DENVER — Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 20-18 loss to the Broncos in the AFC Championship game:
■ It wasn’t the best day for Tom Brady by any stretch, and the Patriots’ star players — Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski — were smothered. But this loss can be squarely pinned on the offensive line, which got absolutely torched by Von Miller and the Broncos’ front seven.
The Patriots’ two tackles were roasted — Miller consistently beat Marcus Cannon around the right side for 2.5 sacks, while Sebastian Vollmer, still dealing with a sprained ankle, couldn’t handle DeMarcus Ware — and Josh Kline couldn’t contain Derek Wolfe (sack). Brady had pressure in his face on almost every pass, making him skittish in the pocket.
On top of it, Bryan Stork’s snaps consistently did not get to the quarterback quickly enough, giving the pass rushers time to get to Brady.
And with Brady frazzled, he made some strange decisions — a throw to Danny Amendola in double coverage on third down, for example, and a bad deep pass that was easily intercepted. And two of the Patriots’ fourth-down plays in the fourth quarter were sabotaged by poor protection.
The line’s inability to protect Brady completely short-circuited the offense.
■ On top of that, you have to give the Broncos’ secondary a lot of credit for locking down Edelman and Gronkowski for most of the day and forcing Brady to pat the football in the pocket. The duo combined to catch just 14 of 26 passes thrown their way for 193 yards, and much of that damage was done in the fourth quarter, after the Broncos lost both of their starting safeties to injury. If the short-passing offense isn’t working, the Patriots are in trouble. And they were on Sunday.
■ Heartbreaking loss for Stephen Gostkowski, who missed his first extra point since 2006. He’s been an unbelievably steady and clutch kicker for the Patriots, but chose the absolute worst time to shank the kick.
■ We’ll probably debate for days on end about whether the Patriots should have kicked field goals in the fourth quarter instead of going for it on fourth down. At the time, I thought it was the right call to go for it. Trailing by 8 in the fourth quarter, you don’t know how many times you will get the ball back, and I don’t blame the Patriots for putting the game in Brady’s hands.
■ This was a weird game by the Patriots from the start. Bill Belichick won the coin toss, and opted to receive the football instead of defer. Gostkowski missed his first extra point since the 2006 season. Brady threw an interception right to Miller, as if he never saw him dropping off into coverage.
Brady threw two interceptions in a game for only the second time all season (Eagles loss). Stork committed a terrible 15-yard penalty after the whistle. They got behind the chains all day, went 2 for 15 on third down, and gave the Broncos a short field for their second touchdown of the game.
■ Brady kept going to James White over and over with the deep fade against Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall. I know Brady must have liked that matchup, but it’s an insanely low-percentage play, and at some point you’ve got to stop trying.
■ This loss certainly wasn’t on the Patriots’ defense, which only allowed 20 points and 245 total yards. The Broncos authored a nice long touchdown drive to open the game, but otherwise couldn’t move the chains. The Patriots held the Broncos to 3.4 yards per carry, and just 3 points in the second half. But they couldn’t come up with a big game-changing turnover in the second half.
■ Jamie Collins had a great day rushing the passer, bringing Peyton Manning down for two sacks, but Collins got burned twice by tight end Owen Daniels for touchdowns. Malcolm Butler had a real tough time with Emmanuel Sanders, allowing five catches for 62 yards and giving up a few key first downs. The Patriots allowing Manning to convert a third-and-10 with a scramble was awful.