5 takeaways from the Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl

A key to Seattle’s huge victory over Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII was the Seahawks’ pass rush, particularly Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons. (Charlie Riedel / AP photo)

What happens when an unstoppable force hits an immovable object?

Well, now we know.

The Seattle Seahawks flattened the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8, proving that the top defense in the NFL could manhandle the league’s No. 1 offense — historically the league’s most prolific offense — with ease time and time again. The Seahawks then took the beatdown to historic heights, causing us to question whether the Broncos would be the first team to be shut out in Super Bowl history.

That’s the anticlimactic end to a year that coach John Fox, quarterback Peyton Manning, and the rest of the Broncos were not expecting. Fox is now 0 for 2 in the Super Bowl. Manning is 1-2. Their legacies are shaken.

So how did it happen? How did the Seahawks win so convincingly and the Broncos play so poorly when everything that matters was on the line? Let’s recap with one final “5 takeaways.”

1. All-around awesome — The Seahawks got contributions from all three phases of the game. That’s one we hear in New England quite a bit, given Bill Belichick’s penchant for peppering the press with those very same remarks. On Sunday it was clear what that talk means when put to action. The Seahawks scored by safety, two field goals, a rushing touchdown, a defensive touchdown on an interception, a kickoff return for a touchdown, and two passing touchdowns. No other Super Bowl team in history had scored in every phase of the game — and in every possible way. Describing it as a team effort doesn’t really catch the enormity of what was accomplished. The Seahawks were opportunistic, aggressive, and successful in everything they attempted to do. That kind of dominance is rare and most certainly unforgettable.

2. The pass rush was key — The Broncos accounted for four fumbles (two lost) and two interceptions. It was a bad day at the office for Manning (one lost fumble, two interceptions), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (one lost fumble) and center Manny Ramirez (fumbled into the end zone, causing the safety) when looking at the turnovers alone. But a number of the game’s turnovers, particularly Manning’s interceptions, were the cause of pressure up front by Seattle’s Cliff Avril and others. Manning didn’t really see a clean pocket in the first half. When the Broncos quarterback got his first sustained drive going in the second quarter, he got hit by Avril while looking to throw the ball downfield to Knowshon Moreno. That pass was intercepted by Malcolm Smith, who promptly brought the interception back for a 69-yard touchdown. Avril was a nuisance all game. The Seahawks’ defensive line had tremendous penetration with three tackles for a loss. Given the pedigree of the Broncos’ offensive line, which had allowed the fewest hurries and sacks all season, the Seahawks’ front seven proved it could do what so many other teams had failed to do: get to Manning. Avril and Chris Clemons (1 sack), were the jewels of the bunch.

3. Ball control was on point — Russell Wilson’s first pass to Zach Miller was high and uncatchable, a sign of the second-year quarterback’s nervousness on the NFL’s grandest stage. But it didn’t take long for Danger-Russ Wilson to settle down and show exactly why Pete Carroll fell in love with him. He showed escapability, he made the easy throws, he ran it well, and he never put the Seahawks in a bad position. Between Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, and Seattle’s receivers, there were no boneheaded mistakes with the football. It is, and always will be, the No. 1 key to winning football games: taking care of the ball. The Seahawks had zero turnovers while forcing four. And Wilson, despite his wayward pass, did not offer any lame duck passes for his opponents to snatch away. It was symphonic effort.

4. Playmakers seized the moment — Percy Harvin played in only one regular season game for the Seahawks. On Super Bowl Sunday, he showed up big time. Harvin had two carries for 45 yards, caught a pass for 5 yards, and returned a kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown. He took advantage of his opportunities and he wasn’t the only one. Wide receivers Jermaine Kearse (4 receptions, 65 yards, 1 TD) and Doug Baldwin (5 receptions, 66 yards, 1 TD) both made a little something out of nothing. Kearse bounced off three tacklers before running in a 23-yard touchdown. Baldwin avoided two tacklers to get in the end zone on a 10-yard reception. Running back Marshawn Lynch plowed his way into the end zone for a tough 1-yard score. There was a quality of grit and determination by each of Seattle’s playmakers to gain that extra yard and to make that extra move in order to seize the moment.

5. Perspective on history — Everything went downhill for the Broncos when they fumbled their first offensive snap of the game, which ended up becoming a safety. The Broncos were trailing 36-0 before they scored their first touchdown, a 14-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas to end the third quarter. That’ll help explain why Manning ended the game with an NFL-record 34 completed passes (34 of 49 for 280 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 1 fumble). The Broncos were forced to throw going into the second half down 22-0 and then down 29-0 on the Seahawks’ opening kickoff return in the third. So add an asterisk there because they abandoned the running game. They ran the ball five times in the second — twice to run the clock out in the waning moments. Demaryius Thomas’ 13 receptions are also a Super Bowl record. But it seems to all come back to the dire situation in which the Broncos found themselves. No playoff team wants to throw the ball 49 times. And similarly, no Super Bowl winner is going to only have 27 yards rushing.

