DENVER — Everything you need to know from the Patriots' victory over the Broncos with BSJ analysis in quickie form:
THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
Special teams get things going: First, it was Jonathan Jones forcing a muffed punt, then Dion Lewis returned a kickoff 103 yards thanks to a key block from Dwayne Allen, and Rex Burkhead blocked a punt as Patriots special teams helped the offense score 17 points in the first half. There was really no looking back after that.
Gronk has help?!: After seeing the big fella limp to the finish before the bye week with an extraordinary workload, it looks like the Patriots made a conscious effort to get him a little help. Not only was Martellus Bennett and his shoulder claimed from the Packers (and he had two catches on his first two snaps — the healing powers of the Patriots), but one Dwayne Lamont Allen had an actual reception — his first as a Patriot after being 0-for-6 on targets — for a touchdown. Gronkowski certainly made his presence felt (three catches for 60 yards), but it felt like a much better workload for him and something that can keep him healthy.
The Broncos, as we knew them, are over: It wasn't all that long ago — the 2015 season — when Denver was able to ride an all-time defense to a Super Bowl title without the benefit of a good quarterback. And it looked like they would compete with the Patriots for AFC supremacy for years just because of their defense. The Broncos are headed to their second-straight playoff-less season and they have no quarterback, the offensive line is in shambles and the defense is getting old and tired. Just like that, poof, it's over.
More like clinching point. The Broncos were threatening to make the game at least somewhat interesting when they scored midway through the third quarter to close the gap to 27-16. Then, the Patriots answered with about the easiest 75-yard touchdown drive you'll ever see with a 26-yard pass to Gronkowski, a 25-yard reception by Brandin Cooks, and then solid chunk plays for the score to make it 34-16 and send many at Mile High to their cars.
--The big one is what we touched on before the game: the Broncos' decision to not only name a first-year head coach (Vance Joseph), but also to allow him to name two first-year coordinators (Joe Woods, defense; Brock Olivo special teams). Both coordinators have been outclassed this season, especially Olivo. His unit has been atrocious so far, and bottomed out against the Patriots with a muffed punt, kickoff touchdown, blocked punt and a 12-men on the field penalty to turn a punt into a first down (and a touchdown). I mean, all the Broncos were missing was a botched field goal snap.
--Broncos punting near midfield with 1:40 left in the third quarter and trailing 34-16. The Broncos didn't get the ball back until there was 9 minutes left in the fourth quarter and trailed 41-16.
Tom Brady: In his personal house of horrors, Brady looked right at home as he completed 25 of 34 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns (125.4 rating). After being jittery before the bye, Brady was back to being very calm in the pocket and accurate.
Dion Lewis: Pretty apparent now the Patriots (who deactivated Mike Gillislee before the game) are trying to limit Lewis' workload by taking him out of the passing game. No matter -- he had a solid 55 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, and his kickoff return TD put the game away before it barely got started.
Kyle Van Noy: Led the team with five total tackles but, more importantly, he seems to have really settled into his inside/outside role at linebacker and that's helping to settle the whole defense. Important for the stretch run.
Brock Olivo: You don't have many worse nights as a special teams coordinator than what happened against the Patriots — muffed punt, kickoff touchdown, blocked punt and a 12-men on the field penalty to turn a punt into a first down (and a touchdown).
Malcolm Butler: What a coincidence. Stephon Gilmore returns to the lineup and Butler starts playing erratically again — peeking into the backfield, a penalty, missing a ball that went right by his face — as Emmanuel Sanders had a day (six catches for 137 yards), mostly against him.
Stephon Gilmore: Back in the lineup and back picking up a penalty and giving up a touchdown to Demaryius Thomas.
Matthew Slater (hamstring) did not return to the game.
Dion Lewis (concussion) returned to the game.
Martellus Bennett (hamstring) returned.
Dion Lewis to the house.
Marty Bennett looks functional.
Blocked punt by Rex Burkhead.
Touchdown by Burkhead.
Dwayne Allen: all he does is catch touchdown passes.
Jonathan Jones/Jacob Hollister on a muff.
James White breaking ankles.
THREE TAKES BEDARD WILL PROBABLY REGRET LATER
Don't go overboard on the special teams: Already hearing it from some of those beauty Patriots fans of the Twitterverse (I like to call them the Twittership of the Miserable because they are never happy, even after a win) — Blah, what do you think about the special teams now Bedahd blahh! — since I dared ask the question about whether or not the Patriots had too many special teams-specific players on their roster who don't contribute in other areas. Of course, most of those critics never bother to read past the headline, because if they did, they'd know this: none of the players involved in special teams' plays on Sunday night were part of my column. I have no problem with stocking your team with two-way players like Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead and Jonathan Jones, who give you something in both areas. The point of the column was about special teams-only players who don't even give you roster options when it comes to offense and defense. And this game, against this opponent, a first-year coordinator and bad special teams, was not the game to say, "See, special teams make a difference!" The Patriots would have won this game going away without any of those plays.
Patriots all of a sudden are flush with targets: In the wake of the Chargers game before the bye, you wondered exactly how the Patriots were going to function on offense the rest of the season, and against the better defenses on the schedule with a tired Gronk, a beat-up Chris Hogan, nothing out of the backup tight ends or Phillip Dorsett. Now, with Martellus Bennett able to jump back in, Dwayne Allen catching a touchdown pass and the running backs catching everything, suddenly the Patriots look like they can't be stopped. What a difference a bye week makes.
The offensive line is really good: Just kidding. I'm not ready to say that until I watch the film — have a feeling the emphasis on the running game and Brady's quick release are bigger deals — but to have Von Miller basically be a non-factor ... not bad at all.