All season long the “next man up” became a focal point for Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. The adversity the Patriots went through in 2013 was unreal, yet the team stuck together and were successful without some of their top players on the roster. Against the Denver Broncos in the AFC title game, the Patriots finally ran out of gas and fell short of reaching their sixth Super Bowl in 13 years.
As injury after injury began to plague the Patriots, the fans anticipated and wondered when the breaking point would occur. The Patriots lost team leaders and key players Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Spikes, Tommy Kelly and for snippets of time, Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talb, Danny Amendola and Steve Gregory. New England stacked up about $27.4 million on the IR. If you were asked who the best players on the Patriots roster were prior to the season’s start, you would include a majority of those names. Wilfork, Mayo, Vollmer, Gronkowski, Talib and possibly Amendola would have made that list.
So, that is where the next man up came into play. With key players down, the Patriots were able to get strong contributions out of the next players on the depth chart. Julian Edelman, Jamie Collins, Marcus Cannon and Logan Ryan all stepped up in the absence of those injured players. Even Edelman emerged into a star-caliber player. The Patriots, with a depleted defense and a former quarterback as their top receiver, were able to finish 12-4 and earn the second seed in the AFC playoffs. Furthermore, they found themselves playing in the AFC title game with a chance to take their weakened roster to a Super Bowl. It was truly remarkable what the Patriots accomplished without such significant players.
When Rob Gronkowski tore his ACL, many thought his injury would be the breaking point for the Patriots. His injury was just another great player to pile up on the IR. Instead, the Patriots found a running game in LeGarrette Blount and were able to make a big impact in the last few weeks of the season. Gronkowski, arguably the Pat’s best skill player, was not the tipping point for New England’s season. The tipping point occurred in the AFC Championship game against the Broncos.
When Talib went down after a brutal hit from former Patriot Wes Welker, New England’s entire defense suffered as a result. It was apparent that Talib matched up extremely well with Broncos’ top receiver DeMaryius Thomas. With Talib on Thomas, Alfonzo Dennard had a much more favorable match up with Eric Decker, and Logan Ryan was more free to roam and help out on different coverages.
However, with Talib out, the trickle-down effect hurt the Pats’ secondary. Dennard was forced to cover Thomas, a match up in which Dennard is too slow and undersized, and Logan Ryan had no choice but to cover Decker. Ryan has shown great potential this season, but he is still only a rookie, while Decker is a more experienced receiver with some elite skills. Without Talib, New England’s secondary suffered mightily.
Talib obviously brought a dynamic to the defense that no one else could replicate. His presence was vitally important against the great Peyton Manning and his elite set of receivers. If Talib was able to stay on the field, the Patriots could have made more stops at important times during the game.
Instead, Manning and the Broncos picked apart the Patriots secondary with 27 total first downs along with 400 yards passing from Peyton. Hopefully, the Patriots will appreciate what Talib brings to the table and resign him for next season. Talib is truly the difference maker on this defense, and his presence is needed for this team to succeed and ultimately win their next Super Bowl.