Extras — One thing we’re not going to be talking about is Richard Sherman, who suffered a high ankle sprain in the fourth quarter. He had been a source of hefty chatter ahead of XLVIII with the hopes that he’d do something or say something that could live up to his outsized personality. Sadly that moment didn’t come. But he certainly forced Manning to look the other way for three quarters, so it wasn’t like his presence wasn’t felt. … Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith truly played a fantastic game. He recorded 9 tackles (five solo), an interception returned for a touchdown, and a fumble recovery. He joined Ray Lewis and Chuck Howley as the only linebackers to ever win Super Bowl MVP honors. And he’s also the youngest defender to ever do it at 24 years old and 212 days. … Former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker is now 0 for 3 in Super Bowls. … Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who coached the Patriots from 1997-1999, became the third coach in NFL history to win a Super Bowl and a national college championship. He joins Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer to hold that distinction.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Bills second game

FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots finish the season on a strong note, downing the Buffalo Bills, 34-20, while securing a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Now, the Patriots can rest up and get healthy for their next opponent, either the Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, or Kansas City Chiefs.

Here are our five takeaways from the game:

1. Bullish on Blount — It’s not too often that one player can affect a game so dramatically in at least two phases, offense and special teams. LeGarrette Blount, with his punishing running style and ability to gain yardage after contact, was able to do just that. He ran for a career-high 189 yards on 24 carries and added 145 return yards for a team record 334 all-purpose.

“I’m feeling good,” said Blount, with a crowd of reporters leaning on his every word. “I mean, especially after getting the win and performing like that. I’m feeling amazing. I don’t have words to explain it.”

The Patriots ran a season-high 43 times with Blount and Stevan Ridley (17 carries, 64 yards) getting the bulk of the load. The team finished with 267 yards, a season high. But it was Blount whose mix of speed and power that stole the show, breaking away for touchdowns of 36 and 35 yards.

While for the span of the season observers of the Patriots have considered Stevan Ridley as the most talented running back on the team’s roster, Blount’s increased role as the starter has given those same observers cause to re-think that assertion. Because of injuries and Ridley’s benching, Blount was at one point the de facto lead running back. But now, after such a vivid performance, he can truly be considered the featured back.

2. Whatever is needed, any given game — The Patriots have an ever-changing offense, geared weekly for each opponent. That ability to game plan, using a motley crew of receivers and running backs, has allowed the Patriots to flip from being a running-dominated team, like Sunday against the Bills, to a pass-happy team whenever necessary.

There were doubts at different points this season whether the Patriots could stick with the running game, but with the rain on Sunday, they had to force themselves to feed Blount and Ridley. The results just happened to be fantastic.

“It was tough to throw the ball, tough to catch it,” Belichick said. “We saw a bunch of balls on the ground, more so than usual. That was definitely a factor. It got worse as the game went along. Yeah, it was definitely a running game.”

That kind of flexibility, to rely on different aspects of the offense and players each and every week, makes the Patriots a dangerous opponent in the playoffs.

See all of my takeaways in the original post on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

W2W4: Patriots vs. Bills

FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots’ history of dominance over the Buffalo Bills should play no part in planning for this week’s matchup, which holds the added caveat of having playoff implications in the AFC.

The team has said as much this week, and players have set themselves up mentally to go out and earn the win, including a first-round bye, and possibly home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That’s their motivation.

But how do they get there? Here’s a few things we’re watching that will help the Patriots achieve that goal.

1. Dealing with the two-headed monster — The Patriots will have to contain running backs Fred Jackson (836 rushing yards, 8 TDs) and C.J. Spiller (822 rushing yards, 2 TDs). The duo have helped the Bills become the second best rushing offense in the league (142.5 yards per game), a source of strength for a team that has had to deal with a fluctuating cast of quarterbacks under center. The Patriots are allowing 131.7 yards per game on the ground. Run stuffers Brandon Spikes (85 tackles) and Dont’a Hightower (91 tackles) will have to be on top of their game.

2. Containing Thad Lewis — Bills quarterback Thad Lewis, while not as well regarded as a runner as E.J. Manuel, is still well respected by the Patriots for his ability to scramble. He has only 22 carries for 48 yards (2.2 ypc) and a touchdown. The Patriots have done a good job of limiting the movement of quarterbacks of late, especially after the fiasco in Carolina.

See the rest of this post on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Ravens game

BALTIMORE — The New England Patriots didn’t need a miraculous comeback or have to make last-minute defensive stand in order to bag their 11th win of the season, a 41-7 victory over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday afternoon.

