Pats clinch AFC title with 41-23 win over Denver

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Pats clinch AFC title with 41-23 win over Denver

In every cliche lives some truth. Sometimes a lot of it.

Take the one about being unable to win in the NFL if you turn the ball over. All the Tebow Magic in the world means nothing if you fumble, and fumble, and fumble some more . . . especially against the New England Patriots.

The Broncos started Sunday's game as if they were going to run the Pats out of Invesco Field at Mile High, out of the state of Colorado, and perhaps all the way into the Pacific Ocean. They were nearly unstoppable as they rolled up 218 yards in the first quarter -- a pace that would have netted them 872 total yards in the game -- and built a 16-7 lead with nearly 11 minutes left in the half.

New England put together its second 80-yard scoring drive to cut the lead to 16-14 . . . and then the turnovers started. And by game's end -- a 41-23 Patriots victory -- it was hard to remember Denver was ever in this one, let alone in control.

"It's always good to be able to get the ball out a couple of times," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "We were able to capitalize on those opportunities."

The victory was important for the Patriots: It raised their record to 11-3, clinched the AFC East title and -- thanks to Houston's loss -- gives them a clear shot at a first-round bye. If they win their final two games (at home against the Dolphins and Bills), they're guaranteed of no worse than second seed.

And the recipe was as old as the game of football itself: Force the opposition into mistakes, and take advantage when they make them:

First, Ron Brace stripped Lance Ball of the ball and Ron Ninkovich recovered at the Broncos 19. The Pats got to the Denver 3 before stalling, and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 21-yard field to give them a 17-16 lead.

On Denver's next possession, Mark Anderson strip-sacked Tim Tebow and recovered the fumble at the Denver 40. It took six plays for the Pats to go in, with Tom Brady scoring on a one-yard sneak -- followed by a Gronkowski-like spike -- for a 24-16 advantage.

"I don't get in the end zone very often, maybe once a season," explained Brady, dismissing the notion that he was reacting to the hype surrounding Tebow with his spike. "When I do, I get excited."

Then, in the most egregious error of the day, Quan Crosby muffed a punt on the Denver 17 with three seconds left and Dane Fletcher pounced on the loose ball. Gostkowski kicked a 34-yard field goal on the last play of the half, making it 27-16.

Throw in seven Denver penalties (against only four for the Patriots), and the die was cast. The Pats sandwiched second-half touchdowns around Tebow's second scoring run for the 41-23 final.

Tebow was the game's leading rusher, picking up 93 yards on 12 carries with the two touchdowns, but completed only half his passes (11-of-22) for 194 yards. He was also sacked four times for a rather astounding total of 53 yards, but 28 of them came on a late fourth-quarter desperation scramble on fourth down that completely broke down.
He and the Denver offense looked unstoppable at the beginning -- the Broncos ran for 133 yards in the first quarter, the most rushing yards ever allowed by a Belichick-coached Patriots team in one quarter -- but defensive captain Vince Wilfork said the Pats never lost their poise.
"We knew they were going to come out fast and explosive," said Wilfork, referring to the Broncos' treating this game as a measuring stick for themselves. "Our main goal was to weather the storm."

And quite a storm it was.

"We knew we were going to have to make adjustments," said Wilfork.

After they made them, they held Denver to 175 yards total offense over the last three quarters, and only the one touchdown in the final 41 minutes.
"We turned the game around defensively," said Wilfork.
As for the offense, it was business as usual. Brady had another 300-yard passing day (320) on a 23-for-34 performance, and -- with Denver determined to neutralize Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski -- completed 9 passes to Aaron Hernandez for 129 yards and a touchdown. He even hit Chad Ochocinco (!) with a touchdown pass, a 33-yarder for the first score of the game.

They also had a good day on the ground, as Stevan Ridley (65 yards), Danny Woodhead (40 yards and a TD) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (17 yards and a TD) spearheaded a 141-yard ground attack.

"It was a very emotional game," said Brady. "We showed some mental toughness. We really fought for 60 minutes."

Another football cliche . . . but, like the other one, just as true.

Tom Brady explains why he thinks Bill Belichick is the best of all time

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Tom Brady explains why he thinks Bill Belichick is the best of all time

Tom Brady may be biased, but he believes that Patriots coach Bill Belichick is the best to ever walk a sideline. 

That's what Brady told Westwood One's Jim Gray in an interview before the radio broadcast of Monday night's game between the Falcons and Saints. After Belichick helped cook up a game plan for the Patriots to beat the Texans on short rest with rookie third-round quarterback Jacoby Brissett behind center, Brady may not have many people argue with him. 

"I definitely think so," Brady answered when he was asked if Belichick was "the best coach to have ever done this."

