Monday, January 16, 2006

Broncos v/ Patriots: The Better Team Edition

Andrew Perloff had this to say about Saturday’s Broncos-Patriots game.

The better team lost Saturday night in Denver.

He’s certainly entitled to his opinion on the subject, and, since he gets paid for his opinion I suppose it is even more valuable than my own. At least in absolute dollar terms.

But he’s wrong.

I won’t take anything away from the Patriots. They had a tough season with crucial injuries--and they played exceptionally well. While I was ready to write them off after their earlier loss to the Broncos, they fought and found their way back to the playoffs. They are a great team and I won’t say a bad word about them; in fact, I was a little worried about the Broncos facing them this last weekend. But the better team won on Saturday. The better team that night and the better team this year.

The Broncos had the better record, played what turned out to be a brutal schedule in one of the toughest divisions in the lead, and earned their way to a first round buy. They won pretty, they won ugly, they won with defense and offense, they had moments of luck, they had moments where unheralded players made clutch plays, and they won when their biggest names made their biggest plays. They had injuries and found ways to win. They played a season where balance was the key--a solid defense that kept teams from scoring, a balanced attack that ground down opponents and won by avoiding mistakes.

For a team with little in the way of star power, the Broncos put together a pretty spectacular season--but they did it in the shadow of Indy’s brilliance and the Patriot’s comeback.

So, in honor of the better team, here are some thoughts.

  1. The better team lost twice to the Broncos this year.
  2. The better team had a worse record on the season.
  3. The better team missed kicks, threw interceptions, and fumbled the ball away on Saturday.
  4. Yep, the pass interference call was bad and the non-call on the false start wasn’t all that much better. But two things: first, bad calls are part of the game and there were other missed calls that could have been called against both team, and, second, a team that is -4 on turnovers for a day have more significant problems than just two bad calls.
  5. And don’t talk to me about how the Patriots simply gave the game away. That many turnovers don’t happen just by bad luck. Champ Bailey made a great move on a ball, taking advantage of Brady’s mistake. Sauerbrun’s tackle, forcing a fumble, was a gutsy, great tackle (especially for a punter). Whenever the ball hit the ground, there were Broncos scrambling to take advantage; and when they gave the ball to the offense, the offense put points on the board. The Broncos put pressure on Brady, played well against the run, and created opportunities for big plays.
  6. Meanwhile, the Patriots lost a little of their typical composure.
  7. And what about Mike Anderson digging in for first downs late in the game? Or the late game bootleg that helped the Broncos establish field position?
  8. One of the big stories of this game was a strategic advantage: the Broncos kept the Patriots pinned down on their side of the field for much of the first half. That limited the Patriots’ play calling and provided much of the early difference.
  9. The Patriots’ running game melted away and even though the Broncos did little better in the early going, they found ways in the fourth quarter to dominate the clock and get a few crucial first downs later in the game. And Anderson’s two touchdown runs--short runs, yes--were both perfectly executed short yardage plays.

The Patriots are a great team and have been for years. The Broncos, though, did at least as much to earn their way into the playoffs and into the position to be playing for the right to go to the Super Bowl this year. The better team won on Saturday night--and here’s hoping they find a way to win again this weekend.

I have no doubt that the Pats will be in the hunt again next year (along with Indy, the Chargers, the Chiefs, and, hopefully, my Broncos) and we’ll have the opportunity to see precisely who is the best team. For this season, though, the Broncos have proven themselves to be a tough team.


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