The New England Patriots defeated the Denver Broncos in all phases of the game on Sunday night to move to 7-2. But their special teams unit did the most to make the competitive on-paper matchup a blowout in reality.
“They’re just taking advantages of opportunities…good preparation…players stepped up and made the plays…getting down there on punt coverage…it wasn’t one guy it was the entire unit,” Bill Belichick deadpanned in the postgame presser. The players spoke more eloquently in their performance.
Broncos return man Isaiah McKenzie fumbled a punt off the left foot of Ryan Allen in the first minutes of the first quarter. Instead of the Broncos exuding confident after holding the Patriots to a punt on their opening drive, they felt dejected. The fumble leads to a Rex Burkhead touchdown reception two plays later.
After a Broncos field goal, the Patriots struck back immediately. Dion Lewis returned a kickoff three yards deep in his end zone for six with 8:24 left in the first quarter to put the Pats ahead 14-3.
Rex Burkhead blocked a Riley Dixon punt at the 10:44 mark of the second quarter. This set up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal to make it 20-6.
To close the half, McKenzie, after a pause, opted to try to return a kick from two yards deep in his endzone. With a few dozen clicks left on the clock, McKenzie figured a return represented the best chance for Denver to get back in the game. But Trevor Reilly made him pay with a decleating hit and the Broncos wisely kneeled to end the half.
With 12:16 left in the fourth quarter, the Patriots caught the Broncos with 12 men on the field that resulted in a first down. It led to a James White touchdown reception to give the Patriots a 41-16 advantage and emphasize an even larger gap between the two squads’ special teams.
Oh, yeah. Stephen Gostkowski kicked a perfect game.
Nothing is new under the sun. Truly special special-teams play characterized the Patriots dynasty from its beginnings to the present.
Remember the playoff run after the 2001 season?
Adam Vinatieri field goals in the snow against the Oakland Raiders and as time expired against the St. Louis Rams bracketed an AFC Championship victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in which Antwan Harris took a blocked field goal to the house and Troy Brown similarly scored six on a 55-yard punt return. The Steelers won handily on first downs and total yards. But in losing on special teams they lost the game. Kordell Stewart, perhaps paying attention only on plays from scrimmage, famously remarked: “Sometimes, the best team doesn’t win.”
But for Bill Belichick ensuring that the best team wins always involves that overlooked, third phase of the game. The coach noted late Sunday night, “We got great contributions from all three units.”
That they did. And nobody watching the game needed Bill Belichick to point that out.