DENVER — The Hooded Genius finally didn’t have all the answers.
Many fans might point to a listless offense as the reason for the Patriots’ disheartening 26-16 loss to the Broncos in the AFC Championship game Sunday afternoon. The performance on that side of the ball didn’t help, but this game was all about Bill Belichick not having an answer for Peyton Manning, for once.
Belichick’s defense hardly laid a finger on Manning — not only zero sacks, but also zero quarterback hits on 43 pass attempts. Manning appropriately carved up the Patriots’ defense for 400 passing yards, two touchdowns, and an almost 75 percent completion rate, and Belichick’s defense couldn’t figure out any way to stop him.
The Broncos gained 507 total yards — the most allowed by the Patriots all season — made seven of 13 third-down conversions, and held onto the ball for 35:10. After punting on their first possession, the Broncos scored two touchdowns and kicked four field goals on their next six.
The loss was certainly a result of the Patriots’ injuries catching up with them. Sealver Siliga isn’t as good as Vince Wilfork, Dane Fletcher is no Jerod Mayo, and losing Aqib Talib in the second quarter was a killer.
But this is supposed to be when Belichick shines his brightest. Where was the unique game plan he was supposed to have dialed up for Manning with eight days of preparation? Where were the exotic blitzes, unique personnel groupings, or in-game adjustments that he is so famous for?
For a change, Manning got the better of him. Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas were open consistently across the middle all game. Alfonzo Dennard had no chance of stopping Demaryius Thomas on a 30-yard fade pass, and Jamie Collins was helpless on a 37-yard fade to Julius Thomas in the fourth quarter. Manning even checked to a draw play on a third and 10 in the first half, and Knowshon Moreno hit it for 28 yards.
The Patriots lost by double-digits for the first time all year. And this time, for once, it was because Belichick and the defense didn’t have any answers.Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin