Best and worst: Broncos 30, Patriots 24
BEST Sunday Tradition
Brrrrr… cold out there. Frost like crazy this morning. Took me 20 minutes to warm up the car. I bet the fire's roaring wherever you are right now. Classic late November in New England.. And you know what else is classic late November in New England? Oh, just Tom Brady throwing another touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski. Boom! And we got it before Dad even finished putting the lights up on the tree. He nearly fell off the ladder. But it's all good. Because Brady hit Gronk . . . for the 63rd time. That passes Shannon Sharpe for third on the all-time TD list for tight ends. And in Denver, too. Ha!
Ninky! You dependable, beautiful gigantic man, you. Ninkovich came up huge on the Patriots' first defensive drive of the game with a big run stuff to help force a three-and-out. On the Broncos' next drive, Ninkovich chased after the 6-foot-8 Brock Osweiler for a sack, forcing a Broncos punt. Go get 'em, Ninky.
How's about this for a tough turn of events? The Broncos had 3rd-and-2 from the Patriots 21-yard line. That was followed by a massive 13-yard sack courtesy of Jonathan Freeny. Now at the 34-yard line, Gary Kubiak decided to punt the ball instead of what would have been a 51-yard field goal. Well, the ball ended up in the end zone, which means the Pats took over at their 20-yard line. As Pats Insider Tom E. Curran astutely observed, that's basically a turnover, as Broncos had the ball two plays earlier just one yard away. Tough look, Denver.
WORST sight for Broncos
Yeeesh. The Broncos are good because their defense is great. If that goes, kiss the whole thing. So it was an ugly sight to watch two members of their defense -- safety T.J. Ward and nose tackle Sylvester Williams carted into the Broncos locker room with ankle injuries. Later, they would both be ruled out for the remainder of the game.
BEST Pats D-Line
Let's give it up for the Patriots defensive line on this series. Jabaal Sheard manhandles the sorry offensive lineman matched up with him and ends up getting a hand on Osweiler's arm as he tries to make a throw. The ball pops up into the air and a leaping Chandler Jones catches it and comes down on it. Big, big turnover for the Patriots, who will look to go 15 yards to make it a 14-0 game . . .
BEST Scott Chandler
. . . and they do! On third down, Tom Brady hits Scott Chandler in the corner of the end zone. Thankfully, Chandler hung on to this one. He's had a bad case of the dropsies this season -- and already dropped two passes before Brady threw his way again. If half of Brady's receivers weren't injured, it's hard to believe Brady goes back to Chandler. He didn't have much of a choice, but it paid off anyways.
WORST sight for Pats
Sound the alarms! We have another injury on our hands . . . and this time it's a member of the Patriots defense. But not just any member - Dont'a Hightower. Hightower is probably the most important part of this Patriots defense, and that's only magnified when you consider Jamie Collins is already out. It's a left knee injury for Hightower and he was seen limping off the field before the team ruled him questionable to return.
WORST case for Pats
The Broncos have life in the second quarter. With Hightower off the field, Denver's Ronnie Hillman ran it in from 19 yards out. A couple cuts here, a scamper there, and he was in. No Hightower to put a hit on him. All in all, the Broncos marched 77 yards on 10 plays, seven of which were runs. If the Broncos are going to win this game, it's going to be due to their running backs. That was exhibit A. We have a 14-7 game, and that's how it will stay heading into halftime.
WORST penalty for the Broncos
Classic Patriots opponent penalty. We’ve said it before around here: some opponents just go haywire when it comes to the Pats. Von Miller saw a defenseless Tom Brady lying on the ground after some kind of sack/slip on the turf. Vance Walker came in for the tackle, which was fine. But then here comes Miller on top of Walker to slam him into the turf even harder. Can't do that, Von. Fifteen-yard penalty for roughing the passer. Dumb, dumb, dumb. New England would eventually punt, though.
Um, Brandon McManus? You have one job: Kick a football straight. Do. Your. Job. Instead, McManus' 47-yarder was very wide right and a 12-play, 59-yard drive by the Broncos was all for not. It's too bad for the Broncos because points have obviously been hard to come by.
Keeping things focused on special teams, shout out to Ryan Allen for a nice 50-yard punt to pin the Broncos on their 3-yard line. The ball came to a dead stop right there. Denver went a total of three yards before a nice 59-yard punt by Brandon Colquitt. Yay for punting! OK, done talking about punting.
WORST punt return
Or am I? Gotcha. We're gonna go just punting plays from here on out. Just kidding. But unfortunately, this one hurts the Patriots. With both Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola out, the Patriots aren't just without their wide receivers, but also their punt returners. That put Chris Harper in charge - and whoops, he muffed a punt early in the fourth quarter that gave the Broncos ball back on the Patriots 35-yard line. It was essentially a 45-yard pass, something Osweiler definitely couldn't pull off on his own tonight. Special teams, man.
BEST running game
The Broncos make the most of that Patriots turnover as this time it's C.J. Anderson that runs it in for a 15-yard touchdown on the fourth play of the drive. Anderson and Hillman have been running all over the Patriots in this game, and it's the reason Denver's offense is moving the chains. This is the type of offensive gameplan the Broncos can now use with Manning on the sidelines. Kubiak loves him some running backs. It's now 21-14 Patriots.
WORST thing to happen in the history of Patriots football
Awful. Just awful. There's no word that I'm allowed to type in this space that explains how I feel about that Rob Gronkowski injury. Nothing. I'm empty inside. Broncos had been tackling low on Gronkowski all game - because that's the easiest way to get him down. In the NFL, they don't want high hits. Guys go low now, and knees are affected. Gronk's right knee was badly injured as the Patriots looked to make a clock-draining drive to end the game. I'm just empty inside. Goodbye.
WORST What the hell just happened moment
I'm still reeling from the Rob Gronkowski injury and I look up to see Brock Osweiler hit Emmanuel Sanders for a 39-yard pass. After Pat Chung's hold wipes out an amazing Alan Branch sack, the Broncos score a TD on a Osweiler pass to Andre Caldwell. Patriots have 1:09 to tie this thing up with a field goal.
BEST kicker in the game
I've said it once, I've said it a million times - Stephen Gostkowski is the best there is. He's the GOAT. He's Stephen GOATkowski. Brady somehow gets the Pats in field goal range with like three guys to throw to. And there is Gostkowski to drill the 47-yarder to tie the game and send it to overtime. One GOAT to the next GOAT. Inhale, exhale, inHALE, EXHALE IT's NOT WORKING I'M HAVING A PANIC ATTACK.
WORST thing ever
The Patriots lost. Took me like 10 minutes to remember how to type that sentence. And to be perfectly honest, if they can't win the Super Bowl with a 19-0 record, then what's the point? We've already won a bunch of REGULAR Super Bowls. Kidding. Kind of. But seriously, losing stinks. At the same time, losing Rob Gronkowski stinks to high hell. So if it turns out Gronk isn't lost for the year (prayers on prayers on prayers), I'll consider tonight a win. If he is, then this is basically the worst night ever.