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The Cardinals had a winning record with backup quarterbacks last year thanks in large part to their high-profile edge rusher who terrorized opposing offenses. We look at defeat leaders for every position, as well as overall leaders over the past few seasons.

25 Jan 2016

Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

compiled by Andrew Potter

During each game of the NFL playoffs, the FO staff sends around emails about the action. We share information, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about what we're watching. On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games. Though unlike the regular season we will cover every game, we may not cover every important play. We watch the games as fans rather than solely as analysts, so your favorite team might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Vikings fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors to cover every team, nor will we focus on a different team from the ones that we're personally interested in watching, just to ensure that Audibles covers every team equally.

New England Patriots 18 at Denver Broncos 20

Aaron Schatz: Whoo! We're coming to you live from Mile High Stadium! Well, Andrew Healy and I are. He's in the stands, I'm in the press box. Let's play some football.

Patriots win the coin toss and Bill Belichick wants the ball instead of choosing to defer. Surprise! Patriots get one first down, then punt. Great route by Emmanuel Sanders on third-and-10 on that next series. So many guys these days will run a route 9 yards on third-and-10. He rounded his cut just past the marker for a conversion.

Broncos are moving the ball. Got first down on third-and-6 when Logan Ryan committed a totally needless defensive pass interference -- Manning threw the ball way behind the receiver and he wasn't going to make it back to catch the pass. Drive ends with a seam pass touchdown to Owen Daniels against Cover-2. Really good offensive drive by Broncos.

Vince Verhei: Broncos opening drive makes it look surprisingly easy. Especially on the touchdown. Patriots rush three, drop eight, and somehow still leave the middle of the field wide open for Owen Daniels. Surprised they are giving such big cushions. You'd figure they would be pressing receivers and trying to force the Broncos to throw deep.

Scott Kacsmar: Still surprised the Patriots wanted the ball first. Denver with one of its better looking drives this season. Even had a Vernon Davis sighting.

Aaron Schatz: Bad no-call the next drive when T.J. Ward interferes with Rob Gronkowski on third-and-3. Definitely seems like the kind of play where home field and subconscious favoring of home team by officials played a part. Follows a really good play by Derek Wolfe to slap down a Brady pass that would have hit a wide-open Julian Edelman on second-and-3. Aqib Talib's specialty is not covering these agile little receivers like Edelman.

Cian Fahey: Going to add that fumble decision to the long list of reasons why I hate replay. Multiple refs were waving their arms and blowing their whistles before Jonathan Freeny picked up the ball. That doesn't seem like good process for decision-making.

Aaron Schatz: Well, they did get the call right, it was a backwards pass. Then the shocker was that Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point. So it's now 7-6.

Tom Gower: That's been the rule for a couple years, that a clear immediate recovery even post-whistle means that sort of play can be challenged. What Ronnie Hillman did was just stupid and lazy.

Scott Kacsmar: If the whistle was blown before a recovery (I don't know if that happened or not), should the Patriots get the ball? That doesn't seem right. They could see it was a lateral and move the ball back, but I would think the offense should keep it if the whistle blew. Just bad awareness by Hillman to ignore the ball. You heard a coach on Denver's sideline drop the f-bomb to him about that.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots with no fear of the deep ball, keeping ten up on the line, which is making it very difficult for Broncos to run the ball. But they just got a deep throw. It hung in the air, just no power behind it, but incredible catch by Emmanuel Sanders with Malcolm Butler right there, 34-yard gain.

Lots of unexpected things today. The missed extra point, of course. Tom Brady just threw an interception right into the hands of Von Miller, who had dropped into coverage. I don't think Brady even saw that Miller had dropped to cover Gronkowski. And then the Broncos score, converting yet another third-and-long (6 this time) when Owen Daniels gets away from Jamie Collins, wide open in the back right corner of the end zone. Collins' coverage was just awful there.

Biggest thing this game has been Denver converting third-and-long. Including the Ryan DPI, 3-for-6 on third down with 6 or more to go.

Scott Kacsmar: Daniels looks like the tight end Gary Kubiak always thought he was today. All year he has looked pretty slow, and was often falling down on his targets from Manning. Looks like a factor again. Pretty much everyone but Hillman is showing up for Denver.

Andrew Healy: A few thoughts from Denver:

1 ) Said before the DPI on Ryan that a defensive penalty was coming. Only prediction I've made. Conspiracy theory potential high with that call that led to seven Denver points followed by the non-call on Gronk and the highly questionable personal foul on Bryan Stork. Those calls ended two drives. This stuff absolutely can make the difference. Every Pats fan's nightmare

2) Loved Phillips' call to rush three and drop eight on Miller's interception.

3) My Broncos fan friend called the Gostkowski missed extra point. Now that's a Nostradamus act

Aaron Schatz: Patriots just marched downfield well but Brady got sacked in field goal range, third-and-3 at the 22. Gostkowski did hit the eventual 46-yarder from the 28. Broncos pass rush really toying with the Pats' offensive line today. DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, and Derek Wolfe all dominating. Patriots running game also going nowhere. Broncos don't want to hear about your shotgun running plays.

Vince Verhei: Add "unsportsmanlike conduct on Denver's punt gunner for running out of bounds" to the list of weird things we have seen today.

Aaron Schatz: Another awful interception by Brady. He had Gronk totally open over the middle for a first-down conversion on third-and-5. Instead he hefts it deep down the left sideline where the are two Denver defenders surrounding James White. Just terrible. Denver ball, near midfield, 4:08 left second quarter.

Andrew Healy: Think it's hard to put that on Brady when he's getting piledrived as he releases. So far, only two completions to Gronk. That will obviously have to change in the second half.

Broncos front four in a unanimous decision so far. Huge by Edelman to tackle Darian Stewart. Some chance for a pick-six there.

Cian Fahey: The one thing that was underappreciated during the lead up to this game was how well Brady played in the previous meeting. Everyone was talking about the absence of the weapons, but few were looking at the pressure and the types of throws that the defense forced Brady into.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots get the ball back with 2:22 left and run for 2 yards on first down. Running backs now have nine carries for 17 yards. Just knock it off already, guys. The Broncos front is REALLY good.

I really do not understand Patriots' decision to take one of their two remaining timeouts as Broncos are lining up for field goal attempt with 38 seconds left. Did they see something to make them think a fake was coming? They sort of needed that timeout to try to drive into field goal range in the last 30 seconds.

Well... they just ended the half with a kneel, so I guess there was never going to be a drive. So taking the timeout didn't mean anything. Weird decisions by the Patriots today.

Vince Verhei: Man, that Broncos front four is just taking the game over. Patriots haven't done hardly anything -- their only touchdown drive was just 22 yards after that dumb Denver fumble. Peyton Manning has been exceptionally adequate against a New England defense that is also playing well. I'll go back and check, but I'm pretty sure his two playoff games are going to be his two best games of the year.

Aaron Schatz: I feel like the biggest difference between this Manning and the one from the first half of the season is that this one isn't making mistakes. The arm isn't stronger, but he had no interceptions last week, and none so far this week. Even the incomplete passes aren't really close to being interceptions. The only exception might be that hanging deep ball to Sanders, maybe Butler has that if he leaps a little earlier. But for the most part, he's protecting the ball. Meanwhile, Brady has the two interceptions that look like total misreads of the coverage.

Tom Gower: Broncos up 17-9 at the half. Each team has one touchdown on a short field off a bad turnover by the opposition -- one off Hillman's "what, me pick the ball up?" lateral and the other off Von Miller's interception of Brady. Both teams have used matchups to get a linebacker in coverage in the red zone and exploited it successfully -- Brandon Bolden on Von Miller, I believe, to set up New England's score, and Jamie Collins was involved in both Owen Daniels touchdowns, one in man coverage. Denver's non-short field scores came on their first possession, a Kubiak script special that required a couple of those third-and-long conversions Aaron mentioned, and a sub-30 yard drive for a long field goal at the end of the half. Really more a Denver-style game than a New England one so far.

The big story of the game, as mentioned, has been Denver's pass rush and the play of their front four in general. They're playing light enough, like dime when the Patriots go light, that old New England would have just run the ball down their throats, in either 11 or 12 with Gronkowski leading the mashing. Nope. And they've been able to get pressure with four and sometimes even three, sometimes taking advantage of Josh Kline, the Patriots' weak link up front, sometimes just letting DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller go around the edges, and sometimes with twists and stunts. Big change from last year's Colts game, where I recall Miller in particular as complete non-factor.

Andrew Healy: Why is Shaq Mason still in the game? Maybe go with David Andrews at center and Stork at guard.

Sterling Xie: Honestly, I don't think any different offensive line combination is helping today. And just then, Cameron Fleming gave up a sack to Miller as a sixth lineman. Almost turned and ran like a cornerback off the snap.

Aaron Schatz: Possible halftime adjustment from the Patriots? They now have Devin McCourty covering tight ends on first and second down with Duron Harmon in McCourty's usual role as the deep safety.

Tom Gower: It also seems like they're making a point of bringing delayed pressure, especially on play-fakes. I don't know if that's just green dogging or a designed delayed rush, but Collins has a couple pressures leading to sacks of Peyton that way this half.

Vince Verhei: Broncos pin the Patriots inside the 5 on a punt. There have been some really bad failures to field punts here, with both teams giving up 5 to 10 yards on bouncing balls that should have been covered by the returning teams.

Tom Gower: I wonder if Belichick takes the safety punting from his 3 or so if it was 17-13 instead of 17-12, like it would have been if Gostkowski had made the extra point. Probably not, given Denver's offensive production to date, but the thought crossed my mind.

Aaron Schatz: Maybe part of the idea of McCourty now covering the tight ends is to free Jamie Collins to rush the passer.

Cian Fahey: The Broncos' third and fourth pass rushers would probably be the top two on a few teams. Their fifth and sixth might be too.

Scott Kacsmar: Need C.J. Anderson to be the running back this quarter. Line's not doing much of anything, but he's just so obviously better than Hillman for most types of runs. Feel like Kubiak has gone into coaching not-to-lose mode very early in this one. You're not winning this game 17-12.

Andrew Healy: I know Von Miller is good, but can we get a Brandon Gorin sighting please? Cannon seems like a disaster from here.

Aaron Schatz: Good timing by Scott. Anderson just went 30 yards on third-and-1 because when the Patriots stuffed the line to try to stop him, that left only one other defender to beat.

Vince Verhei: Tom brings up a good point concerning the Denver defense. They have improved greatly without any major personnel additions. Darian Stewart taking over for Rahim Moore at safety is probably the biggest upgrade, but by and large it has just been Wade Phillips making everyone look better.

Aaron Schatz: As this ESPN Insider piece I wrote in October points out, Phillips has a phenomenal record of improving defenses in his first season.

With Phillips Previous Year
1989 DEN 11-5 -16.6% 4 8-8 -- --
1995 BUF 10-6 -6.5% 10 7-9 3.8% 19
2002 ATL 9-6-1 -4.1% 12 7-9 11.8% 26
2004 SD 12-4 -4.2% 13 4-12 12.0% 30
2007 DAL 13-3 -6.8% 9 9-7 -1.5% 14
2011 HOU 10-6 -9.5% 6 6-10 17.5% 31
2014 DEN 12-4 -25.8% 1 12-4 -13.2% 4

Patriots do finally get a big long drive against the Denver defense, in part thanks to a Shiloh Keo helmet-to-helmet roughness penalty for 15 yards. They end up with fourth-and-1 on the Denver 16 and they went for it instead of trying a 34-yard-field goal. I think that's the right decision, particularly since three points still would have left the Patriots behind by 5. Yes, getting a touchdown and a 2-point conversion is hard, but getting back to the 16 against this Denver defense is pretty hard too.

Broncos make a fabulous defensive play with Chris Harris covering Edelman when the Patriots play-faked and threw a swing pass to Edelman. Ended up going down for a loss of a yard. I know we may be wondering why Pats didn't sneak, but it was more like a yard and a half instead of 1 yard, and the Broncos were totally ready for the sneak. They had Brandon Marshall move up and he was right up on the line of scrimmage, basically in 0-technique between two defensive linemen.

Vince Verhei: Denver's red zone defense saving the day again, with another turnover on downs inside the 20. On both failed fourth-down plays, the failures were in part due to Brady throwing passes under heavy pressure, forced to throw to guys who weren't really open -- Edelman on the first play, then Gronkowski on the second.

And then Denver goes three-and-out in a hurry, and the Patriots are going to get a third try at a season-saving, game-tying touchdown.

Andrew Potter: Funny, for this being Brady-Manning and the NFC title game being supposedly the big matchup of defense-first teams, this has been one outstanding game of defense on both sides.

Tom Gower: On how many passes on that final possession was Brady pressured, or forced to game-plan after pressure? Six? Seven? All nine, including the two-point conversion? Phenomenal job by the Denver defense, including overcoming some not-so-good plays by their backup safeties, forced into action by in-game injuries. Darian Stewart stays on top of Gronkowski on the seam route on that fourth-down throw instead of letting him get over the top and opening up the lane for that throw to be completed, and Keo has already been mentioned.

Aaron Schatz: People on Twitter have brought up that Gronk was open on the two-point conversion, but again, that's the problem with all the pressure. Even the best quarterback isn't going to see all open receivers when that internal clock in his head is on super-fast.

Vince Verhei: Save for the two Gronkowski catches, just sensational defense by Denver down the stretch. It's not just the pressure -- nobody was open either! It's not like there were open guys Brady was missing. He had nobody to throw to, and no time to throw it anyway. It was snap after snap of "my first read is covered but here's the pass rush so I'm lobbing it to him anyway."

Scott Kacsmar: Brady looked better in the second half. The Broncos really just turtled on offense, hoping the game clock would melt away. Can't argue with any of Belichick's fourth-down decisions. Could quibble with the play calls, like the negative ALEX play that reminds me of fourth-and-2 from 2009. Need a throw to the sticks there instead of leaving everything to chance on breaking a tackle. Denver tackled pretty well. Obviously pressure was amazing. A real classic battle there.

I'm not sure which matchup is better for Denver in this Super Bowl, but just like I felt about this game today, this defense would give them a chance to win a close one.

Aaron Schatz: I also want to dispute the idea that the Patriots would have just won the game if they had kicked field goals each of the first two times they got into the red zone, and then on that last drive, rather than continually having to go for it on fourth down. That assumes two things. First, it assumes all three field goals would have been good. Even if we say, OK, those are all field goals in the mid-30s, that's about 90 percent chance for each -- that means there's a 27 percent chance one of them misses. There's also the issue of the field position after each field goal. Instead of Denver getting the ball on the 16 and then the 14, they would have received a kickoff, which likely means either the 20 or, if they are able to return the ball, past the 20. That in turn changes field position for the Patriots the next time they get the ball back, making those drives longer. And the kickoffs would have taken an additional 10 to 15 seconds off the clock, leaving less time for the Patriots on the last drive and possibly changing the meaning of the two-minute warning and what Denver would have done on its last offensive drive.

Andrew Potter: Yes, it's football's own Chaos Theory. You can't assume the rest of the game would have played out the same if you changed even one of those fourth downs for a field goal.

Tom Gower: Steve White, the former player who writes for SB Nation, brought up a really good point on Twitter: an immobile quarterback lets Denver's pass rushers just tee off in a way they can't against a player who can escape from the pocket. With that and their corner depth, I think they'd rather see Arizona's offense, at least.

Aaron Schatz: Two other notes on the AFC Championship Game.

1) Further on Vince's thought, it was remarkable how the Broncos consistently got pressure rushing three or four. They hardly ever blitzed and had 20 quarterback knockdowns, more than any defense on any quarterback this season. The Pats really need to consider an upgrade at guard next year. A big free agent or second-/third-round pick to replace Josh Kline, along with maturation by Shaq Mason in his second season, would be huge.

