We’ve established at this point that the Patriots are good at a few things.
They have a manic attention to detail when it comes to special teams. They like spreading it around to backs and tight ends in their passing game. And they don’t need a lot of help.
The Patriots clocked the Broncos 41-16, effectively putting the game to bed in the first half because of an avalanche of Broncos errors on special teams.
But it was how quickly they took advantage of those mistakes that was so alarming.
The longest of their first four touchdown drives (the fact there were more is telling) was a three-minute, 18-second march. That one actually took them seven plays to cover 75 yards. Making people pay in a hurry has been a staple of theirs, but so is taking what is given to them.
With the Broncos defense dedicated to blanketing tight end Rob Gronkowski early, quarterback Tom Brady kept throwing it to the alternatives, with nine different players catching passes, the little stuff that doesn’t make for pretty highlights but remains effective. He finished 25-of-34 for 266 yards and three touchdowns, and was able to let Brian Hoyer finish up.
Their stat sheet numbers might not look overwhelming (they had 350 yards of total offense when Brady called it a night), but they dominated the Broncos throughout this game.
As they do often, to many teams who don’t play cleanly against them. They can be beaten, but not by bad teams which are also sloppy.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. The Broncos have now lost five in a row, and it’s not hard to tell why.
They’re incredibly slow-starting since their bye week, back when they still looked like a decent team.
Since then, they’ve been outscored 55-6 in the first quarter, and 106-24 in the first half.
With an unsettled situation at quarterback (it’s hard to blame either Trevor Siemian or Brock Osweiler), the Broncos are unable to come back from those kinds of holes each week, no matter how good their defense is.
And even though they’ve given up 92 points in the last two weeks, it’s hard to throw rocks at the defense considering the short fields and deficits they had t deal with. That wasn’t the problem Sunday.
2. There was a bright spot for the Broncos. Other than the fact they get to live in Denver, which is lovely.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders had six catches for 137 yards, the bulk of Osweiler’s 221 passing yards.
So they’ve got that going for them. Which is nice.
3. New Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett looked healthy enough.
He only played two snaps in the first half his debut with his old team, but caught a pair of passes for 32 yards.
That’s not going to make the Packers very happy, after he effectively talked his way out of town while saying he was too injured to play.
4. Speaking of Patriots tight ends, it was nice of Dwayne Allen to arrive this year.
Allen hadn’t caught a pass this year, and after missing one in the first half was 0-for-7 on targets this year.
But his first one mattered, as he caught an 11-yard touchdown pass.
Dealing for him seemed to make sense for the Patriots, considering he was replacing Bennett and they use so many multiple-tight end plays. But until Sunday, they hadn’t gotten much in return for the 2018 fourth-rounder they sent the Colts (they also got a sixth-rounder from Indianapolis in the trade).
5. It takes some work to be a less popular Brock in Denver than Osweiler.
But special teams coach Brock Olivo may have done that.
Watching his units give up a blocked punt, allowing a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and muffing a punt to lead to the first score was a nightmare for Olivo.
All of that stuff happened in the first half, when the Broncos had actually outgained the Patriots 189-184, which illustrates how crushing those mistakes are. Giving the Patriots a free first down in the fourth quarter instead of making them punt was just piling on, and deserved a penalty beyond five yards.
Olivo, the former Lions running back, is in his first year on the job after working under Dave Toub in Kansas City the last three years. He might need a reference soon. Or at least some advice.