With a stingy defense and some ball control, the Patriots were able to wipe the floor with last year’s Super Bowl champions.

Here’s what we can gather from Sunday’s game:

1. Defense at the forefront — Forget the defensive touchdowns for a second, which can be considered as garbage time points anyway. Instead, note the team’s effort on third and fourth downs, holding the Ravens to 5 of 14 conversions on third down and 0 for 3 on fourth. There were some crucial stops that helped keep the Ravens from building up any rhythm, including two interceptions by Logan Ryan. And consider what the Patriots defense was able to accomplish in the red zone, holding the Ravens to 1 of 3 in these crucial scoring opportunities. It spoke volumes about Sunday’s effort and how it deserved a special place for this team with all of the injuries New England has endured.

The takeaways were also the Patriots’ first since Week 13 against the Houston Texans, ending a two-week drought.

It was the kind of performance that was commendable on a number of levels.

2. Adding up the bodies — Devin McCourty left Sunday’s game with a head injury, likely a concussion. Shane Vereen left as well with a groin injury. Steve Gregory had to leave the game temporarily. Dont’a Hightower was shaken up. Alfonzo Dennard was limited to a few snaps. And that’s on top of players like Nate Solder (concussion), Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), and Josh Boyce (ankle) missing with their respective ailments.

If there’s one thing Patriots fans are going to have to come to terms with, it’s this talk of the “next man up.” The Patriots have been preaching it for some time now after suffering season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork, Sebastian Vollmer, Tommy Kelly, and Jerod Mayo.

“That’s been the whole season, not just the whole game but the whole season,” said Chandler Jones. “Everyone has to be ready and everyone has to know what they’re doing. And as you can see a lot of guys stepped up and made plays.”

The Patriots have clearly bought into the “next man up” philosophy.

See the rest of my takeaways on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

W2W4: Patriots at Ravens

Going into Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Patriots have playoff implications to consider.

A win and they’re win. A loss and things get complicated. There are injuries that require attention and an opponent that requires some extra game planning from a defensive perspective. Week 16 will not be an easy one. But nobody ever said it would be.

Here’s what we’re watching as the Patriots visit the Ravens.

1. What will the offensive line look like? — Left tackle Nate Solder has been ruled out of Sunday’s game after suffering a concussion last week against the Miami Dolphins, just a week removed from suffering another concussion against the Cleveland Browns. When Solder was forced to leave the Dolphins game, he was replaced by Logan Mankins, who moved over from left guard. Josh Kline came in to fill in for Mankins at guard. That may very well be the case again this week for the Ravens. The Patriots could also opt to use tackle Will Svitek at left tackle, or swap Marcus Cannon to left and insert Svitek at right tackle. We’ll see what they come up with.

2. How much will special teams factor into the outcome? — Patriots place kicker Stephen Gostkowski is coming off his worst game of the season, having missed a 48-yard field goal attempt and getting flagged for a kickoff that went out of bounds. Conversely, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker is coming off his best outing of the season, going 6 for 6 on field goals, including a game-winner from 61 yards against the Detroit Lions. Add in two dynamic returners in Jacoby Jones for the Ravens and Julian Edelman for the Patriots, and this game has a good chance to be significantly altered by the kicking and return game, which would be fitting for two teams whose head coaches got their start as special teams coordinators.

See the rest of this post on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

What to watch for as the Patriots visit the Dolphins – Boston.com

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins are the only thing in the Patriots’ way of clinching the AFC East for the fifth straight year.

But the Dolphins are no lapdog opponent. Winners of four of their last six games, and coming off an exceptional 34-28 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the snow, there is plenty to worry about. Considering the Patriots’ last outing against Miami, a 27-17 victory that was at the height of the team’s offensive struggles, there’s incentive to show strength at the top of the division.

Of course, there are injuries to consider. But there are also some good matchups that the Patriots need to be prepared for. Here’s what we’ll be watching.

1. Without Gronk, who will the Patriots turn to? — By sheer numbers, and considering the games each player has been available, the Patriots have been fairly balanced distributing the football to their playmakers. That may shift even more with tight end Rob Gronkowski out for good after suffering a torn ACL and damaged MCL. Gronkowski had39 receptions in only seven games – 5.6 catches a game. He’s the fourth-leading receiver on the team, behind only Julian Edelman (76 receptions), Danny Amendola (41 receptions), and Shane Vereen (40 receptions). Edelman has played in all 13 games, which averages out to 5.8 catches per game. Vereen, despite missing Weeks 2 through 10, is averaging 7.6 catches per game. You can guess for yourself who is going to get the bulk of the targets with Gronk out. As far as tight ends, Michael Hoomanawanui (10 receptions) leads all other eligible receivers for the Patriots with James Develin (4 catches) and Matthew Mulligan (2 catches) trailing.

