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  Tuesday, March 3, 2015
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Defense Wins in Round 1
By Paul Noonan

There may never be a better chance for a team to finally beat the Pats than Jacksonville had last weekend.  For the first half, the normally immortal Patriots playoff team suddenly looked liked they were playing near kryptonite, at least offensively.  For a while the game was pretty much a defensive battle, but without any offense for support, the Jags couldn’t stop the Patriots.

The first half for the Patriots was close to brutal.  Despite getting some good field position many times in the first half, the Patriots managed just one touchdown, and could never even get into good field goal range.  The offense just wasn’t clicking as usual.  They weren’t making that big play or converting on thirds downs.  Instead they just kept falling short. 

What helped the Pats keep the lead in the first half was their own defense.  With a little help from an ineffective offense, which was able to advance far enough that special teams could keep the Jags deep in their own territory, the defense kept the heat on the Jags’ offense.  Without strong play from the defense, the Pats would not have entered the half with the lead. 

The second half was a complete turnaround.  It saw the offense ignite and alsohad even better defensive play, which made the Jags’ comeback attempt a lot harder.  With the Patriot team we expect showing up in the second half, the Pats strolled to the finish line to advance to the second round.

Now the Patriots head to more hostile terrain in Denver.  Early in the season, the Patriots fell to the Broncos 28-20, so  both teams find themselves in an interesting dilemma.  The Broncos may have a false sense of confidence.  Having already defeated the Patriots early in the year and watching them put on a so- so performance in round one, the Broncos probably feel like they’ll gallop over the Patriots.  The game is in Denver, so the game looks even more favorable for the Broncos. 

However, the Broncos shouldn’t be lured into a false sense of security so easily.  Yes, this years version of the Patriots looks as mortal as the team of 2002, but thats what everyone said about the 2003 Patriots and then the 2004 Patriots.  When the Broncos defeated the Pats in October, they were facing a team that was in a little bit of chaos.  Inconsistency, injuries, etc. all plagued the Patriots at that time.  Since then, the Patriots have had key players return, they’ve been playing a more consistent game, and have been looking more like the defending champions. 

However, the Patriots also proved two things last week- one good, one bad.  The bad was that they played a poor first half that the Jaguars couldn’t capitalize on.  Doing that against the Broncos will not have similar results.  Yet, they also proved that the Patriots that have been feared over the last three years aren’t gone. They can still dominate a game. 

So for both teams, it will depend on which Pats’ team shows up.  Playing at home, you can bet that the Broncos will be ready to go.  They’re out to prove that it wasn’t Elway that won them those Super Bowls, it was the Broncos. 

The Pats cannot play like they did last week.  They were lucky  to face a weaker foe in round one and get away with some mistakes and failed conversions.   They won’t be so lucky in Denver.  Even if the Patriots team we expect shows up this will be a tough battle.  In Denver, against an opponent that has given the Pats problems in recent memory (1-3 in their last 4 against Denver), the Patriots will need to play nearly perfectly to advance to the AFC Championship. 

Meanwhile, Denver shouldn’t be fooled into thinking they have the upper hand.  It’s been said before and it will be said again, the Patriots are the champs until someone knocks them off, and that still hasn’t happened yet.  

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