"I think whatever hand he's been dealt, he finds a way to win. That's the mark of a great coach. Sitting in those meetings for the last 16 years and watching him prepare the team, there's no [other] coach I'd ever want to play for. He's just remarkable in every aspect. It's a privilege to play for him. I look forward to going back out there and, you know, getting yelled at by him. He's tough on the players and he expects the very best out of each of us every day. That ends up getting the best out of players. He's so consistent with his approach, and it's paid of for our team for a long time."

Brady said it's that consistency that stands out to him and separates Belichick from any of his peers.

"I think his consistency is just what's remarkable," Brady explained. "It's so much of what you don't see on these Sunday afternoons. But it's the way the offseason program is run in April. It's his urgency and enthusiasm at that time of year when no one's watching. His OTA schedule and his emphasis over the course of those practices in May and June when no one's really watching. There's no scoreboard to compete against. But we always feel like we're in competing against the other teams, even when there is no scoreboard.

"You go to training camp, and you can't waste days in training camp because you don't get those days back. Those days in training camp are going to prepare you for what's going to happen in Septmeber. There's urgency throughout the entire offseason to get us to the month of September, and then once September comes it's all about winning games and making improvements towards October.

"Then once you make improvements toward October, you can be in a really good position to really capitalize come November. That's when the playoff races start to shape up and you really see where you're at and there's a lot of scouting done at that point. That's whenn you really see the team develop and how the depth of the team really takes place. Coach Belichick is always understanding where the roster needs to be at and which positions we may need a little more depth at based on injuries over the course of the season.

"Then comes December when it's the last stretch of the season when you need to be at your best. He prepares us all the way throughout the season. His consistency has been remarkable. It's been fun to see from this point obvously for the last four weeks, but I've experienced that every day. That part of it doesn't really surprise me, but to see the way that my teammates have come out and played and performed under pressure on a Sunday night game, and the first home game, and a Thursday national TV game, it's just been so much fun to watch."

Rex and the Bills can’t afford to go belly-up vs. Patriots

Rex and the Bills can’t afford to go belly-up vs. Patriots

An unexpected – and convincing – win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday put some bounce back into the step of Rex Ryan.

Now, instead of gazing at his cavernous navel, wallowing in an 0-3 start and ticking off the reasons it isn’t really his fault, he’s buoyant.

After opening his press conference by mocking Bill Belichick’s deadpan approach to injuries, Ryan was asked what a win over the Patriots would do.

“It would mean a lot to our football team,” he said. “I think when you look at it, they’ve been the standard of this league. Not just in our conference or division or whatever. They’ve been the standard of the league. So you want to put yourself up against the best. I think everybody saw what happened when everybody’s: “No Tom Brady, this team is going to be a disaster.” Well they’re 3-0 last time I checked and beat some pretty good football teams. So, yeah, it’ll mean a lot. We need a win in the worst way. But, as far as the Patriots, I think, my admiration is really for Belichick more than anything. As a coach, that’s the guy, that’s the best. He’ll go down as probably the best in the history of the game. So, I like poking fun at him and all that stuff but there’s no coach I respect more than him.”

We are now in Year Seven of having Rex as an AFC East foil for Belichick. Given the start in Buffalo and the way things ended last year, we may not see a Year Eight. So the candor – even if it’s nonsense – will be missed when it’s gone.

With Tom Brady down for one more week, Jimmy Garoppolo likely being a close call with his AC joint separation and Jacoby Brissett having injured his thumb, there is uncertainty for Ryan to deal with. And he knows it will drag.

“I expect them immediately to tell us,” Ryan responded when asked when he thought he’d find out who the Bills would be defending. "As soon as they tell us, we’ll be like, 'yeah, ok.' Nobody would believe it anyway, Nah, I don’t know. We’re not going to find out until kickoff…

“We’ll we’ll be prepared for them,” he added. “We’re looking at all their talents and all that. The Patriots are a little different. They may take an entire game plan, and throw that away and look at you differently then they look at other teams. So, I’m watching them play Miami, and they’re chipping their defensive ends. Will they do that to us? I don’t know. Looks like to us, they do a lot of empty. So, we’ll see how they decide to play us, we’ll be ready for everything.”

Ryan gave due credit to the Patriots for their 3-0 start, saying, “Brady’s probably the best player in the league. So, it’s hard to replace guys like that. But, they are a team. They’ve always been built as a team anyway. But it has been impressive. …They have an excellent football team. They do a great job, guys, they know their roles. They have a lot of veteran players that have been in systems for a long time. You take Julian Edelman, he replaces a [Wes] Welker. They just keep rolling on. So they draft and they get players to fit their system and they do a phenomenal job of it.”

Sunday's win over Arizona probably afforded Ryan only a little bit of time. If the Bills go belly-up in Foxboro against a third-string rookie, he'll be back on the clock.