Gresh's Grades: Patriots outclassed by Broncos
FUTURE IS BRIGHT
Whether you expected the Pats to win or lose, no one thought the season would end with this kind of performance. They were just outclassed by Denver, as their injuries and flaws finally caught up to them. Unfortunately it was in a championship game. From the lack of pass rush, to lack of running game, and not being able to overcome Aqib Talib's injury, it just wasn't meant to be. I tweeted (@greshandzo) after the game, "Let's be clear about something. This performance is not indicative of the season the Pats have had. This team isn't broken, future bright."
They really only scored in garbage time after the Broncos had a 23-3 lead. The running game never got on track and, to compound the issue, the Pats never held onto the ball long enough to get into a rhythm. They missed on their shot plays and just couldn't put any sustained drives together. The O-line was inconsistent, which led to points being taken off the board. Just yucky.
Tom Brady needed to be great Sunday afternoon and he was just good. The miss on the play-action to Julian Edelman late in the first quarter was a killer; it just an awful throw, as TB12 had plenty of time to set his feet and deliver the ball. He was forced to go to Edelman a ton because they got behind by so much. His rushing TD wasn't a thing of beauty, but TB12 got to spin the ball like a baller. He was affected by the people around him, but he didn't help himself enough in this one.
RUNNING BACKS: C
There were very few lanes to run through as the Broncos did a nice job on the inside game, negating any impact that LeGarrette Blount could've had. Once the run game stretched to the edges, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were more effective. Vereen tried in the passing game, but the Pats weren't able to get the kinds of matchups for Vereen as they did earlier in the season.
WIDE RECEIVERS: D
And the only reason this isn't an F is because of Edelman. He made himself some money in free agency with his 10 catches for 89 yards on Sunday. Austin Collie did yeoman's work, but he shouldn't have been the one to be called upon. Aaron Dobson was out there but didn't do much, and Danny Amendola being a non-factor in a situation like this is inexcusable. In retrospect, Amendola may have left his season on the field Week 1 vs. Buffalo. Regardless, he wasn't as productive as any of us expected this season and his future here is in doubt.
TIGHT ENDS: C
Matthew Mulligan from Maine and Michael Hoomanawanui each caught a pass -- Hoo-man actually had an 18-yard gain -- but it wasn't sustainable. They each did an okay job in the run game once the Pats started running outside. The way this offense is built they need impact here, and I guarantee you they will find it this offseason.
OFFENSIVE LINE: F
Two sacks allowed, and the one by Logan Mankins in the third quarter on 4th-and-3 with the game still in reach took points off the board and was devastating. TB12 was pressured all day and it showed. They also got little movement in the running game inside, as Ryan Wendell has some major issues. There are two positions that need an upgrade, center and right guard. I think Marcus Cannon can play inside and that's something they may need to consider depending on the free agent/draft O-line crop.
Just isn't good enough. They allowed 100 yards rushing, including a fourth-down run late to seal the game. The Broncos went three-and-out on their first drive of the game and then scored on their next six possessions. On the seventh, they ran out the clock. Yes, I acknowledge the Patriots were playing through injuries and inexperience, but when you don't register a sack -- let alone don't even hit Peyton Manning -- that's not a good day, no matter how you slice it.
DEFENSIVE LINE: F
Average at best against the running game, but they didn't even hit Manning one time (according to the official NFL game book). And it sure as hell looked like it as he was NEVER uncomfortable in the pocket. Chandler Jones is the best DL they have and he had one tackle. 'Nuff said.
Jamie Collins struggled at times in coverage against Julius Thomas, but didn't play that badly. He was caught out of position occasionally because of all the picks the Broncos were setting over the middle of the field. And Dont'e Hightower was out there, but I don't remember many impact plays on his part. He made tackles, but honestly might have been better used as a rusher given the D-line's lack of pass rush.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: D-
The injury to Talib was a massive factor in this grade. Alfonzo Dennard got picked on because of his size. Dennard was matched up against taller receivers in both playoff games, leading Andrew Luck and Manning to attack him. Logan Ryan looked like a rookie, unfortunately, but this waa great learning experience. Devin McCourty had to play some corner to help out, which put another young guy (Duron Harmon) in the game. This was the day where inexperience and injury caught up with this position group.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Ryan Allen did his job flawlessly in the punting game, as did Stephen Gostkowski with the kicking game on both kickoffs and field goals. And there was one return for four yards in both the kick and punt return game. Dopes like me who said this would be a major factor in this game were wrong.
ISSUES TO ADDRESS FOR 2014
1) Find a tight end to compliment Gronk.
2) See if there is a tweak you can make to the offseason program to help ensure better health during the season.
3) Upgrade and address the inside of both lines of scrimmage.
Andy Gresh is a talkshow host on 98.5 The Sports Hub and for nine 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.