Leading up to the 2014 AFC Championship between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, there was a lot of talk about what exactly the key to the game will be. While we were getting set for a battle between two of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, there was another aspect of the game that Bill Belichick had up his sleeve and ready to unleash.
Against the Indianapolis Colts last weekend, the Patriots ran for a whopping 234 yards and scored six touchdowns on the ground while running away with a rather intriguing victory. Brady didn’t have to do much. In fact, he didn’t even throw a touchdown on a day when his team scored 43 points.
It seemed many thought the run game would decide the AFC Championship this year. Well, Manning had other plans in terms of Denver’s game plan. On the other hand, New England didn’t exactly see the same success on the ground as they did a week ago — a measly 64 yards out of the Patriots’ rushing attack in this one.
When looking at the way Denver took out New England’s ground game, two things come to mind. First of all, Belichick and Josh McDaniels couldn’t draw up anything that worked offensively against this Denver front — both in the ground and passing game. John Fox and Jack Del Rio had their defense ready to go, and seemed to call all the right plays in stopping New England, specifically on the ground.
Because the ground game was taken away from the Patriots, they fell behind early — thus being forced to pass nearly the entire second half to attempt a comeback. The majority of Brady’s 277 yards came in the second half, specifically in the fourth quarter when they were in desperation mode.
Secondly, it was apparent that Fox allowed Manning to do his thing. Though they had ran the ball very well when they wanted to all season long, Fox put the game in the hands of his veteran quarterback and Adam Gase’s offense looked fantastic in this game. The Broncos mixed it up offensively, as we saw Manning hitting eight different receivers on a wide variety of routes and packages.
What this came down to, is the fact that Belichick was simply out-coached on Sunday. Don’t believe me? The Broncos’ 507 total yards of offense is the most that any team has ever put up on a Belichick-coached team in the playoffs. Your gut reaction to that statistic may be to say, “Well of course it was — they were going up against number 18.” Yet, do not forget Belichick’s teams have prepared well for Manning in the past and have stopped him in decisive fashion.
Sunday, that was not the case. Belichick lost the coaching battle, plain and simple. The Broncos can not only thank their quarterback, but their entire coaching staff for calling a fantastic game against one of the most experienced playoff quarterbacks and coaches in the history of the league.