2) I don't understand why the Pats tried so many deep passes trying to test Broncos linebackers or backup safeties in one-on-one coverage on the second half. That's just not their game. They weren't even wheel routes; they were gos. I never felt like they were gonna hit. Just felt like continuously giving away a down.

Cian Fahey: Gronk was wide-open for the two-point conversion and pressure shouldn't have played a part in Brady's decision. They had rolled him out of the pocket perfectly to get him away from pressure and Gronkowski was in his line of sight straight away. He hesitated in the moment and tried to make the more difficult throw without setting his feet properly.

The Broncos pressure forced the Patriots into a play call that isn't usual for them. Brady is a great pocket quarterback but he's obviously never been someone who thrives on throwing on the move.

Either way, Brady was a huge reason the Patriots were even in that game at that point. The Broncos defense was smothering with that ravenous pass rush and versatile secondary. It's a phenomenal unit that was severely overlooked leading up to this game.

Andrew Healy: The Patriots won last year, but I actually think it's a pretty brutal loss. The Broncos could do essentially nothing on offense. They had about 250 yards of offense. Their touchdown drives were one that should have been a punt bar a lousy pass interference on an uncatchable ball. (It was a comeback, but sure looked thrown to a spot where a completion was impossible.) Then an 18-yard touchdown drive after an interception. A short drive for a 52-yard field goal. I really thought it was almost impossible for the Broncos to get a first down the whole second half.

And let's be clear about Brady versus Manning: the much better player today lost to a better supporting cast. Brady was absolutely under siege. DeMarcus Ware lived in Brady's lap, and so did Von Miller. It made me sad to see Shaq Mason in the game. Given the pressure up the middle from Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe, guessing he played poorly. I know Marcus Cannon was a disaster, since I watched him frequently. Friends tell me Sebastian Vollmer wasn't much better. Miller and Ware are great players, but still just a disaster on the offensive line.

In the face of that rush, Brady was still there throwing that perfect fourth down pass to a double-covered Gronk. And then it's Gronk making that great catch, where Brady made maybe an even better play to put that ball in that spot under pressure. I hear that Gronk was open on the two. If he was single-covered, it sure seems simple just to target him on that throw. If the call was to Edelman over the middle, I'm just confused. Feels like Coach Dale wanting to run the last play to Merle on the picket fence. Gronk was the offense down the stretch. Why not live and die with him unless Denver absolutely forced you to go another way?

Gostkowski's missed extra point qualified as a pretty ominous sign. Seemed almost preordained that they would lose on the missed two.

The bad Colquitt had a really good day. It could have made a huge difference to have Edelman back there the whole game and not just the last punt. It was 50-yard net again and again and Edelman would have prevented at least a couple of those. And one big punt return could have made the difference.

Did Denver need to even put a man on Brandon LaFell or Keshawn Martin?

Malcolm Butler might be wondering how he missed a couple of those passes. Looked like his hand was there and the football gods saw the ball improbably around his fingertips.

Lots of that is bad luck. Nothing you could do about the early calls, Butler missing balls, Gostkowski missing the first extra point of his professional career. But the Patriots still win if they're even marginally competent protecting Brady and they might win if they just keep it simple and design the two-point play for the league's best red zone threat who had just cut Denver to ribbons.

With no great team waiting in the Super Bowl, you would have loved the Pats' chances. Now they might not just rue today's mistakes, but losing in Miami when home field was there for the taking. The Denver crowd was loud all game and may have helped cause the crucial false start on third-and-1 from the 9 on the next-to-last drive. If the Pats had gotten six there, even if they miss the two-point conversion, you would have to have loved their chances to get a field goal to win it on the final drive.

Arizona Cardinals 15 at Carolina Panthers 49

Aaron Schatz: Well, apparently Carolina can't (almost) blow a big lead without getting a big lead first. Great blocking on an end around by Ted Ginn which then got cut back for a touchdown. Then Cam Newton, as I wrote about, kept perfectly steady on an Arizona blitz and found Corey Brown deep with safety Rashad Johnson in coverage. 17-0 after first quarter.

Vince Verhei: Carolina continues to be a dominant first-half playoff team, jumping out to a 17-0 lead. Their offensive line is just crushing people. They were mediocre in both our offensive line stats this year, but it seems like they have been the best unit in the postseason.

Aaron Schatz: Carolina goes against the grain by essentially being stronger blocking up the middle than they are on the edges. That works well against a defense that actually doesn't have great outside pass rushers, such as Arizona. But if we get to that point, I wonder what it will mean against Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware?

Cian Fahey: My timeline has had a few suggestions that Carson Palmer can't play in big games. I generally disagree with this idea. Every NFL game is big. Palmer went into Seattle during the regular season and played one of the best games a quarterback could play, that wasn't a big game?

I'm more inclined to think that Palmer's finger is having a major impact on his ability to grip the ball. His poor performances can be traced back to that time too.

Aaron Schatz: The only thing about the finger argument is that Palmer's first game after the injury was the blowout win over Green Bay. But it could be an issue of hurting himself elsewhere by trying to compensate for the finger?

Cian Fahey: That Green Bay scoreline was inflated by two fumble returns though. He was OK in that game, not spectacular.

Tom Gower: Thomas Davis, for all his age and knee surgeries, is still flying around all over the place in the first 20 minutes of the game.

Cian Fahey: People without ACLs >>>>> People with ACLs. I'm just being honest.

Aaron Schatz: David Johnson just has phenomenal agility. Panthers are a pretty good tackling team. I'm excited for a full year of him as a starter. So of course he'll probably tear his ACL in Week 2.

Scott Kacsmar: Cardinals finally on the board with a Johnson touchdown run. He looks good so far. Palmer finally had it going on that drive, and unfortunately Thomas Davis has headed to the locker room with an injury. Was just saying how easy it is to root for a guy like that after how he's fought back from all the ACL tears.

Aaron Schatz: Cardinals finally stop the Carolina offense and get a shot at good field position, and Patrick Peterson can't secure the punt. Carolina ball in great position. Arizona and Carolina both suck on special teams. Sigh.

Scott Kacsmar: Weird play too. Really just looked like Peterson trying to do too much. Cardinals would have been in solid field position down 17-7, so likely a turning point there. Two big runs by Jonathan Stewart followed, and I think Rashad Johnson has had a few poor tackle attempts today. He was beaten on the Brown touchdown where just a little juke put Johnson out of position to make that a long score instead of just a completion to midfield.

Vince Verhei: In-season trends holding true: Cardinals get to the goal line, and Carolina's league-worst red zone rush defense gives up a rushing touchdown to David Johnson. Then the Panthers reach the goal line after Peterson's fumble, and they are stuffed on first and second down before Cam Newton, their best (and maybe the NFL's best) short-yardage runner scores on third down.

Palmer's red zone interception at the end of the half was a terrible decision, not a terrible throw. Can't blame the finger for that. I don't think it's an injury situation, I think it's just, this is Carson Palmer. He has never been a guy who excels at ball security. I mean, six turnovers in six quarters in the playoffs so far is a lot more than you'd expect, but he was playing so far over his head all year he had to come back to earth eventually.

Scott Kacsmar: In the way that we had a much larger sample to say that Peyton Manning does not suck at football, Carson Palmer's biggest sample is that he's a mistake-prone quarterback. Good enough to get you beat close in a vintage Matt Schaub kind of way. He still might make a game of this, or he might turn it over a few more times. Either way, he'll probably finish with a 300-yard passing game, but fans are going to be disappointed. In no way does this take away from Palmer's regular season, but it's not like MVP-caliber performances are something we've grown to expect from Palmer.

Aaron Schatz: As I noted in my NFC Championship preview, the biggest driver behind all of this season's big blown leads for Carolina was the offense suddenly shutting down, not the defense giving way. So a sustained drive to start the second half was a good sign, even if it ended with a field goal and not a touchdown.

Tom Gower: 27-7 after Ron Rivera kicks a field goal on fourth-and-goal from about the 2. I hate short field goals that don't put you up an additional score, especially in the non-late-game situation.

Shortly after my earlier email, Thomas Davis suffered an arm injury, maybe broken, and was declared out for the game. I am sad.

Much like the earlier game, the home team's defense and in particular the defensive front was pretty much the star of the first half. Carolina, the more plodding and less efficient offense, moved the ball in huge chunks. Arizona, the team that has lived on the deep ball under Bruce Arians, has had to make more repeated big plays. Even their touchdown drive was 10 plays with nothing longer than 15 on offense (the longest play was technically 17 yards, Mario Addison getting his hand up into David Johnson's face mask to tack on 15 yards). And the turnovers, yes, the turnovers.

And it gets to 49-15 by late in the fourth quarter. Wow. That, by which I mean Carson Palmer, really went off the rails.

Vince Verhei: Those who thought Seattle only rallied last week because Carolina steps off the gas with big leads in the second half must think Arizona is the worst team in football right now.

Aaron Schatz: I spent so much time at midseason trying to explain to people that the Panthers were not as good as their record. Ironically, the Panthers eventually became that good in the second half of the season. This was the best game they played all year. Andrew said earlier that there was no great team waiting in the Super Bowl for the AFC Champion, but the Panthers of November until now are a great team. I'll have DVOA numbers up sometime later on Monday, but I can also summarize it with just point differential. When the Panthers were 8-0 in the first half of the season, they had only one win by 14 or more points. It was exactly 14 points. They're 9-1 since with SIX different wins by 14 or more points, including four by 28 or more points.

Early thoughts on the Super Bowl: Patriots fans who underestimated the greatness of the Denver defense will now be replaced by Carolina fans who underestimate the greatness of the Denver defense. I think that defense keeps the Super Bowl from being a blowout. The Panthers are interesting in that on both sides of the ball, they've gone away from the conventional wisdom that pass rush (and pass blocking) is most important on the outside. Their better linemen are in the middle. That's fine against Arizona, but I wonder what Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are going to do to Michael Oher and Mike Remmers.

That being said... Carolina just looks like the better team right now. I don't know if Denver's line can keep Peyton Manning upright long enough to even take advantage of the fact that Robert McClain is going to have to cover either Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders. Keeping Cam Newton contained in a neutral-site game seems harder right now than keeping Tom Brady contained at home, which means the Broncos will need more offense than they got today. I don't think they'll get it.

Posted by: Andrew Potter on 25 Jan 2016

386 comments, Last at 28 Jan 2016, 9:50pm by Kaelik


by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:39am

Arizona kept blitzing Cam Newton, and that's not a good option. Make the Panthers run so well that you give him one on one throws, and keep lane discipline. He needs to be treated like Ben Roethlisberger; don't expect the extra pressure to take him down. The Broncos didn't blitz Brady so much, and still got to him with 3-4 guys rushing most of the time. I think Phillips will come up with something to keep this a game for at least a half, I just doubt Kubiak and the Denver offense will do enough to win it.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:54am

Arizona has zero outstanding pass rushers, outside of Freeney's occasional trip to the way-bach machine. It's why I always thought their defense was a bit overrated.

by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:03am

They have Calais Campbell, and isn't Okafor a decent pass rushing threat? Obviously Okafor is hurt, and Campbell is a 3-4 end, but if they dropped 7-8 guys when Carolina keeps 6-7 guys in, doesn't that give them a chance against the passing game? If I'm Phillips, that's what I'm trying (although I'm preparing for the onslaught of running plays to start the game).

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:16am

Arizona had 35 sacks, all of 11 by a defensive lineman not named Freeney. Phillips has much, much, better options, because his athletes are much, much, better on the defensive line. Of course, Shula knows this as well. Carolina is going to try to help their tackles out by running. Denver needs to do a better job, compared to Seattle or Arizona, of physically punishing Newton for giving Carolina a numbers advantage in the running game. They have a decent chance of doing so.

If Denver can get itself staked to a lead again, then their chance of winning takes a big. big, jump.

by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:23am

Oh, I agree with that assessment of Denver's chances, and I agree with you that Arizona blitzes corners and safeties too much to make up for the pass rush up front; I just disagree about Campbell, since he had 7 of those 11 sacks. The Cardinals need another guy up front, as well as to improve the offensive line, to deal with a juggernaut like Carolina.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:29am

Newton eats blitzes like my dog with a piece of leftover steak. That's why I thought the over of 47.5 on this game was a gimme, especially in Charlotte.

by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:33am

Agreed, but it has to be said that he has 50 yards on 21 carries in the postseason. A lot of carries, and a couple touchdowns, but he's doing most of his damage through the air. The problem with keeping guys out of the box is that Stewart and Tolbert can ram it down your throat then. Interesting matchup; not so much when Peyton's going up against the second best defense in the league.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:44am

This is partly a response to the comments in Scott's brady Manning irrational thread 2.0 article. Tom Brady was under siege most of the game. Everyone rightly pointed out that his poor play should be forgiven because of this fact. They also did this for his game against the giants in 2007. That's fine, but no one gave Manning a pass in 2013 against the Seahawks or the steelers in 2005 or the pats games in 2004. In those games, the o line was overwhelmed, the receivers couldn't get open, and Manning looked flustered and lost. In fact, someone on twitter pointed out that Brady had 8 drives in the first half, one more than Manning had against the Saints in the sb.

Furthermore, people love to say Manning is just along for the ride in this sb. Its true to some extent he is, but then no one ever says that about Brady in 2001, when he scored a whopping 13 pts in the sb en route to a mvp and the clutch label.

This is my biggest problem with the irrational thread. Most people acknowledge Brady's greatness, but with Manning, it becomes a complete double standard. In the comments, there were a lot of fair things written by smart fans, but then you have people like Nat and Ramirez who point to Manning's losses in the playoffs as a referendum on him as a choker and to suggest otherwise is"making excuses."

In three years, someone will look up the box score of this game, see brady with 2 interceptions and a poor passer rating and just assume he was the reason the pats lost. But that doesn't make it true. And just because Manning has losses in the playoffs, that doesn't mean he played poorly in all of them.

A single player isn't going to beat a hellacious pass rush on his own. And a single player isn't going to win you a sb against a great opponent either. I wish people, even on this site, would acknowledge that. Then we wouldn't have an irrational brady manning thread.

by Aaron Schatz :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:51am

Nope. No. We're not doing this here. Let's please not do this here. Let's please not go attacking each other. This doesn't get to be another irrational thread. No, no, no, no. Stop now.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:55am

I shouldn't have called out people specifically and I don't want to start a long thread descending into madness.

Winning playoff games is a lot easier when you have great players on both sides of the ball. When you don't, its a lot harder. Gee go figure!

by eagle97a :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:03am

Not to pile on buddy but Aaron is right this is not the thread for that and enjoy the win since we don't know if there are any more of these battles in the future. If you must you can go to other thread and pursue this.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:53am

I'd be happy to know what I said that was so controversial?

Look, I'm not trying to start another irrational thread. I just said, I wish people would recognize more that wins and losses in the postseason come down to much more than the qb. I had no problem with Healey suggesting Brady's inaccuracies and ints were the result of hellacious pressure(they were!).

by anotherpatsfan :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:59pm

I respectfully submit that when you say "one faction makes more excuses for their guy than does the other faction" it is analogous to -- and as controversial as -- saying one guy is better than the other guy. As the "Manning deserves more respect thread" last week demonstrated, both sides have hardcore excuse-makers, but I think/hope most Manning/Brady fans here just like "their" guy and don't feel the need spend a lot of time excuse-making (or denigrating the other guy).

