By Erik Frenz (Twitter: @ErikFrenz)
Cold, Hard Football Facts Patriots beat writer
The Denver Broncos haven't faced very many good offenses since Tim Tebow took over as starting quarterback, and the two they have faced -- the Detroit Lions, and now the New England Patriots -- have brought a premature end to Tebow time by ensuring it never got to that point.
Here are five things we learned:
Turnovers win and lose football games
We all know the Broncos had been great in the ball security department during their six-game winning streak, just as the Patriots have relied on their ability to win the turnover battle during their six-game winning streak. The Broncos turned it over three times in the second quarter alone, and have turned it over three times in each of Tim Tebow's two losses as a starter this season.
The Broncos were hanging around in the game until losing those three turnovers, which New England turned into 13 points. John Fox knows that to be the reason the Broncos lost, as he commented after the game, "You're not going to be minus three against the New England Patriots and win very many ballgames. Having played them very many times, I know that to be true." He's right: Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots are now 59-2 when the opponent turns it over three or more times.
When the Patriots win the turnover battle, they outscore opponents 298-178 and are 8-1. However, they are just 2-2 when they don't win the turnover battle, and outscore opponents just 101-95.
Aaron Hernandez shows up his former Florida teammate
Tim Tebow grabbed the headlines before the game -- and will continue to do so afterward -- but Aaron Hernandez was the story of the game, with nine receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker were quieter than a library during finals week, with just eight receptions for 94 yards between them. It was clearly a priority of the Broncos to shut them up. But Aaron Hernandez was loud on Sunday, screaming out to a hot start and helping the Patriots offense keep the ball moving.
"[Aaron's] tough to cover one-on-one, and doing different things out there," said Welker according to Patriots.com. "He's a big mismatch for a lot of defenses, so getting him involved and him making the plays he did is huge for us. I'm sure he'll continue to do that."
That was a big performance for Hernandez, especialy in the absence of Deion Branch. Hernandez had been relatively quiet on the stat sheet, but on the season, Brady is 68-of-92 for 736 yards, six touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 114.2 when targeting the big tight end. Brady was nine-of-11 for 129 yards and a touchdown to him on Sunday against the Broncos.
Tom Brady is terrific
We "learn" this pretty much every week, but Tom Brady had some noteworthy achievements
Brady has surpassed a 100 passer rating in 11 of 14 games this season.
Brady has thrown 35 or more touchdowns three times, tying Brett Favre's record.
Brady is on pace for his second career 40-touchdown season, which would tie Dan Marino's record mark.
Brady is on pace for 5,000 yards, and would become just the third quarterback in NFL history to reach that mark.
The concern was that the Patriots had become too reliant on their main threats, Gronkowski and Welker. Obviously, Hernandez's big day helped out a bit but he spread the ball around to eight receivers. That ties New England's season high, a number they haven't reached since Week 1 against the Dolphins. This is also just a few short weeks after only four receivers -- Gronkowski, Hernandez, Welker and Branch -- had receptions against the Eagles.
Running game returns to form, can contribute if needed
The Patriots running game has belonged on the side of a milk carton for the past few weeks, but got it done today against the Broncos. They ran the ball 36 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns. Their 141 yards are the third-highest total of the season, and their three touchdowns and 36 carries are the team's highest marks in those categories this season.
Stevan Ridley had a majority of the carries with 11, and had the team's highest per-carry average of running backs with 5.9 (Aaron Hernandez had one carry for 16 yards).
The running game is finding its legs at just the right time, as New England will need to be able to fall back on it should Tom not be as terrific in the postseason.
Patriots defense gets gashed...on the ground?
It's become a weekly ritual to lament the big time yardage that New England's secondary consistently gives up. This week, however, we'll bitch about something else -- the run defense.
The Patriots have been gashed through the air at an historic rate this season. They are no longer on pace to give up over 5,000 passing yards on defense, but are still on pace to give up the most passing yards in NFL history (4,808). Today, however, the Broncos reeled off 133 yards on the ground along with two touchdowns in the opening quarter, and finished the day with 252 yards rushing. You have to go back to Week 17 of the 2002 season to find a game in which the Patriots gave up as many yards on the ground as they did to the Broncos. And that game went to overtime (27-24 win over the Dolphins).
No matter what the Patriots do, it seems they're doomed to give up big yards. That being said, for all those yards -- 393 net, to be exact -- the Patriots gave up just 23 points for a Bendability Index rating of 17.09 yards per point scored. It's their opportunistic defense that at least gives them a chance to dig themselves out of holes, even if they spend the rest of the game digging themselves into those holes.