Gresh's Grade: Tremendous in all phases
They came out and ran some turbo to take advantage of a Denver defense that was missing its matchup linebacker, Danny Travathan, and had no answer for Rob Gronkowski. There were a lot of return and angle routes, and the offensive line kept the middle clean for the most part, allowing Tom Brady to move in the pocket. The pressure generated by Denver didn't phase Brady much at all. TB12 also spread the wealth nicely. I was a little disappointed they didn't run the ball better, but the fourth quarter is hard to evaluate because the Pats were managing the big lead for the win. Drops bring this grade down a bit, but, as a fan, you have to be pleased with this performance.
Brady checked into a few plays that worked almost every time, including a quarterback sneak in an empty set for a first down. He did a nice job of moving in the pocket and converting some longer third downs, which he's been great at the past three weeks. I think his mind is as sharp as ever, and I like how he went back to Brandon LaFell at a big point in the game after LaFell dropped what was a sure touchdown in the first half. He threw well in the wind and it didn't bother him anywhere near as much as it bothered Peyton Manning.
RUNNING BACKS: B
They weren't a huge factor as the running game didn't get on track after scoring a bunch of points, so that's disappointing. There wasn't a bunch of room to run, but they did what they could. Shane Vereen was active in the passing game, including some protection and had a clutch fourth-down catch against Aqib Talib to keep a drive alive. James Develin is solid, physically and performance wise. Not sold on Jonas Gray yet, but there's some potential there as he's a bruiser.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B
You can't drop two touchdown passes and get an A. It was cold out there Sunday night but when the ball hits you in the hands in the end zone, you must catch it. That's why this grade is lower than what some might think. But LaFell bounced back after the drop and made a big catch to seal this one at 37-14. Julian Edelman came alive after his punt return and did an outstanding job of moving around when Brady broke the pocket. Danny Amendola is still overpaid, but made two key catches that helped mightily.
TIGHT ENDS: A+
Even though Michael Hoomanawanui didn't get the catch, he got open and didn't allow any rushers to run free. Tim Wright wasn't a factor, though I do think that if the Pats and Broncos meet again, he'll be used more. Gronk is, well, the best and most complete tight end in football. The catch he made over the middle near the end zone was one of the best catches you'll ever see. The biggest thing: T.J. Ward went after his knee early and it didn't bother him. They also used No. 87's ability to matchup on the outside for an easy TD throw, and that will continue.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A
One sack. Just one sack against the vaunted Denver pass rush. Bryan Stork OWNED Terrence Knighton early, and it showed. There was very little middle leakage all night long, and when the protection broke down a little TB12 moved well in the pocket to make plays. I'm not going too nuts over the lack of running game because that was offset by the tackles doing such a good job on DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller in passing and long-yardage situations. Go watch Stork in pass protection in the first quarter and you'll see the tone that was set early and continued throughout the game.
The fourth quarter was just managing the score and making sure Denver didn't make any grand comeback. Ahead by 22, they buckled down and got a fourth-down stop instead of letting Denver score a TD. They were fantastic on third down and held the Broncos to 0-for-4 on fourth down. They moved the secondary pieces around nicely and got contributions from the ancillary pieces like Akeem Ayers and Malcolm Butler. All in all, great day for this phase of the game.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
This was not a four-down game. With the predominant use of nickel defense, this group's production was limited because there weren't as many big bodies in the game, and Denver threw the ball a ton while trailing. I liked the job Vince Wilfork did; in fact, he's been dominant at times playing over a guard. Chris Jones continues to do yeoman's work inside at a brutally physical position as the 'speed nose.' Dominique Easley is coming along nicely and his ability to penetrate with quickness is evident; he's gaining confidence every week. Rob Ninkovich did a nice job with coverage disguise and it turned into a nice interception. My complaint is that the pass rush was a little lacking when rushing three. But when you threw in Jamie Collins or Ayers, the pressure was better. Nice job against what few run looks they had to face. They need the bye badly to get healed up and put them in position to be productive in the second half of the season.
Dont'a Hightower is settling in quite nicely in the Jerod Mayo role and has had very few communication issues in setting the defense. I like his ability to drop while up on the LOS, and he's way better in space this year than last year. Collins is coming along nicely and his one-on-one matchup coverage is spot on. His ability to rush inside on the 'up' looks is fantastic and they've gotten him matched up on running backs the last two weeks, producing positive plays. Ayers may be a dog chasing cars right now (Chris Slade reference), but he can clearly get to the QB and he may end up being a steal via trade. Well done by this group.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A
I thought Darrelle Revis struggled early on the drag route against Emmanuel Sanders and then gave up another completion. But in the second quarter, Belichick and crew started matching up him and Brandon Browner, and it worked magnificently. The longer completions came when the game was in hand, and Manning was taking shots to get some yards downfield knowing a turnover didn't matter. Browner's P.I. call was bull. He didn't pull the player impeding his ability to catch it and the contact didn't propel Browner's ability to play the ball and knock it down. Butler chipped in nicely with some good work, especially on Sanders. He doesn't get beat deep, which means you'll get some reps in this defense. Browner ate Julius Thomas's lunch when matched up one on one. Devin McCourty had a big hit that produced a turnover; I think as people perform better around him, it will free him up to make those kinds of plays. And Pat Chung communicated well. Covered well. And played great.
IT AIN'T BROKE...
Sharp mind. Sharp throws. Only idiots say he's declining.
2) The secondary
They met the challenge that a lot of fans were afraid of.
3) Big-game ability
They rose to the challenge. Now they need to build off this win.
BUT IT NEEDS FIXING...
1) Coaches' confidence in the running game.
2) Pass rush. Getting on them for not getting home with three is tough, but they need Chandler Jones back.
3) Hit the big plays when there.
Andy Gresh is a talkshow host on 98.5 The Sports Hub and for 10 years has worked pre- and postgame analysis on the Patriots Radio Network. He is also co-author of the recently released book "The Great Book of Boston Sports Lists." Follow him on twitter @greshandzo.