Brady has a tough time yesterday, as IMO did McDaniel (I think he often (arrogantly) tries to keep doing what he wants to do regardless of whether it's working). It was a game that could have easily gone into overtime (if Gostkowski doesn't miss the XP etc). Plenty more to critique about the QB on the losing team yesterday in a winnable game than there might be in a blowout loss and that's just part of it. It would seem the irrational thread can wait for another day...

by t.d. :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 5:11am

Football Outsiders, home of the best objective football analysis on the internet, unless my binky is involved

by Paul R :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:22am

"Nope. No. We're not doing this here..."

You can sing Aaron's whole post to Peyton Manning's Nationwide jingle. It's very relaxing.

by DoubleB :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:51pm

Your guy, Andrew Healy, opened that door in the thread with his post-mortem. Don't put this on the commenters for referring to that!

And yes Healy, Brady is better than Manning right now. No question about it. Just as Manning was the better QB during Brady's first three Super Bowl runs.

by Lebo :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:00pm


by doktarr :: Wed, 01/27/2016 - 1:42pm

This, absolutely this. If you don't want people playing that game, than you shouldn't have included Healey's homer-iffic message as the final take on that game. He's entitled to that opinion, of course, and I sympathize with a fan trying to deal with a crushing defeat. But if you put stuff like that in the column, don't be surprised when the comments respond to it.

by theslothook :: Wed, 01/27/2016 - 2:16pm

Exactly, if the FO staff is going to entertain in the Irrational thread...In fact, why does it need to be said at all. Is there anyone who left that game thinking Manning is the better qb because his team won?

I would also like to question the argument that Manning does have a better supporting cast. I don't think that was the opinion of most people coming into this game. To me, it just screams of after the fact commentary. Indeed, the narrative I heard was now that Brady had all his weapons back along with a talented defense, this game should easily favor New England.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:50am

Regarding the backwards pass. The relevant rule is:
RULE 7 Ball in Play, Dead Ball, Scrimmage
Section 2 Dead Ball
Article 1: Dead Ball Declared. An official shall declare the ball dead and the down ended:
(n) when an official sounds his whistle while the ball is still in play, the ball becomes dead immediately;
(ii) If the ball is a loose ball resulting from a fumble, backward pass, or illegal forward pass, the team
last in possession may elect to put the ball in play at the spot where possession was lost or to
replay the down.

So the Broncos should have been afforded the opportunity to select to keep the ball where possession was lost (i.e. where Manning was when he released it) or replay the down. They would have selected to replay the down.

The reasoning behind this rule should be pretty self-evident. Players must obey the referees, and rules must be designed not to encourage players to ignore the referees. Allowing post-whistle play is dangerous and would very easily get out of hand. Look at what happened today. Hillman was going for the ball, the referee signaled the play was over, and he did the right thing by obeying the referee's signals. If the rule permitted post-whistle recovery, then a player would either be punished for obeying a referee's signal or would be encouraged to disobey a referee's signal. Either of those is obvious detrimental to the game. It was quite a bad officiating screw up. Even if you consider this particular rule arcane and are willing to forgive the referee for not knowing it (not that I think that's a compelling argument, I'm just a fan and I knew it) it should have been easy to reason what the rule must be given the basic principle of keeping play between the designated signals. In addition, given this was reviewed the referee had plenty of time to look this up if needed.

by anon76returns :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:19am

The review presumably involved talking with head of officiating back in New York, so blame wouldn't lie solely with this officiating crew.

Interesting rule. I've heard incessantly for over a year now that clear recoveries after a whistle are allowed, so I wonder if there's been a modification to the rule you're quoting.
Personally, as RB coach Studsville could be overheard doing on the broadcast, I blame Hillman for a lack of effort. You can't leave anything to chance in a game like this, especially not in that area of the field. As a RB the ball has to be your baby. You HAVE to go after it, even if you do hear a whistle.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:38am

I was in fact looking at an out of date rulebook, so I re-read 2015's version. The text is identical, but instead of being point (n), it's now point (m).


by BroncFan07 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:27am

The thing is, if you remember the Hochuli game in 2008 where he ruled Cutler threw an incomplete pass that San Diego clearly recovered, after replay ruled it was a backwards pass, Denver retained possession with like an 8 yard loss. Hochuli explained because the play was whistled dead that SD couldn't be awarded the ball. Not sure if the rule changed when they added the one where replay can determine there was a fumble and the defense clearly recovered.

by BroncFan07 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:27am

The thing is, if you remember the Hochuli game in 2008 where he ruled Cutler threw an incomplete pass that San Diego clearly recovered, after replay ruled it was a backwards pass, Denver retained possession with like an 8 yard loss. Hochuli explained because the play was whistled dead that SD couldn't be awarded the ball. Not sure if the rule changed when they added the one where replay can determine there was a fumble and the defense clearly recovered.

by Travis :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:20am

They changed the rule after the 2008 Hochuli play so that potential fumbles recovered in the continuing action after a dead ball is declared are reviewable.

Rule 15-2-g-Notes: (1) If an on-field ruling of a dead ball (down by contact, out of bounds, or incomplete forward pass) is changed, the ball belongs to the recovering player at the spot of the recovery, and any advance is nullified....
(2) If the on-field ruling is a dead ball, any recovery must occur in the continuing action following the loss of possession.

Approved Rulings: If a backward pass is ruled forward and incomplete on the field, after review, the Referee can give the ball to the opponent if there is a clear recovery in the continuing action after the ball hits the ground. No advance is allowed.

A.R. 15.131 Backward pass, clear recovery: First-and-10 on A20. QBA1 throws a pass from the A15-yard line that is ruled forward and incomplete. B77 thinking the pass was backward, falls on the loose ball at the A14. Replays show the pass was backward, hitting the ground at the A14.
Ruling: Reviewable. B’s ball first-and-10 on A14. The defense can gain possession of the ball with a clear recovery.

by Fierydemise :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:14am

Applying that when the play continues after the whistle seems dangerous for the exact reason Intropy and Scott mention. Encouraging players to play past the whistle creates a lot of potential for injury. Obviously the correct solution is to have refs not blow the play dead on what could be a backward pass but if they do then that has to be the end of it.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:30am

It's no different when the ballcarrier is ruled down, but in actuality fumbles. Every time there's even a possible fumble, players dive on the ball regardless if the play was whistled down or not, because it can be reviewed.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:15am

Recovering a loose football is dangerous? Compared to everything else that happens on the field?

Your demand aligns with the old rule, which was changed after Hochuli himself made a dreadful ruling that cost the Chargers a game against the Broncos. The rule change is known as the "Hochuli rule".

See also


by Fierydemise :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:25pm

Encouraging players to play through the whistle is dangerous which is exactly why the NFL has been cracking down on late hits. I understand the justification for the Hochuli rule but given the emphasis on safety, including reducing late hits a rule that directly encourages players to play past the whistle seems inconsistent.

by zzyzx :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:27pm

What could be dangerous is a guy just standing around near a football that he thinks is dead while someone else shoves him out of the way in order to recover it. If one person is relaxed because they think the play is over and the other is going full speed, that could definitely cause an injury.

by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 1:46pm

There was a play several years ago where a Jonathan Stewart run was whistled out of bounds vs. Washington, and the defenders (correctly) stopped trying to tackle him, though he kept running all the way to the end zone. The refs then ruled that he was not out, that it was an "inadvertent whistle," and they awarded him a touchdown. It was the most infuriating and mind-boggling call I've ever seen! It practically demanded that defenders have to start ignoring the whistle and keep hitting guys for as long as necessary. But it only hurt Washington, so not very many people knew or cared that it happened.

Does anybody else remeber this play? I'm sure I ranted about it on some thread here at FO, possibly under a different user name.

by Travis :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 2:31pm

It was DeAngelo Williams, not Jonathan Stewart. The NFL later admitted that it shouldn't have counted; as we saw in the Patriots-Bills game earlier this year, an inadvertent whistle stops play.

by BroncFan07 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:29am

Sorry, double post

by Joe Pancake :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:33am

It seems to me that it all depends on how long after the whistle blows the ball is recovered. If a guy is about to pick up the ball, with nobody on the other team around, and the ref blows the whistle a second before he scoops it up. In my opinion, they should still award the ball to the recovering team (and I think they have been in most these instances).

One of the problems with the way NFL games are officiated and the way the rule book is written is that they try to be *too* specific. And then because the game moves so fast they inevitably can't get it right and replay can only help so much. So you end up with situations where nobody watching thinks the call is fair but it was by the letter-of-the-law the "correct" call.

But I think the league has been getting better with this. The clear recovery rule is a step in the right direction. The next thing I'd like to see is the ability to enforce penalties during replay so that we don't have to watch the defense (say, Pittsburgh) get the ball for causing a fumble by kayoing the ball carrier (say, Gio Bernard) with an illegal, uncalled, lead-with-the-helmet hit.

by Fierydemise :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:06am

Scott pointed this out above but watching the NFCCG I kept thinking about the plexiglas principle and Palmer. Palmer has played really well this season, MVP caliber and I still think he deserves the MVP award, but if you look back over his past few seasons before this one he has been a league average QB. Andy Dalton level, he is good enough to not be a liability but he isn't going to carry the team to victory. This year has been the an anomaly compared to the past few years of play and we should have expected some reversion to his old form.

I know there is the narrative about a healthy Palmer potentially taking Arizona further last year rather than collapsing the way they did down the stretch but as documented either here and/or by Barnwell at Grantland Palmer last year didn't play any better than Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley remains in a league of his own. This may have been one of the worst games of Palmer's career but this reversion toward the end of the season does seem consistent with what we know about player performance year to year.

by Purds :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:12am

I haven't been reading this site too much for a few years (life has gotten complicated), but I didn't realize Andrew was such a Pats fan. He brings up the Brady/Manning comparison to praise 2-INT Brady and bury 0-INT Manning, complains about bad calls going against NE, and idolizes Brady's 4th down pass to Gronk in his summary of Brady's greatness, conveniently dropping any mention of Brady's terrible interception to Miller, or even beginning to question the push off by Gronk on the final TD. I know Audibles is an emotional reaction piece, but you guys at FO need someone to counter the pro-NE writers. I have no problem with Andrew's writing -- fans should express such sentiments -- but you need some better counterbalances in your staff.

by anon76returns :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:28am

Can't really have 32 guys on staff to keep every fanbase happy. Compared to other analytics sites, FO is a bit more mom-and-poppish, with a pretty small crew. Chances are that in a small group of football enthusiasts doing such a site, one of the teams is going to get more love than others. As long as it only effects commentary and not their numbers, I don't really see the harm.

Especially today. As a Broncos fan I enjoy their sweet delicious tears as much as I do their "if only this call, that kick, this qb decision, and the entire venue had been different, the Pats would have won" rationalizations.

ps- when will I no longer have to beat CAPTCHA to avoid the spam filter? Some of these are hard!

by reasonet :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:06am

Yes, the tears are delicious, aren't they?

by Purds :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:43am

Point taken!

by anotherpatsfan :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:08pm

Scott's on the staff. You are covered.

by poplar cove :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:05pm

I couldn't agree more with you. Those last two paragraphs by Healy were so unbelievably covered in Patriots love that I had to check to see if this was written by Gisele or one of the Kraft's

I understand a New England Patriots fan thinks they should never lose a football game ever but seriously please don't try and convince the rest of us on here that follow the game closely that the team who NEVER once led during the entire game and who trailed the final 52.5 minutes of the contest should have won.

Saying that if New England would have just been more competent blocking for Brady would have more than enough to win this game. Well no kidding but they didn't do that or close to doing it either because repeat after me..... the Patriots weren't the better football team yesterday in that game. I mean we could all play this if game all day long. How about THE BRONCO STILL WIN if Manning would have hit that guy in the end zone on their last scoring drive.

Then if all that wasn't enough we have to hear how there's no great teams in the NFL this year (yeah okay) and also how Gronk is the best red zone threat in the NFL (maybe you've heard of Megatron and the #1 rated red zone offense this year, the Detroit Lions).

I love Football Outsiders more than any other NFL site out there and it's not even close either but please take this kind of bias post-game analysis over to Patriots Planet or whatever other place Pats fans go.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:09pm

Notwithstanding the rest of this post...Calvin Johnson? Did I wake up in 2013?

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:27pm

its pretty interesting how the opinion on Calvin seems to have turned on a dime. I watched two detroit lions games carefully this year to see if Calvin was a diminished player. I couldn't really see much drop off, but I certainly saw Matt Stafford badly regressing. I know the Lions offense got a lot better later in the year(both games I saw were in the first half of the season); but im inclined to blame Calvin's drop in numbers on Stafford and the scheme more than anything.

by Eddo :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:32pm

I was just about to say the same thing. I don't care to comment on the rest, but yeah, Gronkowski *is* the best red zone threat in the NFL.

by PatsFan :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:21pm

I love Football Outsiders more than any other NFL site out there and it's not even close either but please take this kind of bias post-game analysis over to Patriots Planet or whatever other place Pats fans go.

You're not to be taken seriously until you make the same complaint about Kacsmar and his "we will leave no shady data-mining stone unturned to suck up to Manning" alleged analysis.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:29pm

Healey's comments remind me of Danny more than Scott, who despite the controversial article, doesn't real fil audibles with agenda based griping.

by cjfarls :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 5:05pm

Yep... Andrew's screed was classic Pats-fan whining and excuse making.

Those tears are delicious.

by Rocco :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:12pm

More delicious than Rob Weintraub's tears after the Bengals lost?

by emalgha :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 1:01am

If you're drinking the tears of Bengals fans you deserve to get crushed by a farmhouse. Can't imagine very many people living that life.

by IAmJoe :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:51am

Nothing about Cam Newton making silly dive into the end zone, or the Panther's going for a 2-point conversion to go up 42-15?

Personally, I loved both decisions - Cam's was stupid, but I'm all for someone having a personality and enjoying themselves, and was amazed no one got stupid trying to go after him. The 2-point call was maaaaaaaaaybe defensible in that it made it a 27 point lead (requiring a FG on top of 3 TD's with 2-pointers) rather than a 25 or 26 point lead, but I thought was fairly egregious in terms of running up the score. That said, if you don't like it, stop it. I was majorly entertained by the Cardinals implosion and the Panthers being entirely willing to rub their face in it.

by panthersnbraves :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:57am

Someone on our chat board said that Gano might have been getting tight, which may have been the reason for the 2-point conversion. It would make sense, given the amount of Kick-offs he had to make... and Cam gonna Cam.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:19am

I know if Belichick had called for a 2-point conversion when already up by 25 points, the media would have made it the lead point in the argument about how he has "no class". It likely would have been depicted as something that "detracts from the victory". Probably some columnist in Indy would have demanded that he be banned from the game.

by Led :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:02pm

Probably not if Belichick also kneeled it 4 times and gave the ball back to the other team with 2 minutes left in the game. That was both classy and a wise move by Rivera. I thought it was crazy for Arizona to continue to put players (on both teams) at risk by playing on down 34. When you're beat, you're beat. Just kneel it, shake hands, and focus on next year.

by LionInAZ :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 6:53pm

The announcers said during the game that the Panthers had not attempted (or converted, my memory is fuzzy now) a 2pt all season, so I just figured it was practice in a non-critical situation, not malicious.

by steveNC :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:12pm

Yes, perhaps NE might've done well to practice a 2pt in a regular season game so that their first 2pt attempt of the year was not in a playoff game (did they really attempt zero in the regular season)?

by blan :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:51pm

I don't think teams necessarily need to practice two point tries in actual games because they are so similar to regular plays run from the two yard line.

That said, I was surprised that the Patriots didn't seem to have some special play schemed for the two-point try. I expected to see something like the pretend-bad-snap direct-snap play that they used to run with Kevin Faulk.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:27pm

They had gronk open in the end zone. I dont think the play was the problem.

by blan :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:53pm

Obviously execution of the play is more important than play choice, but that doesn't mean that a different play wouldn't have been more likely to result in a conversion.

