FOXBORO -- New England's souped-up no-huddle offense may have helped wear out Denver's defensive personnel, but it did just the opposite for the Patriots 'D.' As Tom Brady led his offense for long drive after long drive, Jerod Mayo and his defense were afforded an opportunity to save their energy.
"It helps us a lot," Mayo said of New England's ability to keep its offense on the field. "We're able to go over adjustments, catch our breath, and go out there the next series and try to get the ball back for our offense."
The Broncos held possession for 24:11, and the Patriots defense forced three turnovers in that time. Rob Ninkovich forced two fumbles while Sterling Moore forced one, all of which the Patriots recovered. They made big plays at opportune times, and they made enough of them to hold on to win, 31-21.
It wasn't easy with Peyton Manning on the other side. The Broncos quarterback was 31-for-44 for 345 yards and three touchdowns. Physically, he may not be the same passer as he once was, but Mayo thought Manning was as sharp as ever mentally.
"He checked a lot of plays at the line of scrimmage," Mayo said. "Even if it's not vocally, he's still doing hand signals that little subtle things that can change the entire play. It's like a chess match out there."
Though it felt as though the Patriots defense -- missing starters Steve Gregory and Dont'a Hightower -- passed its most recent test by beating a quarterback of Manning's caliber, Mayo wouldn't concede that the Patriots defense had progressed markedly.
"That's for you to decide," he told reporters. "I think guys are working hard. I think guys are going out there practicing and getting better. You want an A, B, C, D grade? I don't do that."
What Mayo did do was keep the lines of communication open among his teammates as they tried to adjust to Manning's adjustments. Because Gregory was out, Tavon Wilson got the start at safety. That meant Ras-I Dowling filled in at the money position in New England's dime package. As a sort of hybrid linebacker-safety Dowling took direction from Mayo before many of his snaps.
The Patriots survived with Wilson, Dowling and rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard all receiving a significant time on the field.
"It's very important to communicate," Mayo said, referring to some of his team's relatively inexperienced contributors. "Especially when you're playing a great quarterback like that, to make sure everyone's on the same page. They were changing the pace of the game sometimes so making sure everyone was on the same page was huge."