Consider this; swing those ten points from the two Broncos fumbles in the second quarter the other way, assuming just for the sake of argument that Denver would have sustained those drives and scored instead, and suddenly you have a 31-33 game in favor of Denver. That’s the price of turnovers, and Denver learned that the hard way on Sunday. After a red-hot first quarter that made it look like Denver could go toe-to-toe with any team in the league, two fumbles in the second quarter caused the Broncos to lose their composure and eventually the game. We said that Denver needed every aspect of the game to come to together to win against the Patriots, but instead they had mistakes on defense, they had mistakes on special teams, and they made mistakes on offense. Perhaps the biggest problem was a defense that had up to this point done a good job getting Tebow the ball letting Brady and Patriots run up and down the field almost unimpeded. Still, maybe this was exactly what the Broncos needed; now they just have to take care of the Bills and those surprising Chiefs.
Week 15: Denver 23, New England 41 - Despite the fumble, Tebow actually had a pretty good day. He’s certainly showing some ability to play from the pocket and get passes where they need to be. He went 11 of 22 for 194 yards. He also had 93 yards on the ground and a couple of rushing TDs. Not quite the big day we predicted, but certainly one of his best thus far. McGahee found room for 70 yards rushing, 6 less than in our sim, and Ball added 64 more and a TD. The two big issues here were of course the turnovers and that defense that couldn’t stop the Patriots. In our sim, the Broncos shut down the New England passing game, but that just didn’t happen in the real game. Blown coverages and an inability to keep the tight ends contained gave Brady another big day. And then just like in our sim, the Broncos also had trouble containing the ground game. The Broncos got going early but mistakes and a leaky defense led to their downfall; now they have two weeks to get that taken care of to prove they belong in the playoffs.
This is the Broncos’ true test of the season; can they compete with an elite team. This isn’t some team that’s in disarray, riddled with injuries, starting a rookie or second or third-string quarterback. This is the New England Patriots, so it’s time to see if Tebow and the Broncos can stand toe-to-toe with one of the better teams in the AFC or if they really are just opportunistic pretenders. I’ll say this; Denver needs a complete game. Every facet from defense to offense to special teams needs to be in top form for them to have a chance. More than that, Tebow time needs to happen long before the fourth quarter. Denver doesn’t have a hope if Brady plays four quarters and Tebow only plays one. Can Denver pull it off? Well, according to our Madden sim, Denver may be looking at a victory this week, but only a moral one:
Week 15: Denver 17, New England 24 - Things got off to a fairly slow start, which is a testament to the defense. Unfortunately, they couldn’t keep it up and eventually dropped the ball (more on that to come). Nevertheless, they kept New England from scoring on the opening drive. Meanwhile, Denver moved the ball on their firs possession, but we eventually stopped and kicked a 35 yard field goal. The Patriots came out on fire on their next drive, but again the defense made a stand and New England had to settle for a 36 yard field goal of their own.
Moving into the second quarter, the defense contained Brady and the Patriots while Tebow and the Broncos were able to move the ball well. Unfortunately, Denver couldn’t punch it into the end zone. They settled for a 50 yard field goal and a 44 yard field goal, to go up by six as the half ended.
Denver got the ball to start the third quarter but weren’t able to do much, and unfortunately their troubles began when they missed, barely, a 56 yard field goal. With a short field to work with, Brady didn’t waste much time and the Denver D started to leak. Despite two defenders getting solid contact, Branch took a pass from Brady 39 yards for a TD.
The fourth quarter didn’t prove to be much better for Denver as New England was able to get two more TDs, both on the ground. Green-Ellis rand for a 28 yard TD and a 44 yard TD, making things look pretty grim for the struggling Broncos. It was Tebow Time, and he did what he does best. As time ran down, the Broncos got down the field and finally found the end zone with a 4 yard TD pass. Then, McGahee ran it in for the two point conversion.
Still, they were down by seven with just 45 seconds left. It would come down to an onsides kick. The kick went up and the first Patriots player missed the ball, but before any Broncos could get there, another player scooped and it and in so doing, dashed any hope of another miracle comeback. Brady ran out the clock and the Patriots got the win.
The Denver defense buckled in key moments, missing tackles and allowing big plays despite being in good position. It also didn’t help that the Denver receivers, as always it seems, dropped some key passes on third down. The amazing thing is Denver controlled the clock and the field. Brady, as remarkable as it may seem, only had 83 yards passing. Crazy right? Well, he can’t get yards if he isn’t on the field. Also, he didn’t need to pass much because Green-Ellis had 131 yards on the ground. Still, it wasn’t all bleak for the Broncos. Tebow came out throwing right from the start and found some decent success when his passes were on target. He went 19/35 for 234 yards and 1 TD. He also rushed for 21 yards, including an important third down conversion. McGahee had 76 yards on the ground while three Denver receivers had five catches and more the fifty yards. It was the inability to find that end zone until late in the game that really hurt them. Denver needs to score early and consistently to keep up with the Patriots. They’re capable of doing so, but we’ll see if this week’s game is the next big step in Tebow’s development or a moment that reveals the Broncos as mere pretenders.