Brock took the helm on a frigid Solider Field and was anything but shell-shocked. He was able to lead effectively, marshal his troops and emerge victorious in his first career start.
A Mile High starting berth against the defending Superbowl Champions is a different proposition altogether. It is not as much as baptism of fire as entering into the very Gates of Hell. The Patriots have the ability to scorch Brock’s Bootleg Broncos and even another 4 quarters of turnover free football may not be enough to prevent him becoming a 6’8” towering inferno of rage and disappointment.
In Bill Belichick’s reign, the New England have been through more -gates than an Olympic Slalom Skier but there is no denying that in terms of consistency, performance and team ethos – they are the NFL’s standard bearer. In his 15 years at the helm, the dynasty-creating Head Coach does not have a losing head to head record against any other team in the league.
Although it doesn’t feel that close at all, incredibly Denver have a chance to join Green Bay and New York Giants to move to a tying record against the Brains of Boston. He currently boasts an 8-7 lead over the Broncos though his teams have gone 3 and 1 in Peyton Manning’s tenure.
This though is a different team than he has faced before. Now not only in name, but in practise too, the Denver Broncos begin with a D.
Throughout our history, aside the rise of the original Orange Crush, in games of magnitude the success of the Mile High Men has been primarily dictated by how we performed offensively.
More often than not, it fell on the arm strength and playmaking skills of Elway and his iron will to drive on those around him. His success in doing so was critical in determining the outcome of the game. Terrell Davis took over the mantle and his ability to keep the chains and the clock moving behind a marauding offensive line became the key factors to success. Latterly we relied on Manning’s mastery of the playbook. His ability to elevate others around him and create mismatches became the main difference in winning or losing.
Physically there has never been a Denver Quarterback bigger or broader than Osweiler, but even his shoulders are not big enough to carry the burden of achieving what no other team has been able to do this season and beat the Patriots.
Given Tom Brady’s and Peyton Manning’s standing as Goliaths of the game, the common (and somewhat lazy) narrative is that they are competing directly against one another. We are then drawn into unfair comparisons of the two and focus is shifted to their head to head record.
Due to the plantar fascia injury we have been denied, or spared, the next chapter in the storied history of Brady and Manning. Matchup 17 may never materialise and without context, at 11-5, it appears as if Tom Brady owns this rivalry.
TV executives are desperately re-writing their scripts, looking once again to frame the game as quarterbacks at loggerheads. How they would love to adapt the Karate Kid story! The ailing and defeated Mr Manning employs unorthodox methods to train Brock-san to defeat the scheming Belichick and his evil protégé Brady and finally accomplish what he could not do on his own, win.
But make no mistake, this is not and never was a quarterback duel.
This is a battle fought on many fronts.
Pro-Football is the ultimate team sport, nothing can be achieved in isolation. Individual brilliance and moments of genius can certainly heavily influence the outcome of the game but no one-man can do it alone.
Similarly, personal mistakes and sole errors can cost a team dearly (See Chiefs: Kansas City – Week 10) but others can step up to the plate and rally round to help overcome the setbacks (See Chiefs: Kansas City – Week 2).
The league’s two stingiest defenses are on show today. Their point differential is just one, in favour of New England. The Patriots defense however has not been on the field as much as the Broncos D nor have they had to concede so much of it as a result of costly turnovers.
I believe we have the better defense and it has been much vaunted all season as a ‘Championship Calibre Defense’, well this is about as ‘Championship’ as you get.
To knock The Perfect Patriots off their perch, they must eradicate the unnecessary penalties whilst continuing to be bold and aggressive.
They must find a way to disrupt Brady’s rhythm and pressure him in order to starve Gronkowski of the ball. The Gronk will mostly likely be double teamed but if No12 has time, he will find other ways to hurt Denver. Yes, Edelman and Amendola are out but there is no team that personifies ‘next man up’ better than the Pats.
New England are the 2nd top scoring offense in the league and only 3 times this season have they failed to score at least 28 points. By contrast, Denver have only reached that points margin on two occasions.
Encouragingly for Denver, New England’s reduced output have all come in the last three weeks including a season low 20 points last weekend in a victory over the Bills.
I believe if the Patriots offense hang 28 points or more on the Broncos, they will win the game.
So if we want them to continue in a downward trend, Wolfe, Miller and Barrett must consistently harass Brady and the No Fly Zone must keep the ball out of Gronk’s hands.
For Denver to prevail, we must play possession controlled football. We must establish the ground game and let Osweiler spread the field. Brock will see more disguises from the Machiavellian Belichick than he would at a Halloween Disco but he must trust his playbook and eyes. Belichick is a master strategist and managed to confuse the great Manning on many an occasion. Brock has to keep it simple but balance that by not being afraid to take shots downfield.
Somehow, we must see a rebirth of a Red Zone Offense. Continually taking three points inside the 20 will ultimately lead to defeat. Latimer and Davis made their mark last week and all indications are that Sanders will be fit to play. There are many weapons at Brock’s disposal, the coaching staff must devise ways he can best utilise them.
We cannot win a war of attrition on offense. To succeed, Special Teams or the NFL highest scoring must help put points on the board, it is a team game after all!
By the end of the game, perfection will be the word on everyone’s lips. But will it apply to the Broncos’ execution of their gameplan or to the Patriots’ record?
I am boldly predicting a 24-17 victory for the home side. If that proves correct, no one will be happier than me – other than perhaps the 1972 Miami Dolphins.