect season is no longer on the docket for the Patriots, this game is far more than just a sickening loss. In fact, this game told us more about the 2015 Patriots squad than the entire set of undefeated games played prior to it. With Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner gone in free agency, NOBODY gave this Patriots defense, more importantly the secondary, much of a shot at even being average. Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty and especially Logan Ryan did a great job for the most part buttoning up Denver’s receivers Sunday night. Sure, Butler missed a few costly plays against Sanders but Logan Ryan all but eliminated Demaryius Thomas. Knowing that Logan Ryan is someone that can be counted on to remove a superstar receiver like Thomas from a game cannot be understated. This defense is formidable and an incredible asset, warts and all.
The Patriots offense has seen better days this year with the losses of Edelman, Amendola and Dion leaving unproven talents such as Chris Harper, Keshawn Martin and complimentary pieces like Scott Chandler and Brandon Lafell as primary targets. Still, even with this rag tag grouping (with the help of star Tight End Rob Gronkowski), the Patriots still scored 24 points over the best defense in the league. In fact, until Harper’s untimely fumble, the Patriots held on to a two score lead for considerable length of time. Rob Gronkowski’s role on Sunday can’t be understated, yet he still only one man and this offense stepped up when most teams would have crumbled to pieces. The Offensive line, far from perfect was better than the Buffalo game and for the most part fairly sturdy as well. In the end, it took overtime to stop Sunday night’s bruised and beaten New England Patriots and that was impressive.
Ultimately, Julian Edelman should be back for the playoffs, both Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower and Danny Amendola will be back sooner than later, Rob Gronkowski’s injury was not nearly as bad as it looked, and the Patriots (in their current incarnation) are a tough as nails team which should survive their schedule and persevere until most of the pieces are back in the puzzle box. The Denver loss on Sunday night will not define this Patriots’ season anymore than an undefeated streak was necessary for a Super Bowl Championship.