By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
Just as it did two years ago, the Patriots season came to an ugly end at Mile High against the Broncos in the AFC Championship game. This time it was the Denver defense that devoured Tom Brady and the once high-flying Patriots offense, courtesy of an offensive line that was just plain offensive.
The tune being whistled past the graveyard by Patriots fans turned sour late Sunday afternoon, as TB12 was bludgeoned into submission by the Broncos defensive line that simply had its way with the Pats all day long. From the start of the day, you could see that Brady wasn’t right, but who would be knowing what he had for protection in front of him, with the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller pinning back their ears while looking to box in his on every snap.
While the Patriots defense was nearly perfect in the second half, Peyton Manning and his noodle arm had enough left in him to post 17 first-half points, while Brady and his boys struggled to develop any rhythm while facing the deluge the Denver defense delivered.
And even though many Pats fans were taken by surprise by what happened on Sunday – many didn’t even give the Broncos a puncher’s chance in the game – it didn’t take a jaundiced eye to see that the protection problems that the team exhibited all season were real.
From the start of training camp, the play of the o-line was under scrutiny, and rightly so. Due to injuries and lack of talent, the big boys up front played the NFL version of musical chairs, but because Brady is so good when he has his weapons healthy, it wasn’t front-page news until Julien Edelman broke his foot against the Giants in November.
After Edelman was hurt, then Rob Gronkowski suffered a knee injury, and Danny Amendola was once again gimpy, the Patriots did something they almost never do; they got worse in November and December. That is not the recipe Bill Belichick normally uses when he puts together Super Bowl winning teams.
For as much as fans can point to injuries as the reason that the Pats will not be heading to Tom Brady’s hometown next week to defend their title, they need to look no further that the likes of Marcus “The Missing Man” Cannon for the reason they will be watching the big game from their couch on February 7th.
The Patriots beef was so bad on Sunday, that Brady led all rushers with 14 yards. The Pats QB was almost DQ’d on many occasions, and when all was said and done, he was sacked four times and hit on 20 of his 56 pass attempts. That number, according to Sports Illustrated’s Doug Farrar, is the most times a quarterback has been hit in a game since 2006.
Per official stats, Denver's 20 QB hits was the most for any team since 2006.
— Doug Farrar (@SI_DougFarrar) January 25, 2016
At the end of the day, Belichick and Brady most likely got more than they could have expected from a team that was so fundamentally flawed when it came to keeping their franchise upright all season. And when you get right down to it, they were probably fortunate to get an early ticket home as the wagon that is the Carolina Panthers seems poised to pounce on and devour anyone whom they face in two weeks.
Nevertheless, the sting should not last that long for Pats fans, for as sure as each day ends in a y; they will be back in the AFC Championship game this time next year. It is what they do.
And as long as Belichick the GM does his job and gets some bodies that can block for his Hall of Fame quarterback in waiting; their chances are as good as any that they will once again be the AFC representative in Super Bowl LI.
That said, it will hard to get the mental image of Manning singing “I’m going to the Super Bowl” to the tune of the State Farm commercial out of the heads’ Patriots fans for sure.
Just imagine if he actually wins it. Ah, never mind. I think I’m gonna lose my lunch.
Follow on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan. Email at email@example.com.