Tebow Time took a time warp yesterday.
The first quarter looked more like the late-game version of Tim the Savior, with the Broncos destroying the Patriots makeshift defense.
The rest of the game? Bubble burst.
Thanks to some solid schematic adjustments and some costly Broncos bumbles, the Patriots scored 27 unanswered points, shut down the Broncos offense and steamrolled their way to a 41-23 victory.
Despite clinching their ninth AFC East division title in 11 years, the Patriots suffered a huge loss on the field as defensive end Andre Carter suffered a season-ending quad injury, according to various reports.
As much as he is lauded for his 10 sacks, Carter has been equally dominant in the run game. The steady veteran will be sorely missed on a defense that’s been stretched dangerously thin.
Let’s take a look at this week’s risers and fallers.
1. Aaron Hernandez: During my freshman year at the University of Florida, I had the privilege of watching Hernandez in person. When he fell to the fourth round in the 2010 draft, I couldn’t believe a talent like him was still available on the final day. Apparently neither did the Pats. After a solid, but inconsistent rookie year, the other half of the league’s top tight end duo has officially played his way into Pro Bowl consideration. With the Broncos focused on taking away Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker, Hernandez torched the Broncos linebackers for a career-high nine catches for 129 yards a touchdown. The Connecticut-native has an incredible combination of speed and agility and is one of the best in the league at generating yards after the catch.
2. Mark Anderson: With Carter going down at the end of the first quarter, the team’s second-leading sack artist did what he does best: get after the quarterback. Playing both defensive end and outside linebacker, Anderson racked up two sacks and a crucial forced fumble. While his size limits his effectiveness as a run defender, he makes use of his great athleticism to put pressure on the passer. If the Pats have any shot at a deep playoff run, Anderson will have to prove he can shoulder the load.
3. Pass protection: The Dumervil/Miller train appeared off its tracks on Sunday. While no one (especially Tom Brady) will forget Dumervil’s bone-crushing sack, the Broncos fearsome pass rush recorded only one other sack and a total of three quarterback hits on 34 passing attempts. Matt Light has stepped up his game over the second half of the season, shutting down the likes of Dwight Freeney, Trent Cole, Jason Babin and Brian Orakpo. Nate Solder/Marcus Cannon didn’t embarrass themselves at right tackle either.
4. Kicking game: Stephen Gostowski has rebounded with two flawless performances, making both field goal attempts and all five extra-point attempts. Julian Edelman averaged 7.7 yards per punt return and made a great diving tackle on kickoff coverage. Overall, the improvement of the coverage units has been encouraging as it’s given the defense better field position. Zoltan Mesko averaged 40.5 yards per punt, with three of his four kicks downed inside the 20.
1. Run defense: In an alarming trend, the Patriots run defense was gashed early and often. The Broncos came out firing and trampled their way to two rushing touchdowns in the first quarter. Linebacker Dane Fletcher struggled to shed blocks and the safeties exhibited some poor tackling technique. Denver averaged an astounding 8.1 yards per carry on 31 totes and totaled three TDs. Hopefully the return of Brandon Spikes and Pat Chung will cure this issue.