This is a team that was running some innovative plays out of a four tight end set at the beginning of the season. They went away from that when they traded Hoomanawanui, but I expected that they would have been saving something like that in case their season was on the line. I don't think that expectation is off-base considering we've seen special two-point plays from the Patriots in the past.

I'm not an expert so it's possible that the play they ran was a special one they were saving in case their season depended on a two point conversion, but it just seemed like a simple bunch play to me.

by steveNC :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 3:14pm

Maybe they don't actually need to practice these in games, as you say. As for why they never felt the need to go for two in the regular season, perhaps their kicker is so good that they thought the expected value of a 1pt attempt would be higher than that of a 2pt attempt?

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:08am

The Panthers, running qb aside, are kind of an old-fashioned 1 loss team. They block your a$$, and tackle it too. The classic response to speed rushers, that your tackles might have a tough time handling, is to run at them. Newton of course, gives you numbers in the running game. If Denver doesn't hit Newton any harder when he runs, compared to what the Seahawks and Cards did, Denver's not going to pass rush as well as they did b today.

by panthersnbraves :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:59am

On NFLN, they said something similar to the effect of: "They do two things better than you, they block better than you, and they tackle better than you."

by BJR :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:22am

I also figured the days when a team ranked 25th in offensive DVOA could reach the Super Bowl were over (if indeed those days ever existed).

Having a purely defensive team against an old-fashioned 'smash mouth' team in the Super Bowl - yeah, this feels like a throwback.

by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:47am

It seems to me their offense picked up later in the season. Yes, they're a smash mouth team, but they run the ball well and Newton completes a lot of long passes. They just don't dink and dunk that well.

by Rocco :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:14pm

Long balls with a decent running game is the best way to beat Denver. You aren't beating them with a dink and dunk passing attack. Big Ben was able to do damage twice against Denver by buying time and finding receivers open downfield. Cam doesn't have BRoeth's receivers but he has a lot of the same physical attributes.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:25pm

They also really destroyed Aaron Rodgers and his ad libbing.

by doktarr :: Thu, 01/28/2016 - 3:33pm

That caveat about not having receivers on the level of the Steelers is really important. The Broncos have struggled when they face receivers that can win the 1-on-1 matchups against their corners consistently.

I could definitely see the Panthers moving the ball on the Broncos effectively, but I don't think it's going to be a lot of long balls doing it. I think it will be a strong running attack and Newton completing a enough passes to punish the Broncos if they single-cover a lot. But those passes will be a pretty broad array of pass types.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:16am

The over on the NFC game was the easiest gimme I've seen Vegas give in a while, but I didn't expect Carolina to get it past the post by themselves.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:31am

I have to disagree. Yes CAR has been on a tear recently, but this was a also a team that had a bunch of close wins over bad teams earlier in the year. Arizona played good all year and you assumed(it turns out incorrectly), the potent cards offense would rebound from the gb game. I don't think blowout win proves that whole line of thinking false. ARI blew out GB earlier in the year too, don't ya know

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:38am

The over was a gimme because you can't defend Newton without outstanding individual defensive linemen; you can't scheme him into submission. You need large great athletes, and Arizona lacks that. Now, I also expected Palmer to have more success throwing downfield, but I do think the finger is bothering him, and then once the game got away from him so quickly, I really think he really started pressing.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:51am

You don't think Ari has good athletic defensive players?

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:02am

Not the big guys. That's why none of them consistently win individual match-ups, and why Arizona has to blitz and stunt as much as they do.

(edit) To give you some sense of it, they had 35 sacks, and 8 of those were by Freeney, who appeared in 11 games. Their other defensive linemen combined for 11 sacks. Freeney has his moments still, obviously, but he isn't the every down terror he used to be.

by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:09am

Calais Campbell is quite possibly the second best 3-4 end in the league, and almost destroyed Green Bay's offensive line in the Cardinals regular season win. No, he doesn't get a ton of sacks, but he gets plenty of pressures. I think part of the issue (and why Seattle had problems with Carolina as well) is that the Panthers leave in extra blockers all the time to prevent pressure, and throw deep a lot to make the most of those throws. Newton is capable of hitting those deep throws often, which helps considering how often his recievers drop his passes.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:24am

He's a terrific player. He's also a 29 year old guy with 48 career sacks. He's not a great pass rusher, even if he's had some great games.

Arizona does a lot of good stuff on defense. They aren't great at getting pressure without stunts.

by Moridin :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:40am

Over just meant threshold of points scored in the game. Will didn't say he bet on CAR to win.

by tunesmith :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:43am

I really thought I made this point on another thread a few days ago but I can't seem to find it. But anyway, two years ago, Denver was the team with the powerful offense, the suspect pass-blocking offensive line, and the quick-release quarterback to paper over those problems. That's why I thought people were over-estimating New England's chances here - Denver ran into the buzzsaw of Seattle's pass-rush in Super Bowl 48, and Manning's release just wasn't quick enough to make up for it. You simply need competent pass-blocking if you're going to be up against a good pass-rushing team - otherwise your offense falls apart. The book on New England was too similar - lousy pass-blockers, but with Brady's release being quick enough to make up for it. That just doesn't work against a good pass rush.

Not sure about Denver against Carolina. One good thing is that Trevathan and Marshall are fast. I think Denver could be built to respond well against extended plays. But I agree that Denver will probably have to score more than twenty points.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:48am

The Broncos blocked just well enough in the 1st half to get them what they needed. That was the biggest question, in my view; would they block decently on enough drives to stake them to a lead.

by eagle97a :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:15am

I agree with your general thesis but in addition to the other-worldly pass rush the Broncos lbs and secondary shut down the YAC at least during the 1st half which led to 3rd and long situations which the Pats didn't convert for the most part (15% 3rd down conversion???. Unlike the Super Bowl last year in which the Pats were able to gain some YAC and continue drives this game showed how to shut down the death by a thousand paper cuts approach to winning games. It was still a very close game and I have to admit TB also missed a lot of throws specially the intermediate and long ones. I predict the Hoodie will tweak the offense for the next season and will incorporate more vertical passing and I believe that will truly open the qb competition in training camp later this year. The league is catching up defending the short passing game and to stay ahead of the curve the Pats will have to open up their playbook to vertical passes. We already can see some of that this past 2 seasons when the Pats have attempted slightly more verticals and the results were mixed due to TBs' limitations in that regard. In the same way that BB preaches defending the whole field, his offense must learn and execute attacking the whole field.

by duh :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:50am

Matt Chatham pointed out that the Broncos were timing the snap based off Stork's head bob which added to the problems for the offensive line, especially given the rest of the problems they were having.

Hope the Denver fans enjoy the win and soopy 50.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:53am

I'll take this opportunity to differ with the audible above that stated the penalty on Stork was iffy. You keep pushing on a guy on the pile, while you are standing, well after the whistle blows, and then spin and butt your helmet into another guy's helmet, that's going to draw a flag fairly often.

by duh :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:57am

Yes, nothing 'iffy' about that particular call at all, though plenty dumb about it.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:25am

I missed the head butt. I just saw the push. And I didn't see the flag fly until Stork turned to argue with the ref.

Post-play pushing happens all the time. That's why I thought a flag was iffy. If a head butt actually happened, I would change my opinion. But at this point I'm not going to rewatch the game for a minor point.

I'm rather concerned that Stork apparently had a tell that was serving as a green light for the pass rush. The Pats played the Broncos earlier this season and they were nowhere near as vulnerable to that rush. If this was a new discovery by the Broncos, that would explain the difference.

by deus01 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:36am

If I remember correctly Ware was out for the game earlier this year. He didn't have the sacks that Miller had but was getting consistent pressure as it seemed like he knew their snap count.

Edit: As a Broncos fan I was initially surprised by the personal foul, but they showed the head butt briefly on replay and they official threw the flag immediately after it so I think it was a good call.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:45am

It wasn't a super obvious head butt, but it was there, and it happened three feet from the zebra's eyes. That's gonna get flagged, more often than not.

by Travis :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:52am

Here's a GIF of the shove and headbutt.

by Joshua Northey :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:30pm

You also don't know what he is saying. As someone who still plays in reffed men's league hockey games, and who has played in a variety of reffed sports...I

f Stork is saying to the refs "oops my bad sorry" there, the chance of a flag goes way down. If as is common his blood is still up and he says "I didn't %^&*# do anything get the *%&$ off me"...well that leads to flags.

Not saying this is what happened, but he was exchanging words with those officials, and those words and their tone MATTER A TON when discussing flags in situations like this.

by Joe Pancake :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:37am

The Broncos timing the snap off of Stork's head bob makes a ton of sense. Miller and Co. were seemingly in the backfield before Brady could even look up.

On the fourth-and-one completion (and stop) to Edelman, in particular, Ware got such a good jump I thought he was offside at first.

Given the competition and the stakes, that was as impressive a pass rush by a D-line as I've seen since, well, since ever.

by big10freak :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:03pm

Pretty sure the 2007 Giants beating the snot out of Brady in the Super Bowl will cause some Pats fans to disagree

Or the Niners mauling of Eli Manning in the NFC Championship a few years back

And those are just two that spring to mind right away

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:16pm

The Giants game came close for me. This effort was probably more consistent on a down-to-down basis. On that last drive they basically got to Brady every play but the 4th and 10.

Just an amazing effort. Von and Ware were inhuman, but Wolfe and Jackson were great on the interior as well.

The 49ers were great in the '11 title game, but I would only put Super Bowl XLII as a recent playoff game that came close to this type of continuous pressure.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:50pm

Well, that's a function of Home Field Advantage. If it's so loud that the offense has to go on a silent count, the center head bob is normal. There is still a count after that that, in theory, only the offense knows.

I really wish Belichick tried harder to win that Miami game. It seems that his thinking was that it was more important to rest some nagging injuries and get out of South Florida with no new ones than it was to win HFA.

by Mike B. In Va :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:04pm

I'm betting his thinking was that Denver's offense wasn't good enough to get them to the Conference Championship, in which case it doesn't matter.

by Ten Drink Drunk :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:56am

As a Seahawks fan, I gotta say... it was very cathartic to see Brady's season end with an INT at the goal line.

by Joe Pancake :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:50am

Were you rooting for either side in the NFC Championship Game?

As a fellow Seahawks fan, I found myself pulling for Carolina. For one thing, the Russell Wilson/Cam Newton rivalry could be really awesome if it continues to grow.

Also, I get sick of all the Bruce Arians love. He's done a fine job with the Cardinals but he makes some questionable tactical calls (throwing late against Green Bay, big blitzing Cam Newton continuously), under the "this is who we are!" philosophy. (You know who never does that? Bill Belichick, because he game plans for each opponent and responds to each situation individually.)

But it could be I'm just bitter because a few years ago I had to listen to what a great coach Jim Harbaugh is and now it's Bruce Arians. Meanwhile a different coach in the NFC West has churned out the best team in the league the past four seasons and doesn't get nearly the same love or accolades.

by Eddo :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:31am

"Meanwhile a different coach in the NFC West has churned out the best team in the league the past four seasons and doesn't get nearly the same love or accolades."

*Eddo does spit-take*

by Joe Pancake :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:23pm

It's kinda true though. Pete Carroll has never been Coach of the Year despite the Seahawks success (and he almost certainly won't win this year) -- meanwhile Bruce Arians has won twice! (And Harbaugh once.)

I know every fan of every team feels the media and the public is biased against their team, but I do think Pete Carroll is a bit underrated. A lot of people thought he was a failure his first go-round (not true) and predicted he would be another college-to-pros flop and so they are hesitant to give him his just due now... or maybe I'm a huge homer who has gone completely off the rails (and off topic). That is a possibility as well.

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:54pm

A lot of good coaches never get Coach of the Year. Mike Holmgren and Mike McCarthy, for two. Ironically, the last Packers coach to win it was Lindy Infante who didn't win squat afterwards. I'm sure fans of other teams have similar complaints.

by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 5:36pm

Harbaugh and Arians both had dramatic, 1-year turn-arounds. Carroll's was so much more gradual.

by Ten Drink Drunk :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:23pm

I was pulling for the Cardinals. I would've liked Fitz and Palmer to have a chance at a ring before the sun sets for them. I do think the Cam / Wilson rivalry will be fun to watch and I certainly wasn't as invested in the NFCCG as I was the AFCCG.

by brazboom :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:57am

Aaron - ok, but your own team thought it was important to make the Brady vs Manning comparison above. Andrew Healy: "And let's be clear about Brady versus Manning: the much better player today lost to a better supporting cast." If that isn't trolling for a Brady vs Manning debate, I don't know what is.

by Ryan :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:36pm

As a longtime Colts/Peyton fan, I just lapped that line up. Read it, reread it, reread it. It's just so juicy. It's the exact kind of line a Pats fan would rip a Colts fan for dropping circa 2004.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:30pm

Is it clear brady has a worse supporting cast? Pats D was awesome that game too. Seems tome the game really came down to hfa

by duh :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:54pm

I think that if you went and compared the Denver starting 11 on D to the Patriots 11 position against position and picked the best player you'd end up with a heck of a lot more Broncos chosen than Patriots.

It gets much less clear to me on the Offensive side Denver has the better receiving corps but the Patriots have Gronk.

I think it is clear Denver's cast is better but YMMV.

by Led :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:24pm

I'm not going to take a position in the larger argument. However, to the extent there's anybody that still thinks Demaryius Thomas is a great WR, that should be put to rest. He is a great athlete, to be sure, but his hands, route running, and ball skills leave a lot to be desired. He obviously put up monster numbers when Manning was Manning and the offense was stacked. But, on a normal offense, I'd rather have Sanders (or Decker for that matter) over Thomas. D. Thomas is a little too much of a Tarzan/Jane situation.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:33pm

I don't deny Denver's defense is more talented than the Patriots, but I still think NE has plenty of talent on that side of the ball that the gap(and there is one) isn't all that enormous.

As for the offense, if we are excluding qb, I'd say both lines problematic(maybe slight edge to NE?); but the skill talent feels better on Ne. Edleman vs Sanders is probably in favor of Sanders, as is DT vs amendola, but nothing compares to Gronk at all on denver's offense.

And agreed about DT. He's a great athlete had does tremendously with his big physical body and speed, but lacks all of the finer nuances that makes someone a great receiver. He reminds me of David Boston.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:33pm

I don't deny Denver's defense is more talented than the Patriots, but I still think NE has plenty of talent on that side of the ball that the gap(and there is one) isn't all that enormous.

As for the offense, if we are excluding qb, I'd say both lines problematic(maybe slight edge to NE?); but the skill talent feels better on Ne. Edleman vs Sanders is probably in favor of Sanders, as is DT vs amendola, but nothing compares to Gronk at all on denver's offense.

