Instant analysis from the Patriots’ 18-12 loss to the Broncos:
▪ The Patriots just don’t have enough firepower on offense to overcome all of these injuries on the offensive line. There’s no question the Patriots’ offensive struggles Sunday revolved around the offensive line, with three starters out because of injury and illness. But Cam Newton had no help on offense, with James White catching eight of his 17 completions and receiver N’Keal Harry being shut down.
Newton threw for just 157 yards and two interceptions, and didn’t have a completion more than 19 yards. The only reason the Patriots were in this game in the fourth quarter was because the defense forced two turnovers, and Josh McDaniels used a few gimmick plays. Two passes by Julian Edelman and two big scrambles by Newton produced 88 yards, and the Patriots’ other 52 plays gained only 200 yards.
It’s not time to panic yet, and if the Patriots get David Andrews and Shaq Mason back soon, the offense should improve. But Newton needs more receivers who can win one-on-one at the line of scrimmage. It would be nice if this team could add a tight end or receiver at the Nov. 3 trade deadline.
▪ Where were Edelman and Harry? Edelman had two catches on six targets for 8 yards, and his only real impact came on two completions for 38 yards in the fourth quarter. This is the third week in a row Edelman has been held to three or fewer catches and less than 40 yards. Defenses are figuring out that if you take Edelman out of the game, the Patriots don’t have much else on offense. McDaniels needs to find ways to get Edelman the ball.
And Harry had no catches on just two targets. Since his promising game in Seattle, Harry has just five catches for 55 yards in three games.
▪ Not practicing much over the past two weeks is not an excuse for the Patriots. The Titans didn’t practice much, either, and they laid a beating on the Bills last week and won Sunday. The Patriots looked rusty on offense, and the run defense was sloppy. Add in three turnovers, and this was not a game to remember for the Patriots. With two weeks to prepare, I expected better out of Bill Belichick and the coaching staff.
▪ It seemed strange at the time, but I don’t disagree with Belichick’s decision to go for 2 when down by 9 points, when an extra point could have made it a one-score game. When trailing by 15, you’re going to have to go for 2 at least once. And if you’re not going to convert it, it’s better to do it with eight minutes left on the clock than one minute. The Patriots still had plenty of time to make the comeback.
What I didn’t understand was Belichick not challenging the spot on James White’s third-down run early in the fourth quarter. Belichick sat on his red flag and allowed Jake Bailey to punt away, even though replay appeared to show White picking up enough yards with a second effort. That should have been an easy challenge decision, especially given the Patriots' 18-3 deficit.
When asked if he considered challenging it, Belichick replied, “No, not really.”
But he didn’t explain why. Belichick whiffed on that one.
▪ The Patriots have significant offensive line issues, and they may not improve any time soon. They were playing with three rookies in the second half, and the only starter in his normal spot was left tackle Isaiah Wynn. The Broncos got consistent push and were in Newton’s face all game long, and the Patriots' running backs combined for just 15 carries for 41 yards.
Even Joe Thuney and Wynn, the two veterans on the line, had tough games. Wynn allowed a sack and missed the block that led to a blocked pass and interception in the first quarter. And Thuney made a wild snap that ruined a promising scoring drive in the first half.
▪ It didn’t help that Newton was holding onto the ball too long. Of his four sacks, three probably belong to Newton and his penchant for staying too long in the pocket. But it didn’t seem that anyone was getting open downfield.
And for a quarterback who stands 6 feet 5 inches, Newton sure gets a lot of passes batted at the line of scrimmage.
▪ Kind of a hot and cold game for the Patriots’ defense. They didn’t force a punt until 14 minutes remained in the fourth quarter. And they couldn’t get off the field, allowing drives of 5:54, 5:01 and 9:07 in the second and third quarters.
But if you don’t allow a touchdown, and hold the other team to 18 points and 299 yards, and force two turnovers, and keep the opponent out of the end zone twice in the red zone, that should be good enough to win. In fact, the Patriots had been 39-0 under Belichick when holding the other team out of the end zone. The Patriots’ defense wasn’t the reason they lost, but they needed to be great, not just good, to overcome a poor offensive performance.
▪ The Broncos clearly felt they could take advantage of their height at receiver against the Patriots’ cornerbacks. Their entire passing game was just Drew Lock throwing a bunch of jump balls. Tim Patrick came down with a few big ones, including a 35-yarder on third-and-21, and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam had a couple of nice grabs (though he also dropped two sure touchdowns).
But the Broncos couldn’t get in any real rhythm in the passing game, with Lock completing 10-of-24 passes for just 189 yards. And Lock’s risky throws finally caught up with him, with J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones each coming up with interceptions in the fourth quarter. Lock made a few big throws, but he didn’t exactly win this game.