Patriots magic act went up in smoke in Denver

Patriots magic act went up in smoke in Denver
January 20, 2014, 2:30 am
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BRONCOS 26, PATS 16

DENVER – No smoke. No mirrors. No rabbits. No hats. No chicken salad made from the unimpressive ingredients on hand.
 
The Patriots spent 2013 making shadow monsters on the wall. Sunday the batteries in their flashlight ran out. No more monsters on the wall. Just a a good-looking guy with a dimpled chin and a grumpy guy in a sweatshirt, twisting their fingers into odd shapes.

It wasn’t real, even though Tom Brady and Bill Belichick were good enough illusionists to make us think it was for the past two months.
 
What the Patriots did this year was great. But they really weren’t that good.
 
Not with the group of guys who blew out ACLs, Achilles tendons and chest muscles.
 
Not with one of the guys they built the offense around sitting in solitary.  
 
Not with three guys who’d get passed over for a high-level pickup hoop game lining up at wide receiver.
 
Had us fooled though, didn’t they?
 
Think about it. Tom Brady is going to get heat the next few months because he overthrew Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman and Austin Collie badly in the first half of the Patriots 26-16 loss.
 
If I told you last January that, in one year, Brady would be throwing to those three players on key plays in a conference championship game, you’d have taken away sharp objects and called a professional.
 
If I told you the football world would be wondering whether LeGarrette Blount would carry the offense to another playoff win, you’d have driven me to the professional.
 
And if I told you the defensive line rotation would be Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga and Diamond Joe Vellano, you’d have kicked me out of the car.
 
The Broncos didn’t just pull back the curtain on the Patriots. They pulled off every stitch of clothing and left them naked and exposed at altitude.
 
There was plenty of information at our disposal that should have made us at least suspect this could happen.
 
Life and death with the Browns and Texans and a loss to the Dolphins in consecutive weeks down the stretch were a wakeup call. But the demolition of the Ravens in Baltimore was another sleight of hand distraction. They weren’t really the RAVENS this year, were they?
 
They bulldozed the Bills and then – in the end – the Colts. Running the ball not because they chose to but because they had to.
 
Hey, I bought in pretty good too. No doubt.
 
I suspected the game would come when a team would commit to stopping the run and find out whether Tom Brady could beat them with Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen and no viable tight end as a pass-catching threat.
 
Denver did that Sunday. Actually, the Patriots knew Denver would do that and went to the air of their own volition. It went about as I expected.
 
But I didn’t expect the domination the Broncos put on them. Because I undersold the Denver Broncos. And Peyton Manning. That offense can stand right there with the 2007 Patriots and whichever Cowboys and Niners offenses you want to select from their Super Bowl seasons. It’s diabolical. And Manning is a maestro.
 
Would things have been different Sunday if Tom Brady was dialed in? If Aqib Talib never got obliterated by Wes Welker? Maybe a little.
 
Maybe they could have pulled off an afternoon’s worth of magic tricks and taken down the Broncos. And what then? The Seahawks defense against this collection of offensive players? The Patriots spirit would have been willing but the flesh? Weak.
 
The Patriots got 13 wins in 18 games out of what they had. Remarkable. Truly. It was real fun. Even if it wasn’t a real good team.