And agreed about DT. He's a great athlete had does tremendously with his big physical body and speed, but lacks all of the finer nuances that makes someone a great receiver. He reminds me of David Boston.

by Dave Bernreuther :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:53pm

I am not really convinced that the Bronco receiving corps is better. DT's effort leaves a lot to be desired (as noted in other responses) and there's a huge dropoff to the #3 and the TEs. I thought Julius Thomas was a product of Manning at the time, but he's clearly missed. Decker too. Meanwhile, the Patriots have two guys that are always open - one due to being a freak and one from being shifty athletic - and great coaching and design.

by bmay :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 5:27pm

Decker is probably good, JT... not so good this year with Bortles.

by Led :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:33pm

In 2014, Decker had a slightly higher DVOA with Geno Smith at QB and Jeremy Kerley (83rd in DVOA) on the other side than D. Thomas had with a still pretty darn good Peyton Manning at QB and Sanders (4th in DVOA) on the other side. This year it was no contest. Decker is good. Not all-pro good, but better than Demaryius Thomas good.

by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 10:13am

Decker and Marshall made Fitzpatrick into the quarterback with the 11th best DYAR or so. Decker is really good,

by theslothook :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 12:07pm

I think we're getting carried away. Decker to me is a good number 2 receiver. Ideal outside number 2 receiver and someone GB could have used this year. I think making him the number 1 receiver and surrounding the rest with complimentary guys is a bridge too far for him/

by jonsilver :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:24pm


Jon Silverberg

by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:41am

I think the Panthers will see what Jamie Collins did in the second half with the delayed blitzes and have Kuechly and Davis add that to their arsenal. Kubiak better fix that problem before the game starts or it could end up being ugly.

by Willsy :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 6:55am

Willsy here, first disclosure I follow the Vikes so had no dog in the fight (love you Will).
Firstly thought the AFC would be a slugfest but even I was amazed how much the Denver rush had its way with the Pats. Also totally agree with Aaron the long passes are mystifying as the stats all year have shown it isn't their strong suit. How was Butler not drafted? Also the Miami loss also reminds us how crucial home field is when you get a rolled up crowd. Denver was so ready for the "lets send Peyton off in a blaze of glory" script even though his contribution was more about not giving up the ball.
Pats did a nice job with the timeouts to get another shot, I thought Denver went into their shell too much in that series. Wade is a great example of a great football mind who is a co ordinator not a head coach. Admittedly they played a weak line by their scheme against the Vikes was very good as well, they deserve their success.
Why was Stewart still in the game let alone why was Cam leaping over to score more TD's? One last Australian observation. You cannot run up the score in professional football, period, let alone the AFC Championship. Also while I never watch pre game shows but I thought Sean Payton was excellent in the pre game and some of the discussion bordered on intelligent at times.
Anyway a fascinating pair of games and how many teams need offensive lineman?

by SFC B :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 8:50am

Just a question on the "cannot run up the score"? Do you mean that you shouldn't do it because it's "unsportsmanlike" or do you mean it's impossible to do it because they're professional athletes and it's no the offense's fault if the defense just can't stop them? Because I can read it both ways but only agree with the latter.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:08am

Ah...I read it as the former, and thought it was a curious opinion. I think, though, that your alternate reading in correct, and I also agree with that one.

by aceofsween :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:15am

I find it curious that people complain either way given Carolina has gone into a prevent, run the clock out mindset all season long and this was really the first game where they didn't let up until the 4th quarter.

by SFC B :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:47am

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely won't criticize a NFL team for scoring at every opportunity they can. They're professional teams playing opponents who are, in all likelihood, as good of athletes as they are.

by Willsy :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:47pm

And that is exactly the point, you have to keep your foot on the throttle, it is the best way make the situation worse for your opponent. If you look at some lop sided games in Rugby League it is inconceivable to slow down and sides if anything go harder.

by armchair journe... :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:40am

Pretty sure its the latter. Try re-reading it with an Aussie accent, and it should be more clear.


by Independent George :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:20am

Everything should be read in an Aussie accent, especially on Monday mornings. No, seriously; I'm doing that at work right now, and it makes my work inbox go so much better.

Bonus points for reading raiderjoe posts in an Aussie accent.

by Kevin from Philly :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:15pm


by Willsy :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:49pm

Yes not sure how tema comes out in Aussie

by Willsy :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:43pm

It is impossible to stop.

by big10freak :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:20am

Thought the Cards offensive line was pedestrian which only was saved last week by the officials, and Carolina's d-line is better so they fought through the holds to get in Palmer's face. Contrast that with Carolina's o-line which was able to handle the Cards incessant blitzing pretty easily. Arians is a fine coach and aggressiveness should be applauded but at times should be tempered with looking at the numbers. As Aaron rightly pointed out leading up to the game, blitzing Newton is pretty foolish. But here came the Cards flying willy nilly.

What has me a bit perplexed is that I have watched the Cards now play their last four games. GB, Seattle, GB, Carolina. The game plan in each game was identical on offense and defense. Even the incredibly stubborn Mike McCarthy makes a few adjustments. I saw nothing change on the Cards save in the second half of the GB game where Palmer looked to get the ball to Fiztgerald versus going deep.

And speaking of the deep pass Palmer did have some shots these last few weeks. He wasn't always pressured. But when he had a guy he missed him. Which was not the case the bulk of the season.

by BJR :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:05am

I strongly suspect Palmer has been hiding injuries these past couple weeks. There was just none of the accuracy he has displayed all season, long or short. He's never been a durable guy, and now he is old as well - it was always a major concern for the Cardinals.

by big10freak :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 8:24am

Thought the Pats defense played really well yesterday. New England's pass coverage was very good, and you don't often see a Manning offense allow blitzers a free path to the qb on multiple downs. You hold the opposition to 244 yards on the road you gave your offense a legit chance to win.

by big10freak :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 8:34am

Von Miller is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season? Wow.

Really surprised Denver let him hit the street though maybe Miller was determined to make that happen.

by BroncFan07 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:29am

Pretty sure Denver will Franchise Tag Miller if nothing else. Malik Jackson is going to be hard to sign and that's a guy I don't want to lose.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:27am

Hopefully they'll get the paperwork submitted on time...

I'm sure Dumervil would love his old buddy to join him in Baltimore.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:39am

Fax machines frighten and confuse Unfrozen Caveman Retired HOF QB/General Manager. He plans on using carrier pigeons this time.

by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 10:16am

I'm pretty sure the Ravens don't have the cap room. He'd end up on the Raiders, Colts or maybe Cinci. Not that a scenario like that is going to happen. I can't believe it actually happened with Dumervil.

by bubqr :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 8:46am

My "I want to see any of those guys get a ring this year" list was, prior to yesterday games:

1. L.Fitzgerald
2. T.Davis
3. P.Manning

Pats losing is therefore a good news. However, I'm really sad for Fitz: it might have been his last chance, so it was tough seeing him drop 2(!) passes in such an ugly loss. Especially since he's always been a beast in the playoffs.

On another note, I find you guys really hard on Palmer, who played like a MVP most of this year. Comparing him to Schaub, Dalton, etc. is really unfair: I know his decision making and passing was below average the past 2 games, but entirely disregarding the previous 16 and calling him a slightly above average QB? Wow.

by SFC B :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 8:58am

I gotta stick up for Schaub for a second here. He was a pretty good QB from 2008-2012. The wheels came off at a time when the Texans were projected to take a step forward, but I'd bet Schaub's 2009-2011 is a better stretch of play than any 3 years for Palmer.

by Fierydemise :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:51am

Since I was the guy comparing him to Dalton let me defend that comparison. Since 2011 when Dalton entered the league their stats have been:
Dalton: 62.3%, 18008 Yds, 124 TD, 73 INT, 7.2 Y/A
Palmer: 62.4%, 17342 Yds, 105 TD, 66 INT, 7.8 Y/A

If you want to look at something a little fancier DVOA by year (yes I know player DVOA is more a ranking of the entire offense than the QB):
Dalton: 5.6%, -5.9%, 2.3%, -3.7%, 32.0%
Palmer: 2.5%, -2.2%, 2.7%, 8.5%, 34.5%

Overall a pretty similar quality of player, above average but not top tier until this year. I'm not disregarding the past 16 games I'm putting the past 16 games in the context of the past 5 years, over that stretch Palmer has been pretty similar to Dalton. Even if Palmer (and Dalton) got a lot better this year I expect some regression because players don't typically sustain jumps this big in any sport.

Palmer still had an MVP caliber season and no one can take that away from him, I'd still give him the MVP award, but this year was an outlier considering his performance before this season.

by bubqr :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:39pm

Palmer played with a Bengals team that was quite significantly inferior to Dalton's version (even though he had Ochocinco and Whosyourmama for a while), then moved on to the terrible Raiders, before ending up on a Cardinals teams that was believed to be a bottom feeder at the time.

Plus, for the raw stats, they're not adjusted for era, and while there's not a huge difference between 10 years ago and now it's still significant.

I believe that if Palmer was QBing the Bengals team of the last 2/3 years, they probably would have won at least one playoffs game, and would have been a contender every year.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:11pm

Maybe - let's not forget he'd have commanded a much higher salary for most of those years.

by Steve B :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:32pm

Let's also keep in mind that Palmer basically quit on the Bengals and forced them to trade him.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:22pm

And I say: good for him.

by Steve B :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:24pm

Fine, but it should be pointed out when people talk about him being on terrible Raiders' teams. I would imagine that Palmer was happy to go there since it sent him back to his home state and reunited him with his old OC (who mistakenly saw Palmer as the missing ingredient that was going to take the Raiders back to the playoffs). The success the Cardinals had in 2013 was much more about the defense than it was Palmer, who had a ton of turnovers that season. How far would they have gone last season if he hadn't gotten injured? Well, I think we just saw their ceiling with him.

by Fierydemise :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:20pm

I'm only using stats since 2011 when they were both playing so no era adjustment should be needed.

Now Dalton's teams likely had more talent, especially compared to the 2011 and 2012 Raiders teams but the comparison seems relatively reasonable. Is Palmer better than Dalton? Yeah but I'm not convinced it is a huge gap. Palmer had a great year but over the larger sample of the past few seasons he was an above average but not great QB, that is basically what we saw last night, a solid QB going against a very good defense with a poor offensive line.

by Steve B :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:10pm


Were they "significantly inferior"? Look at the 2009 version of the Bengals that went 10-6 and won the AFC North. How much of that really had to do with Palmer?

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:55am

Agree on the three mentioned players. DeMarcus Ware might be a worthwhile addition. First ballot HoFer who's never even been to the SB.

by jonsilver :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:37pm

One of the two drops was a tipped ball that went from tight spiral to wobbler within 7 yards of Fitz; no blame should accrue there.
Jon Silverberg

by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 5:22pm

Steven Jackson. There's one great player who never got his due.

by rj1 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 8:49am

An early Super Bowl prognosis from an admittedly biased Broncos fan:

Denver will win the Super Bowl if total points are kept under 45.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:03am

Does anybody else think the Pats repeated going for it on 4th down was fucking asinine, the first one, anyway? Given that:

There is plenty of time left on the clock -- so much so, that the three timeouts you're holding don't even enter into the equation yet.

Your defense has been playing their best game of the year. Outside of the (crucial) component of not throwing INTs (not that he didn't get lucky at least once with a dropped INT), Manning was below average-to-terrible for the last 40 minutes of the game. He missed many open receivers, both with his eyes and with the ball, and took a lot of big sacks instead of simply throwing the ball away...which tells me his usual strength of being able to read the rush and coverage was missing. I think Denver wins this game going away with Osweiler in.

Yes, an 8-point game is a one-possession game. It's hardly a guaranteed one-possession game. What is the success rate of 2-pointers? I think historically it's been in the low 40%-range. The smarter play would be to take the points, and reduce the margin to where a touchdown wins. If the game played out similarly from that point, it would have made for an interesting choice on 4th and one down by 5. Depending on the time situation, then it might be time to go for it on fourth and six....or take the three points, and once again depend on your better unit, the defense, to get the ball back again.

I generally like Belichick's aggressiveness, but I can't get onboard that decision to go for it -- and I'm a staunch defender of 4th and 2.

by SFC B :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:32am

I thought the first one was the only real questionable call. But the points about taking the FG and then kicking off are still true. It risks taking an additional 10-15 seconds off the clock, it risks giving the Broncos much better field position, and if you make the conversion there, then score quickly, they have a chance to get the ball back with time if they miss the 2pt conversion. Not a lot of time, but, more than they had. Actually I thought the worst playcall of the last 3ish minutes of that game was Denver passing on 3rd down on the series after NE failed to convert 4th down.

by Travis :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:46am

Denver's passing on 3rd down on that series cost them at most 4 seconds. They just had to make sure the pass wasn't intercepted.

3rd and 10, Denver 14, 2:10 to go. New England has 1 time out remaining.

Scenario 1: Denver runs and almost certainly doesn't convert. The clock ticks down to the two-minute warning, unless Belichick throws away his last timeout to save 4 seconds. The Broncos then punt.

Scenario 2: Denver passes beyond the sticks. The pass is incomplete. The two-minute warning is wasted during the ensuing punt, and the clock automatically stops anyway on the change of possession.

Scenario 3: Denver passes beyond the sticks. The pass is complete. The clock ticks down to the two-minute warning or the Patriots use their last timeout. Either way, the Patriots get the ball back in the best-case scenario with 30 seconds left.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:55am

Even an int, on that route, may not have been all that costly. Wasn't the ball about 35 yards downfield?

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:55am

Even an int, on that route, may not have been all that costly. Wasn't the ball about 35 yards downfield?

by SFC B :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:13am

It's not THAT costly, but it was shallower than the punt would have been, and that is disregarding any possible return and the risk the intercepting player is down or get OOB before the 2min warning and giving the patriots time for an extra play or two.

by Travis :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:42am

29. The punt netted 36.

by SFC B :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:02am

But in scenario 1, if Belichick doesn't use his TO, the clock starts again on the 4th down punt. The punt and Edleman's return takes 16 seconds so in that scenario the patriots start their drive at 1:44 instead of 1:52. Maybe Edleman Fair Catches the Scenario 1 punt to save time, then the Patriots have to cover more ground. I just think every outcome of Scenario 1 is superior to what happens if they don't convert.

by Travis :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:16am

The punt and Edelman's return took 12 seconds (2:04 to 1:52) on Sunday. Why would it have taken longer in a different scenario?

I just think every outcome of Scenario 1 is superior to what happens if they don't convert.

If you're going to assume the Broncos wouldn't convert anything, the safest thing to do would have been to have Manning kneel.

by SFC B :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:42am

Because I saw 16 yards and for whatever reason swapped the yardage for the time when I typed it out.

by bigpoppapump :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:16am

I definitely was surprised they didn't kick the FG on the first one. The Broncos had about 25 passing yards in the second half at that stage and NE had just proved they could move the sticks; so with better than 5 minutes left 3 plus 7 felt as likely as 8. Particularly as 8 would only have tied the game anyway. After that, they had no choice on the second and third ones.

by billsfan :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:52am

The screen-pass/incomplete on 4th and 1 was... odd. Brady's possibly the best QB right now in converting those sneaks.

by Pat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:11pm

That was way too long for a sneak: it was almost a yard and a half, and Brady's "4th and 1" sneaks are for "4th and less than 1."

Also, it wasn't a screen (no one was in front of Amendola to screen him): it was a play-action fake, and Ware got a *fantastic* jump and didn't buy it for a second, so Brady's throw was rushed. That made the ball hang in the air too long, letting Harris close fast enough.

Seriously, Ware actually starts moving before any of the other offensive linemen do. He's a full yard across the line before Keo even moves. The playcall wasn't that bad - they were trying to use the Broncos' speed against them. Unfortunately whatever movement Ware was catching that allowed him to jump so early made them *so* fast that they disrupted the play anyway.

by Pat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:58am

I thought the first one was really iffy, but the others were obvious. But there is one point you're missing on the first one. You can't say "Manning was below average-to-terrible" for the last part of the game. He wasn't the one they were afraid of.

When Belichick went for it on 4th and 1 from the Denver 16, the previous play from the Broncos was a field goal, and a field goal that easily could've been a touchdown. And it was Anderson who caused that with that 30 yard run, followed by a nice 8 yard run as well.

And you have to look at the situation for the rest of it: Once you've got 1st and goal, up by 5, their goal was whatever you do, don't cost us the field goal. Up by 8 is *huge*, especially for that defense and the way they manhandled the Patriots' OL. So those remaining plays were low-risk, and not a big deal they didn't hit them (although they easily could've).

So why would Belichick think "oh, we can just get a 3-and-out, and we're fine"? A 3-and-out was a 50/50 proposition based on second-half statistics up to that point. And both of *those* were due to sacks on Manning, which probably wouldn't've happened since they probably wouldn't've passed.

And yes, they did get 3-and-outs after missing on 4th down, but again, that was probably situational from Denver's point of view. You're up 8 at that point, just don't do anything stupid.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:38am

Replying to points here and the OP.

I thought on the first one the Pats should have gone for the FG. There's a bit of an illusion when it comes to being down 8 points. It looks like they're down just one score, but that's not exactly right. For starters, a 2-point conversion is much harder to get than a PAT. But then even if you get those 8 points, there's OT to consider. And that is itself a 50-50 proposition at best. So the team is going to need another scoring drive in any case, either in regulation or OT. If you get the three points then, then yes, the time pressure is a real thing, but OTOH, a subsequent TD would put the Pats in the lead.

That's the argument for the FG. The argument against it is simple: the Pats had not been able to move the ball with consistency all day long. A FG there requires a subsequent TD drive in regulation, with five miinutes left. What is easier, driving the length of a field for a TD, or converting a 1-yard 4th down try? My guess is that it's the latter. At the time of that first decision, there's no reason to think that suddenly the Patriots would be able to move the ball with much better efficiency than they had all day long. Nor is it reasonable to think that their defense would have been as stout regardless of what Denver's playcalling had been. With an 8-point lead, the Broncos were in full clock-burning mode. They were running futile runs just to maximize the clock burning. If the lead had been slimmer, they may well have put a higher priority on making first downs.

I can see making a case for the FG. What I don't fathom are the people who are convinced not only that the FG was the correct call, but also that Belichick is an idiot for not doing so, and that had that one change in strategy been made, the Patriots would have won.

by Pat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:20pm

"With an 8-point lead, the Broncos were in full clock-burning mode. They were running futile runs just to maximize the clock burning. If the lead had been slimmer, they may well have put a higher priority on making first downs."

Yeah, this is what I was saying. I mean, it's worth noting that if you look at the game, it went:

1) Patriots cut the lead to 5.
2) Broncos drive, get past midfield. Maybe 10-15 yards away from a field goal to bring it back to 8.
3) Patriots do nothing due to first-down sack with poor field position.
4) Broncos do nothing due to OL mixup letting Collins rush free.
5) Patriots drive a tiny bit.
6) Broncos drive, nearly score a touchdown, but end up pushing the lead back to 8.

I keep hearing that the Patriots should've known that the Broncos would do nothing, but I don't see why they would think that. Two drives back, they got a 3 and out when Collins rushed free, but that's not something they could expect to happen again.

by deus01 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:28pm

Andrew's comment that that Broncos couldn't get a first down in the second half makes me wonder if he was actually watching the game. They were a few inches away from getting another TD and ended up settling for a FG to keep the lead at 8. Given the way the defense was playing it seemed smart to not take chances and burn as much of the clock as possible.

by Pat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:00pm

There's also the point that the Patriots might not have thought they'd get a better chance on offense. That particular drive was helped by a 15-yard personal foul, and Trevathan's screwup in coverage on Edelman.

You tend to look back in hindsight and say "well, look, they *did* get another chance - two, in fact" to criticize the decision making, but the Patriots didn't know that at the time. All they saw was them getting into the red zone due to a rare coverage misstep. I can easily see Belichick saying "eff this, get me that damn yard so we can score here."

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:04pm

When your qb is getting smacked on every other play, you really can't be all that confident. Heck, it was remarkable that Brady didn't fumble at some point in the 2nd half.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:53pm

Yes, all that is good. There is no way that Belichick could know things were going to happen. But it seems that the way to bet was on the defense in that situation (first 4th down attempt). Belichick disagreed.

by Eddo :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:27pm

The tipping point for me to prefer the field goal (on the first of the three situations only) is that even converting the fourth-and-one didn't guarantee the touchdown (i.e. it wasn't fourth-and-goal). That means that more time would have to come off the clock to get the end result, which, given the Broncos' defense, had a good shot of being a field goal attempt, anyway.

by Pat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:12pm

To be fair, that 4th and 1 was designed to have a good chance of getting a touchdown. If you look at the play, if Ware hadn't messed up the timing and Brady had hit the receiver in stride, there's almost no one over there. Most of the Broncos defenders *did* bite on the play action. Unfortunately for the Patriots, Ware was there so early that it didn't matter.

by aceofsween :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:13am

I'm really stunned no one mentioned the implosion of Carolina (one of the best teams at the time) against the Cardinals in 2008 en route to their Super Bowl appearance. That really marked the end of Jake Delhomme's career and I can't help but wonder if Palmer, now 36, will end up going through something similar.

I realize the game was out of hand in the 3rd quarter, but the Panthers absolutely feasted on some of Palmer's throws.

by BJR :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:50am

Palmer has just had the best season of his career, far beyond anything Delhomme achieved. I don't expect him to repeat this year again, but neither do I expect him to suddenly fall off a cliff and be benched a few weeks into next season as Delhomme was.

The more important issue with Palmer is durability. Even in a season he has played great and avoided major injury, he seems to have been worn down and become something of a liability these past couple weeks. It's tough to win games in January with a beaten up guy back there.

by aceofsween :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:52am

Delhomme broke (or injured) the finger on his throwing hand in Week 12 when it collided with an Eagles defender's helmet on a pass. I wouldn't call that getting "benched" and I wouldn't call it "early" in the season either.

Regardless of everything else, Palmer is on the back end of his career and he will probably retire within the next 2 years. That's just he way these things tend to work.

by BJR :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:16am

Well, regardless of the detail Delhomme was basically cooked after that Arizona game, and was never very good to begin with. Palmer is a much better QB coming off an MVP calibre season. Sure, he hasn't got many years left, but he's not ready for the scrapheap just yet.

by FireSnake :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:32am

Re: Aaron Schatz
"Instead of Denver getting the ball on the 16 and then the 14, they would have received a kickoff, which likely means either the 20 " ... "And the kickoffs would have taken an additional 10 to 15 seconds off the clock, leaving less time for the Patriots on the last drive "

That's about as silly as it gets. The game was played in Denver, all Kickoffs were touchbacks. A kick in the endzone takes 0 seconds off the clock.

Sorry, the only thing that would in fact have changed had the Pats kicked two FGs on the third- and second-last possessions would have been that the Broncos would have played more agressively on offense. When you are up by eight, you cannot lose in regulation, hence milk the clock. Up by two you better take some risk to get that first down.

But yes, not kicking the FG on 4th down with little over five minutes left in the game was stupid. Down by seven, fine if you go for it and fail. Down by eight, that's dumb. How high is the 2pt conversion percentage when you cant run the ball against a D like Denver's? probably 30 percent at best.

Special teams lost the game for the Patriots. Field position after Punts was horrible.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:38am

Some credit needs to be given to Denver's punter.

by FireSnake :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:59am

and to Scott O'Brien :) who unfortunately was on his ranch this season.

The Patriots had some issues on ST the whole season ... might have been injury related (C. Harper muffed punt @DEN) or otherwise (blocked punt against Philly). But I guess Amendola made a mistake when that punt bounced to inside the four instead of fielding it.

But they have a new ST Coach since this season.

by BroncFan07 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:33am

Words of which have never been spoken till now. (I will give Colquitt credit for last week too)

by ZDNeal :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:32am

Dan Wetzel mentioned on his podcast that Amendola's amazing effort to make it 4th and 1+ instead of 4th and 5 probably screwed the Pats. At 4th and 1 I think going for it is reasonable. Belichick has faith his team can get 1 yard. They probably kick at 4th and 5.

by BroncFan07 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:35am

I was going to say the same thing. When it happened I even said out loud that now NE can go for it instead of taking the FG.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 9:47am

I think the beating Brady was absorbing might have affected Belichik's decision making on the decision to not kick the field goal. When your old qb is getting the feces stomped out of him with every other pass, you are always one snap away from Garoppolo time. You have the chance to get a td right now. I'm not going to excoriate Darth for that call.

by rageon :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:02am

Hillman needed to go for the ball. But...if we are going to see strict flags for no hitting after the whistle then how should guys decide whether to stop when the whistle blows. I don't like the change of possession after the whistle blows. But yeah, stupid play by Hillman.

What's the actual rule on Brady's three throw-aways when he was obviously on his way down? Seems like he should have to get closer to an actual completion there, rather than just 5 yards short of a guy's feet.

Did I see one of Denver's players stop Vin Miller from doing one of his crotch-based celebrations? I thought so. And I'm half expecting for him to get a 15-yarder in the super bowl for one.

Talib got away with the PI in the end zone. Gronk pushed off on his catch. But overall it wasn't a terribly officiated game.

by big10freak :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:10am

Throughout the playoffs the officials have called procedural penalties, unsportsmanlike and a few really egregious defensive holdings. Otherwise, the approach has clearly been to let the guys play and stay out of it.

I cannot swear to it but I think that after the first playoff round offensive holding pretty much ceased being called. And yesterday there were plenty of chances to throw such a flag. The New England guy, 76, did evertyhing but Tonya Harding pass rushers several times. And the Cards offensive line as a group was nothing but a grab fest. To the credit of the Panthers d-line they just fought through it

by big10freak :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:11am

And as a quick follow up, even procedural penalties have been a tad hit and miss as offensive tackles were regularly jumping counts throughout the playoffs to help on pass protection.

by NYMike :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:44am

Ah yes. The Joe Staley special. Staley has never waited for the snap to get back into pass protection, and is hardly ever called for it.

by NYMike :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:46am

I was going to post in the open thread yesterday that I, as a Packer fan, wish that the generous Carson Palmer we saw yesterday had played last week. But this morning I realize he did: the Packers just dropped several interceptions while the Panthers did not.

by big10freak :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:50am

Actually, the Panthers dropped a few as well. Carolina did a better job of sustaining pressure throughout the game.

But if Sam Shields holds on to his chances it's Green Bay getting whupped yesterday.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:49am

I don't remember any recent Super Bowl where the contest, in what is projected to be a competitive game (single digit spread), was so clear-cut, in terms of what has to happen to make it competitive. The Broncos front seven has to thoroughly dominate, or this game is over at half time. They have a chance, but the Panthers offensive line is a pretty competent bunch, and there is no HFA for the Broncos.

I really want to see a good game, so I'll be pulling hard for Wade's crew, but I wouldn't count on it too much.

by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 10:28am

They're starting Michael Oher at left tackle. Their offensive line is competent compared to Denver's and New England's, but it's not the Cowboys line. By the way, the Panthers play a lot better at home as well. They beat Atlanta 38-0 at home, in a game where they got away with a lot of defensive holding, and then lost to the Falcons on the road a couple of weeks later.

The main thing they have to do is confuse Newton so he turns the ball over. Turnovers will decide this game. The Panthers feasted on turnovers in the playoffs, but if the turnover margin is even, the game will be. Neither offense is dominant, just the defenses.

by coremill :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 11:42am

Also, the strength of the Carolina offensive line is the interior. That doesn't match up as well with Denver, who have great edge rushers.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 11:54am

The Panthers have to run effectively enough to keep the Broncos pass rushers from simply going full bore pass rush on every snap. That means the Panthers using Newton to get numbers in the running game, and thus mismatches. That means the Broncos must make Newton physically pay a high price by presenting himself as a running back. That's the game.

by Mike W :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:52am

I said the Super Bowl is Carolina's to lose, and that only NE, if they got healthy and got by Denver, had a chance to beat them. I'll double up on it now. The Super Bowl will not be very close. Denver has a good D, while Carolina has a good D and a good offense. Denver isn't built to come from behind. It's going to be a 2-TD margin, or more.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:10am

If I'm Phillips, my message is pretty simple. Every time Newton presents himself as a ball carrier, even when he might hand the ball off, he is a legitimate target, and he has to be brutalized, with legal hits. Now, that's a helluva lot easier said than done, with a guy with Newton's size, speed, and flexibility, but I'd make the choice that if I get whipped because Newton keeps handing off to Stewart, and Steward gets 200 yards, because my defensive ends keep trying to shatter Newton's sternum, so be it. I might get beat 27-0, but Newton has to have a hard time getting out of bed the next day.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:41am

That kind of strategy might work with most QBs, but those little defenders in Denver's secondary are going to bounce off Cam Newton like so many flies.

Preferring a strategy that might lead to a 27-0 loss because it would hurt Cam Newton? At the very least, I would say that is odd.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:53am

The point, of course, is that if Newton doesn't get physically brutalized there is very, very, little chance that the Panthers are kept below 20 points, and Denver's offense, against Carolina's defense, has very, very, little chance of getting past 20 points. A high variance approach is Denver's best chance of victory, and a high variance approach that risks Stewart being the game MVP, and Panthers controlling the ball for 40 minutes, and winning very easily, is the approach I'd take.

by Dave Bernreuther :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:09pm

Gary Kubiak and "high variance" don't really go hand in hand, unfortunately...

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:16pm

I think it likely Kubiak gives Wade large deference, and if he doesn't for this game, he's nuts. Phillips has to scheme and call the game of his life to give the Broncos a chance.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:53am

The point, of course, is that if Newton doesn't get physically brutalized there is very, very, little chance that the Panthers are kept below 20 points, and Denver's offense, against Carolina's defense, has very, very, little chance of getting past 20 points. A high variance approach is Denver's best chance of victory, and a high variance approach that risks Stewart being the game MVP, and Panthers controlling the ball for 40 minutes, and winning very easily, is the approach I'd take.

by anon76returns :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:19pm

If those "little" guys can bring down the Gronk, they can bring down Cam.

by Peregrine :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:26pm

I think Newton is shiftier than Gronkowski. Once Newton is in the open field, it's like trying to tackle a horse. And I think he'll have the green light to run from the opening drive.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:36pm

I also think of Newton as being a lot more flexible than Gronk, which results in him being less prone to getting slowed up via constant pounding. Talking about how you intend to physically punish him is a helluva lot easier than actually doing it.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:36pm

I also think of Newton as being a lot more flexible than Gronk, which results in him being less prone to getting slowed up via constant pounding. Talking about how you intend to physically punish him is a helluva lot easier than actually doing it.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 5:30pm

It's not exactly the same, since usually Gronk is running pass routes and Cam is just a runner. Gronk is running with coverage and he has to spend time catching the ball before going into polar bear mode. Cam can start his run in polar bear mode.

by coremill :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:21pm

I think this overrates Carolina. They've been playing very well, but they're also 5-for-5 on fumble recoveries in the two playoff games, with multiple return TDs.

The key for Denver will be to avoid turnovers and to force Carolina to put together long drives against Denver's excellent defense. I don't think Carolina is good enough to run away from Denver if Denver avoids big mistakes. Carolina may control stretches of the game, but as long as that control ends in field goals rather than TDs Denver will be able to hang around. And if Carolina makes some big mistakes and Denver can capitalize to get a lead, Carolina will struggle to come back against Denver's D.

Carolina has a much better chance of winning by 20+, as Denver can't hit enough big plays on offense to blow anyone out. But I'm not sure Carolina actually has a better chance of winning.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:54pm

Carolina does not have a unit which is as bad as Denver's offensive line, and the unit which is closest, Carolina's injury depleted defensive backfield, benefits from the fact that Denver's personnel is physically unlikely to exploit it well, from a protection standpoint, and from the standpoint of having the physical ability to throw deep.

Yes, Denver can win. Absent some really good odds, however, that isn't the way to bet. I saw +153 this morning, to get the Broncos. I like that better than getting 3.5 points on the spread, but I'm kinda' unenthusiastic about this game in general, in terms of risking money.

by coremill :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:48pm

Carolina's WRs aren't very good either, and Denver has very good CBs. If Carolina's WRs can't win one-on-one matchups, and I doubt they can consistently, then Denver can bring a safety down to match up numbers in the run game. And Denver has an excellent front seven, much better than Arizona's, that can generate pressure without blitzing (as you have noted).

I don't expect either team to be very effective on offense. The O/U is 45, and I like the under a lot.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:01pm

I certainly like the under better than the over. I just generally dislike the game, in terms of risking money, however, given where the numbers sit right now. I'm just rooting for a close game to watch, which I think we have a decent chance of getting.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:05pm

Carolina has had the same WR corps all year, and it's not like it's been an impediment. Interestingly enough, Denver has the #1 DVOA against the pass, Carolina is #2, and Seattle and Arizona are #3 and #4. So, Carolina has just utterly pasted the #3 and #4 passing DVOA defenses, and didn't exactly have issues there. I don't see any reason why there's an expectation Denver would do notably better than Seattle or Arizona.

by coremill :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:10pm

Because the rankings obscure the magnitudes. AZ/SEA may have been 3/4 in pass defense DVOA, but they had only -9.8% and -9.4%, respectively. Denver was -28.0%. Denver's pass defense was historically excellent and the best in the league by a mile, so yes I would expect them to do better than Seattle or Arizona.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:06pm

Carolina's had the same "shitty" WRs all season though. While Denver has a very good secondary, it's not like they're the ONLY team with a good secondary. And yet Ted Ginn, Corey Brown, Devin Funchess, Jerricho Cotchery, and Greg Olsen have made plays all year long.

by cjfarls :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 5:02pm

Agree. To win Cam is going to have to make throws, under pressure, into tight windows.

He's certainly capable of doing so, but I'm not sure if he can do 30points of that.

20 points very easily could win this game. In such a game, I wouldn't put a lot of money on either side... just too much variance due to statistically infrequent big plays (TOs, blown coverage, broken tackle in the secondary, etc.)

by Eddo :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 5:14pm

I don't think Newton will have to throw into tight windows, necessarily; the Panthers like taking strikes downfield, so it might only take one or two slight breakdowns for them to get the big plays they need.

by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 10:33am

Newton didn't have to throw into tight windows against Arizona, because they blitzed a lot, but he hit a number of big plays against the Seahawks in tight windows.

The other issue is that by trying to throw deep, they're giving Von Miller and co. more time to get to Newton. They don't have to bring him down, just knock the ball out to change the game.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 11:42am

I really think the game has a very good chance of being won won or lost by how effective the Panthers are in their run game. They don't need to average 4.5 yards per carry, or even 4, but they have to be good enough to make 25 or so designed runs a worthwhile endeavor, thus making it harder for Miller and Ware to simply pin their ears back, and go, on every snap. If Carolina can accomplish that, then Newton will much more likely have the chance to stand in the pocket, using play action, and allow deep routes to develop. Carolina has really done an excellent job this year of using their running game to augment their pass protection, which could have really been an issue, given their tackles. That's what people who nearly completely discount the utility of running don't understand. The physical well being of your most important player frequently hinges on the ability of your offense to make the possibility of a designed run something that has to be accounted for.

I guarantee you the Darth Hoodie would have loved to have the ability, two days ago, to make Miller and Ware hesitate once and a while. So did Brady, when he got out of bed yesterday morning.

by Paul R :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:56am

In the middle of the first quarter of Broncos/Patriots, my 12-year-old son found my copy of Civilization IV and asked me to set it up for him on his computer. So I spent the AFC championship game playing video games. It was worth it.

NFL Network replayed the game later last night. However, they kept interrupting the broadcast with "Game Breaks," showing highlights of the game they were currently broadcasting, highlights that hadn't happened yet.

It was like if they had shown Star Wars, and interrupted the broadcast with, "later in the movie, the rebels blow up the Death Star! Here's a clip of the action."

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:13am

Yesterday was very much an outlier for me, in that I watched a game live. The vast majority of games I DVR, and then start watching them about 2 hours after kickoff. It really makes it more enjoyable for me.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:23am

I do this too, though it precludes texting game reactions with friends & family.

by Paul R :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:28am

Do you remember Tom Brady's first Super Bowl, the stunning, surprise victory over the "Greatest Show on Turf?" I videotaped that one.
Except I set the VCR wrong and only recorded the pregame show and five minutes of the first quarter. I've never trusted myself with electronics since then.

by Willsy :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:09pm

I have never seen The Drive for the 49's win, same issue.

by dmepolitic :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:13am

Thanks for an overall great season of analysis guys, keep up the awesome work. The
Almanac in particular is such a small price for so much good stuff.

As to the pats game.

Brady threw two miserable picks in the first half and just wasn't very sharp in general when
He had time. The cross the field gronk miss, the throws at the feet of open guys, throwing
Away from single-covered gronk on the two-pointer. Missing The rb on about 5 seperate
Deep routes, why even throw that route so often?

Let's just be honest if some other qb has this exact game we are joking about his struggles.
How bad does Brady have to be before his defenders will acknowledge he had a bad game?
It happens even to the great ones.

Peyton didn't have nearly the level of difficulty Brady was facing, but there is just zero reason
To say he somehow played worse then Brady. He made no mistakes and moved the
Denver offense very effectively in the first half. A little dispassionate analysis would be

Otherwise Butler really struggled with giving up big plays this year, particularly to Sanders/Decker/Brown.
Maybe next year he can earn his pro bowl berth during the regular season, not as recognition for one play
In the previous post-season.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:19am

People just fail to appreciate what violence does to performance, even if the violence isn't always present. You hammer a qb from the start, and you'll start getting mistakes from the qb from the start, especially when the hammering takes place with 4 or fewer rushers.

Frankly, I was awestruck by some of the quality of throws Brady made in the 4th quarter, after the beating he took.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:44am


I have to admit, I'm often more impressed with statistically-ok performances under extreme duress than 5TD performances in shootouts. I was more impressed by Brady yesterday than I was by anything from 2007.

I still have a random, meaningless PIT-MIA game seared in my brain, just because I remember Ronnie Brown managing to eke out 3 YPC despite getting swarmed behind the line on seemingly every single play. I think about Eli getting pounded against the Niners in the 2011 NFCCG far more than his shootout with Brees this year; to me, Peyton's signature game was against the Ravens in 2006.

I hate to say it, but I probably would have been the double murderer's biggest fan back in the day.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:02pm

In addition, it always bugs me when proper credit is not given the defense. That interception by Miller was the by product of the defensive playcaller going against trends (the Broncos had only rushed three 14 times all season before yesterday), and Miller being a phenomenal athlete. You're deep in your end zone, with a pass called, and you know that your tackles are physically outmatched. Give the defense some credit.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:44am

Brady had a miserable first half but you cannot just ignore the fact that he gave the Patriots three separate chances in the last 6 minutes to tie the game against the league's best defense. Yes, it was a flawed performance, but there was greatness there. I had literally given up on the game completely twice before the Pats got the ball back for the last drive. And then they got the TD on fourth down! After converting a previous fourth down!

by Guest789 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:20pm

Never count out Touchdown Tom.

by big10freak :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:21am

Another penalty that regularly went uncalled during these playoffs was intentional grounding. Pretty much every qb had at least one, and most had numerous, throw aways that to this casual observer sure SEEMED like grounding. And yet I do not recall a single flag nor even a discussion by the refs in most cases.

Let me stress that my posts on this topic are not advocacy of penalties to be called. I just found it very interesting.

by TomC :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:10pm

Every QB except Cam, who had time to bake a pie and eat it in the pocket and whose one sack came on a play where he was being pursued by a single, mostly blocked defender and slipped on the turf. Pretty impressive what Carolina's OL (that doesn't have a lot of blue-chip guys) has been able to do the last two weeks to a couple of very good DLs. But as everyone has already noted, Denver's DL/OLBs are a different animal.

by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:55pm

In particular, I was thinking this at the end of the Denver game, when Brady threw about three passes in a row vaguely upfield while windmilling to the ground in the grasp of a defender. I assume that in that case the referees just chickened our and swallowed their whistles rather than allow themselves to be accused of swinging the result.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:35pm

IMO, only one of them (the last) was questionable. On the other two close calls, there was an eligible receiver right about where the ball landed.

by Kaelik :: Wed, 01/27/2016 - 2:38pm

I think an objective observer would say there was never a receiver anywhere near where the ball was actually thrown on all three of those. Such that if he was just standing in the pocket, you'd call intentional grounding. (Or at least should, obviously, as the OP noted, refs never actually want to call grounding, much less when they will be accused of deciding the game on it, unless your QBs name is Caleb Hanie, then fuck that guy.)

But you have to give some lee way for the fact that in all three cases he was throwing while currently being mauled by a Denver player, and that often effects ball trajectory. Whether or not you say he was trying to throw near a receiver and it went off course from the mauling, or he was trying to throw it away with absolutely no attempt to get it near a receiver because he was being mauled and didn't want to take a sack, that's a tougher decision to make.

But regardless of whether you should or shouldn't call IG, none of those balls were anywhere near receivers.

by LyleNM :: Wed, 01/27/2016 - 3:11pm

As an objective observer, I saw a receiver in the area on every single one of those.
(And actually, considering I - like many - was rooting for the not-Patriots, I would certainly have rather seen an IG but you just can't make the receiver not be where he was.)

by Kaelik :: Thu, 01/28/2016 - 8:04am

Then you have a terrible definition of grounding, because if you think the rule is "receiver within 10 yards" then it becomes basically impossible to call IG even when the QB isn't mid tackle.

by LyleNM :: Thu, 01/28/2016 - 11:56am

Go to the all-22 then and prove to us that there wasn't a receiver within 10 yards. And when you see that there was a receiver within 1-2 yards (or so), come back and say that too.

by theslothook :: Thu, 01/28/2016 - 2:48pm

Maybe there should be a change to the rule deciding if the throw was catchable. I think most people know watching those plays that those passes had no chance of being caught and were thrown purely to get out of being sacked. I

by Kaelik :: Thu, 01/28/2016 - 9:50pm

Nah, I don't think it needs to be catchable, that sounds like a bad standard on a number of levels. I don't mind spikes at the RB's legs for incompletions, throws affected by defenders on the QB most of the time shouldn't be grounding. Deep overthrows should definitely not be grounding.

Catchable is a really bad standard.

by Purds :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:42am

As an English teacher, I am appalled, APALLED!, that no one has mentioned the fact that we English teachers across the nation have a new example to use as a model when teaching "irony."

You see, son, the Patriots head coach got his team to propose changing the extra point rule to make the kick more challenging, and then his team lost in a very close playoff game by missing an extra point, the extra point that was more challenging because of his team's proposal to the league. That, my boy, is irony.

by jmaron :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:43pm

wait, you mean irony isn't rain on your wedding day
like Alanis Morrisette told me?

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:53pm

It's like paaaaain on your playoff day
A pick-six as Kuechly runs all the way
Like Jake Delhomme, it got fumbled away
And who would have that it figured

by jmaron :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:08pm

good one. I've always wondered if that song would have been a hit if she correctly called the song unfortunate....isn't it unfortunate don't you think....I'm thinking people would have just thought - yeah it's unfortunate - no need to think about it.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:11pm

I like "Doesn't it blow?", myself.

by InTheBoilerRoom :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:32pm

I've always interpreted the song to be a play against people that have no idea what irony is (I happen to have a friend like this). The true irony in the song is that none of the circumstances are actually ironic, and that may be the point. Am I giving Alanis Morissette too much credit?

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:44pm

So, it's meta-ironic?

I think you're giving her a bit too much credit for understanding "ironic".

Is that ironic?

*falls into logic vortex, never escapes*

by InTheBoilerRoom :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 4:59pm

Mind blown.

Also, I'm not sure what it says about me, as a Panthers fan, that the only comments I have to make here are about a bad Alanis Morissette song.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:39pm

To quote the moral philosopher and linguist B.B. Rodriguez, "That's not ironic. That's just mean!"

by SandyRiver :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:57pm

Right up there with Gary Anderson's miss against Atlanta, after notching the NFL's first perfect (figgies and Ex Pt) regular season in history.

by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 5:30pm

Maybe it's irony in the modern, vulgar sense, but it's neither of the traditional forms of irony, neither dramatic or Socratic.

by TomC :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 8:25pm

Even this so-called "dramatic irony" is modern and vulgar (first usage in 1907, according to Fowler's). In my book, if you ain't talkin' about eating poor Irish children, it ain't irony! Now get off my lawn.

by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 8:43pm

Odd. Dramatic irony was used extensively in ancient Greek tragedy.

by morganja :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 8:55pm

You must be thinking of the Dorian Greeks. The Ionian Greeks were still using dramatic bronze. Ba-ding...

by TomC :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 12:56pm

But they didn't call it "irony." Nobody did until some English professor in 1907. "Irony" is a Greek word, but the Greeks themselves used it strictly to refer to the rhetorical device (what some people refer to as "Socratic irony").

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go punch myself. (http://theoatmeal.com/comics/irony)

by jmaron :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:08pm

turned off the NFC Championship when to watch Downton Abbey with the wife. I don't actually like the show but like watching shows with my wife so I can mock them until she has had enough and tells me to shutup. It was much more fun than the NFC game.

I've been very impressed with Carolina the last two weeks, never really watched them this year, but they looked like the most physical team I've seen this year by a quite a distance. Can't see Denver beating them.

by johonny :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:11pm

Ne/Den Didn't catch much of this game. What I saw looked like the last legs of two great QBs that have much more limited skills than in their prime. Yet here they were playing in another AFC Championship game in part because these teams play great defense. It would appear the only thing that will end the Brady-Manning domination of the playoffs is the two QBs retirement. Which says something rather negative about none-Raven-Steeler AFC franchises. Brady fought to the end and let's face it will likely win the AFC east and be right back in this position in 2016.

Car/Ari Carolina's coaching staff and front office have been punching bags of football outsiders for a few years, but this team has really come together this year. I'm no sure if its a validation of the Carolina franchise or simply the fact they have probably the one QB in the world that makes this team's offense work. Cam is fun to watch or fun to hate depending on your prospective. I doubt the ball is going to bounce so favorably for them in the Superbowl. The Cardinals appeared to do everything wrong alah 1986 49ners vs Giants. It feels like a compelling match up. Two defensive heavy teams and two teams that create offense. My gut says Cam will be the difference maker and Denver couldn't cover Gronk so there is hope Carolina can use its TEs effectively against them. IDK about the Cardinals. They really fell apart here and their division isn't easy so they might have just blown a great opportunity.

by Steve B :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:35pm

Seemed like Denver had more trouble with Gronk after Stewart and Ward left the game. Anyone heard how serious their injuries are? Not having them could kind of be a problem as far as dealing with Greg Olsen goes (among other things). On the flip side, Thomas Davis has a broken arm.

by aceofsween :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:34pm

TD is playing. A broken arm is nothing to that man. He'll be in the Super Bowl.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:36pm

Neither safety is expected to miss the sb.

by johonny :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 5:46pm

According to the statistics on this site... Denver was 8th in the league against TE. They were 2nd against RB which makes you wonder why NE NE target their RB 16 times, but the likely answer is coverages dictated the throws.

by Mike B. In Va :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:25pm

I'm pretty sure many of those targets for White were on deep patterns with him lined up outside, though my memory could be faulty.

I also find it hard to believe this team couldn't find anyone better than Jackson to sign as a replacement for Blount. Man, he's done.

by ZDNeal :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:13pm

I'd just like to challenge Aaron's assertion that Carolina became that good of a team. It's possible they were always that good of a team and the stats were failing to capture it. In fact, it's likely.

by Duff Soviet Union :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 6:40pm

"It's possible they were always that good of a team and the stats were failing to capture it. In fact, it's likely."

Do "stats" in this case include "points for" and "points against"? Because those "stats" indicated that Carolina was an above average team in the first half of the season and a great one in the second.

I've been saying all season that I'd like Denver to win the super bowl just because the sheer absurdity of the arguable best QB of all time winning a ring in by far the worst season of his career should really highlight just how stupid the concept of "QB WINZ!!!" really is.

by tuluse :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:26pm

I find Aaron's comments here a little strange. He wrote a lot about how DVOA had them rated lower than teams with equal or fewer wins, but his argument was usually "yes, they're lower, but they're still rated pretty high". Just as an example, week 8 DVOA's article http://www.footballoutsiders.com/dvoa-ratings/2015/week-8-dvoa-ratings. "Denver and Carolina still rank among the four lowest DVOA teams to ever start the season 7-0, but after seven wins this really isn't such a bad thing. Pretty much every team that has started the season 7-0 was a very good team."

At that point they were the 7th ranked team by DVOA (Denver was 6th).

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:15pm

I hear Peyton Manning is already in Santa Clara, and has started throwing the ball. It's expected to get 10 yards downfield by at least the second quarter of the Super Bowl.

I thought Sanders had two catches in the first half and Thomas one that very easily could have been picks, but the WRs made great plays on the ball and brought it in. Considering Manning's inability to put it deep and his tendency to float even mid-range passes, I'd have to imagine Kuechly in particular has already started salivating, and Denver's best hope at this point is he dehydrates himself so much with drool he winds up cramping up during the game. I'm not sure I can recall seeing a defensive line basically win a big game that clearly; Denver was basically a pass rush and 18 other guys standing around, more or less.

As for CAR-ARI, I wanted the Cardinals to win but didn't think they would; my private hope was they'd win the Super Bowl and David Johnson would win MVP, because I happen to think my college having 4% of Super Bowl MVPs would have been kind of a nice thing. I guess we have to stick with the 2% instead. Thanks, Kurt!

The generic (and accurate) take on the Super Bowl is if Denver's front four can't consistently pressure Newton and disrupt things, they're screwed. Newton's obviously very hard to bring down, and the kinds of planned QB keepers, read-options, and various trickery seems largely specifically designed to screw up the kind of pass rush that utterly destroyed Brady yesterday.

I'll be vaguely rooting for Denver just because I'm categorically opposed to rooting for a divisional rival, but this really does seem like such an utterly terrible matchup for Denver.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:29pm

It isn't often that a linebacker has a decent chance to be Super Bowl MVP, but Kuechly's probably a good prop bet.

All kudos to the Denver defensive line, of course, but the other guys did tackle really well, and produced some coverage sacks and pressures.

by nat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:01pm

I agree with Aaron that personal attacks and continuing Scott's irrational thread is a bad idea.

I do think it's in play to ask how each offense did in this game. It's also in play to say "There, Peyton got a W [Will asked that we not mention W-L records - so I deleted this part for him]." After all, you play the game to win. Congrats to the Broncos and to Peyton.

So, how did the offenses do? A great place to go for that is drive stats. If you want to account for degree of difficulty, you compare to the opposing defenses' regular season drive stats.

The big three drive stats are Yards/Drive, DSR, and TOs/Drive. That's "move the ball, move the chains, don't f*ck up" in common speech. You can dive deeper into TD/FG ratios, three-and-outs, etc. But generally, those three core drive stats tell most of the story of the offenses without just regurgitating the score.

The Patriots had the clear edge in yards/drive, although neither team looked that great. When you take into account the two defenses, the Patriots offense did a much better job picking up yardage. The Broncos picked up yards much worse than an average offense would have.

Drive Success Rate is closer, and neither offense looked good here. The Patriots moved the chains .625 of the time. That works out to one first down less than an average team against the Bronco's defense. Meanwhile, the Broncos moved the chains .583 of the time. They would have needed six more first downs to reach the average success rate against the Patriots defense. Again, a clear advantage to the Patriots. Again, the Broncos offense was sub-par.

Turnovers were a key to this game. The Patriots turned the ball over twice to the Broncos once. The Bronco's defense would have expected 1.7 turnovers vs. an average offense. The Patriots would have expected 1.6. This is the one thing the Broncos offense did better than an average offense would have. They only turned the ball over one time instead of two.

So, did this game really come down to two turnovers vs. one? Was that enough to explain the final result, despite the otherwise better drive stats for the Patriots?

Pretty much. This game was a two-point conversion from OT. That attempt was only necessary because of a missed extra point kick earlier.

So, again, congrats to the Broncos.

Peyton [Will asked that we not mention W-L records - so I deleted this part for him] led a less-than-average offensive effort. He's earned another trip to the big game. Sometimes you play a weak game but still do just enough to win. At this stage in his career, it's about all we could ask for.


by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:37pm

This is all true, although it should be noted that the Broncos mostly shut down their offense in the fourth quarter, a decision which almost cost them the game at the end. Once again, playing "not to lose" is playing to lose. There is a reason teams run their offense one way throughout most of a game: That's the way they are mostly likely to get first downs and score points.

Changing your offense to "chew clock" only works if you have a sustaining running game, and the last time a Manning - led offense had that was 2005.

by nat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:08pm

Is that really true, though? (Shutting down the offense in the fourth quarter)

The first Broncos drive of the fourth quarter was more than 50% passes, and got a critical FG. It ended with two incomplete passes. Hardly "shutting it down".

The second "drive" (3-and-out) was more than 50% passes. If they weren't going for a first down or were emphasizing conservative clock burning, why pass on second and third down? Nope. No voluntary shut down there either.

The third drive took 26 seconds off the clock, including the punt. It was conservative, but they certainly wanted the first down to ice the game. If the point was to take away enough time that the Patriots couldn't drive the field, it failed. The drive stats don't look a whole lot better if you leave that drive off anyway, do they?

It was a nice thought. Not really right in this case. But worth checking.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:42pm

Can we avoid talk of playoff w-l records in this thread? I think it might kill more brain cells than whisky.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:51pm

Challenge accepted!

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:50pm

Maybe I'm crazy, but I think if Manning doesn't get killed in two weeks, and he thinks there is a strategy for getting more feeling in fingers back, he's going to try to keep playing, although I don't know where. Yeah, HE is almost certainly that crazy.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:55pm

God, I hope not. It was painful to watch him yesterday, and I expect it to be significantly more painful to watch him in two weeks. Considering the lack of zip he has on his balls (BALLS!), who's going to offer him a gig? Can you imagine him trying to lead a team that doesn't have a freakishly good defense to help keep things close? "PEYTON PLEASE RETIRE NOW" should be written on his forehead in five foot-tall letters.

He can sell advertising on the other five feet of forehead to recoup part of his future lost salary earnings from retiring.

by Pat :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 1:30am

Wait, what? Why was it painful to watch him yesterday?

I don't get this "Manning is awful!" bit. He hasn't thrown an interception in the last two games, and he made significantly better decisions than Brady did on Sunday. Collins came free at Manning. He moved a bit, and then... screw it, just go down. That second pick by Brady? Almost the same situation. Rusher comes free... and Brady decided to chuck it instead of eat it, and, well, pick.

And several of Manning's throws were fine. That first completion to Sanders, the bootleg pass to Caldwell, the second TD to Daniels, etc.

No, he's not Manning from years past. But the Manning of Week 17, the divisional round, and the conference championship is fine. Statistically, he's "below-average to average," but in the NFL, that's plenty-valuable, because jeez, some of your other options are god-awful.

by Noah Arkadia :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 6:47pm

I really, really enjoyed watching the Denver defense destroy the Pats offense, but watching Manning try to lead that offense was excruciatingly boring, and Manning's inability to throw the ball was the main reason.

Who, me?

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:59pm

I thought after he was seemingly benched for the year that he would definitely come back, if only to spite the Broncos.

Now that he came back and has made the Super Bowl, I'm starting to feel this is it. He definitely seemed to express that yesterday, he was extremely sentimental after the game, from the long chats with Brady and Belichick, to some of his comments postgame.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 5:36pm

Manning has had three good games this season: vs. Green Bay and the two playoff games. It's possible there were a number of minor injuries that were holding him back, but I just don't think he can play a 16-game schedule.

He had a solid game yesterday but he didn't exactly light things up. Part of my issue here is that I think Manning is going to be completely shut down in the Super Bowl. The O-line has weak points and I think the Panthers will exploit them.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 5:52pm

Hence my "doesn't get killed in two weeks" qualifier. He just might.

by hscer :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 6:32pm


I don't see how he's not done after this game either, but I do think he'll be tempted to try to keep going if they lose.

by Steve B :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:14pm

Cleveland. He could be the stopgap while they're grooming their latest franchise savior.

by hscer :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 11:21pm

Heh, I should have been clearer. I meant Manning had a good game against Detroit this year too.

I don't know where he would play next year if he wanted to. If San Francisco had hired Shanahan instead of Kelly, they might have been my guess.

by t.d. :: Tue, 01/26/2016 - 7:17pm

Nah, if he plays, Los Angeles is the clear fit: good enough everywhere but in need of a qb, and a place that will want to get attention (but I hope he retires- I was too young to watch Willie Mays on the Mets, but I can't imagine Manning at 40 ending well)

by ZDNeal :: Thu, 01/28/2016 - 10:24am

He won't play in the NFC.

by bubqr :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 12:57pm

I know we're supposed to compare him to Zach Thomas, Urlacher or Keith Brooking, but I have flashes of Ray Lewis when I see Kuechly plays.
Even better in coverage maybe, a bit less of a pop when tackling, but the ability to do-it-all at that speed is very comparable.

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:00pm

He's the best instinctive linebacker in coverage i've seen since Urlacher, maybe since Derrick Brooks.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:05pm

That play late in the Seattle game where he did a full-extension dive to knock the ball away a good 30+ yards downfield was the kind of thing you just don't see from linebackers. He's clearly not in the Ray Lewis/Derrick Brooks conversation yet, but he certainly has shown the possibility he could get there. He's just so fast, and so smart, and I'm so glad the Bucs drafted Mark Barron two slots in front of him. Just great, never bothers me at all.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:11pm

It's just not speed. He changes directions and drives on the ball like a good cornerback. Really remarkable.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:16pm

I think he is in that class right now - what remains to be seen is whether (1) he retains their longevity, and (2) if he's able to adjust as his sheer athleticism declines with age.

by aceofsween :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:39pm

I don't think there's really a worry about that. Luke makes a lot of flashy plays, but he's not some kind of super athlete. I find Kuechly to be the most technically perfect MLB in the game right now. His ability to diagnose plays is almost uncanny. That won't go away with age.

by tuluse :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:44pm

If you think a linebacker covering 30 yards downfield better than most NFL safeties is not an examples of super athletics you have been spoiled by some very good athletes at linebacker.

by aceofsween :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 3:05pm

Why yes, yes we have: Dan Morgan, Will Witherspoon, Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, and now Luke Kuechly.

I don't mean to undersell Kuechly at all. I'm just point out that while he is a good athlete, he's not a physical freak. And his best strengths don't come from his athleticism.

by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 5:11pm

Great linebackers usually slow down quite a bit as they age, it's because the really good ones spend their careers hitting everything that moves and that takes a real toll, similar to running backs that break a lot of tackles.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:04pm

I think Derrick Brooks is the best comparison. I also think Brooks was every bit as good as Lewis.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:11pm

Kuechly is certainly more in the Brooks mold just because Brooks was about smarts and speed, and Lewis always felt like more of a hammer to Brooks' scalpel (a freaking great hammer, I would add, that's not detracting from Lewis whatsoever).

I think you could build an all-time NFL defense and have pretty solid arguments to put Lewis at MLB and Brooks at WLB; competition for MLB is pretty intense, but I have no problems with Lewis there. Brooks, the biggest thing I would run into is Lawrence Taylor, but I don't think of Lawrence Taylor as a "WLB" as much as I think of him as a "Lawrence Taylor", one of those freakishly terrifying dudes that transcended position in any possible way.

I should probably add that Derrick Brooks is and will likely always remain my biggest fanboi man-crush.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:04pm

I think Derrick Brooks is the best comparison. I also think Brooks was every bit as good as Lewis.

by Peregrine :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 1:23pm

This Falcons fan feels compelled to chime in and say that Keith Brooking, even in his dreams, never played anything like Kuechly.

by TomC :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 2:52pm

This is partially because I watched many more games of Urlacher's career than Brooks's, but I think Urlacher is a very good comparison. Kuechly is playing the same position (4-3 MLB) in a very similar way and has that freakish ability to get downfield while also being excellent at run pursuit and pass rushing. He's also a tiny bit light in the butt (as Urlacher was), such that on the rare occasions that O-linemen can disengage from the Carolina front and get to the next level, Kuechly does get swallowed up. (This happened on both of David Johnson's good runs yesterday.) This is not a real criticism, as that's not how the defense is designed to work, but it separates Kuechly and Urlacher from Lewis, who was a bit stouter at Mike.

by Duff Soviet Union :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 6:48pm

I never thought Urlacher really got his due for how great he was.

It just seemed like every time he got praised for his pass coverage, it was followed with "but he's not that strong against the run".

He was just fine against the run. He also played in a league where passing was really important and running is not, so I'm not even sure how "he was much better against the pass than the run" is even a criticism. You WANT your defenders to be much better against the pass than the run.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:15pm

Again, people tend to neglect the fact that careers aren't static. Urlacher pretty quickly became much better at shedding blocks.

by tuluse :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:21pm

I'm a huge Bears fan and loved watching Urlacher run around and do his thing, but I think generally speaking he was appropriately rated.

Still, a stat that blows my mind, in years Urlacher started all 16 games, the Bears only had 1 season of below average defense by DVOA, 2002 (aka the year the Bears went to Champaign and everyone got hurt).

Lovie and Urlacher never did worse than 10th.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:29pm

Hey, I can't remember; why did Lovie Smith fire Ron Rivera after the Bears lost to the Colts in the Super Bowl? Geez, I can't believe that was almost a decade ago, and Peyton is back to another one.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:32pm

I think it was a bears' management decision. It was pretty weird all around. Rivera interviewed for the chargers job, didn't get it and then ended up out of a job in chicago. Not really sure what happened there.

by tuluse :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:35pm

There were a few rumors about various things. The Bears were unhappy with him seeking a head coaching job when they were in the playoffs was one thing. Another was that perhaps Rivera hadn't been a Lovie choice at all. He came from a quite different defensive background (Jim Johnson blitzing compared to Tampa 2) and perhaps it was a move by Lovie to get guys he agreed with more on the defensive side.

So take your pick I guess.

by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:36pm

Rivera was trying to recruit coaches off the staff and Lovie thought that was too disloyal.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:30pm

Disagree, people actually scoffed at Urlacher was dpoy for fan balloting reasons.

You don't ask someone to do what Ulracher was asked to do without being freaken amazing at it. He was a great cover guy that was very much ahead of his time.

by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 7:41pm

Out of all the guys mentioned I think Urlacher is the best coverage LB, he was amazing at that. I've never seem a 6'4", 258 lbs guy move as fluidly as him.

However, if I was to look at the aforementioned list and rate them on stuffing the run between the tackles he might be lady but only out of that incredible list and as you say, these days that's probably less important (I'd put Willis as the best in that category but then he made fewer splash plays in the passing game than the rest of them).

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 8:19pm

This might be a good time to remind folks that Urlacher was a safety at the college level.

by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 8:48pm

'lady' was supposed to be 'last'.