2. An improved Tom Brady — In the Patriots’ first meeting with the Dolphins this season, Tom Brady had one of the worst games of his career, throwing for 116 yards on 13 of 22 passing, including a touchdown and an interception. At the time, there was great concern over Brady’s right hand, which appeared to be swollen when shown on television (after the game, he not-so-slyly kept it out of view during his press conference). Now, we know there’s nothing wrong with Brady’s hand after a couple of top-notch performances against the Cleveland Browns (418 yards, 2 touchdowns), Houston Texans (371 yards, 70.7 completion rate), and Denver Broncos (344 yards, 3 touchdowns). His performance has been emblematic of what we know of Brady from the last dozen years. We expect to see more of the good Tom Brady on Sunday.

See the rest of this entry on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Browns game

FOXBOROUGH — Continuing a streak of faulty first halves and extraordinary comebacks, the Patriots beat the Cleveland Browns 27-26 Sunday night in what I’ll personally term as an instant classic.

Any time you have a successful onside kick recovery — which was the first in Patriots franchise history to lead to a game-winning touchdown — you have to consider where the particular contest in question rests on the pantheon of great wins. In this case, for a team as lauded and trophied up as the Patriots, we’ll just wonder aloud where Sunday’s game ranks in terms of regular season victories.

So far this season, they’ve had a number of compelling candidates, including the team’s thrilling come-from-behind victory over the New Orleans Saints. But that was two months ago. There’s been plenty of excitement since then.

Sunday’s comeback comes on the heels of superb wins over the Denver Broncos (34-31) and Houston Texans (34-31).

While the talent and expectations of the competition has varied, each win has inserted a level of football titillation that only those sensitive to cardiac arrest might disapprove.

It’s just been that kind of season. And Sunday’s game was no different.

With that in mind, here’s my five takeaways:

1. Losing Rob Gronkowski only seemed devastating — Gronkowski’s loss to a leg injury in the third quarter was profound for a number of reasons. There was the instant worry of his health, which is still in question, and then there was the long-term concerns for the Patriots’ offense, which struggled mightily this season without him despite winning five of six games. His presence in the red zone has been the most striking, with the team boosting its touchdown rate from 40.9 percent to 67.9, no doubt because defenders have to account for him.

But on Sunday, the Patriots seemed to find poise in dealing with the aftermath of his dramatic injury. At the time, they were down 12-0 to the Browns. But on the team’s very next offensive series, they marched 68 yards down the field for their first points, a 33-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. On their next series, they took only three plays before Shane Vereen ran in a 6-yard touchdown. The Patriots would go on to score on their next three drives, five in a row in all, to take the game.

After enduring such a devastating injury to one of the team’s integral players, the Patriots flashed what appeared to be the mental composure of a championship contender. There was mettle and there was grit. And even a little luck on their side. That’s got to count for something as the team goes forward.

2. The role falls to James Develin, Matthew Mulligan — Right away, the Patriots needed to find out if they had dependable tight ends that can get the job done with Gronk out. They won’t be asked to perform at his high level of offensive production, but they have to be capable and handle the not-so-glamorous role of blockers and check-down options in the passing game. It appears that Mulligan and Develin are up to the task. The duo have already been primarily used as blockers, but each has shown flashes of their other talents. Develin caught a 31-yard pass and Mulligan added a 15-yard reception.

“Honestly, I’m kind of surprising myself a little bit,” Develin said of his receiving skills. “I haven’t done these things since high school. It’s been kind of fun discovering that as well.”

The two take the loss of Gronkowski seriously, with Mulligan saying he would pray for his teammate. But Gronkowski’s injury provides an opportunity that neither can ignore.

“Having Gronk go out like that in the game was tough,” Develin said. “He’s a huge guy in our offense. But the NFL is such a next-man-up kind of thing and so when my number was called I just knew that I had to go out there and do the job. I’m thankful that our coaches prepare us for any situation, so I felt comfortable going in there and trying to do the thing.”

Patriots fans will have to get comfortable with it, too. The team’s only other experienced tight end, Michael Hoomanawanui, is still out with a knee injury.

See all of my takeaways from the game on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

What to watch for as the Patriots host the Browns

FOXBOROUGH – So is it or isn’t it a trap game?

The Patriots (9-3) host the Browns (4-8) with playoff implications on the line — for the Patriots, of course — and a game atmosphere reminiscent of a Week 4 preseason matchup.

The health and status of the team’s players afterward may be the only outcome that will actually matter.

So whether or not the Patriots play up — or down — to the Browns is quite possibly irrelevant in the grand scheme of the season. But given this team’s attitude toward preparation and Bill Belichick’s emphasis on mental resilience, we can expect a full throttle effort Sunday.

Here’s what we’ll be watching in today’s game:

1. Stevan Ridley — Stevan Ridley is active and will play today’s game. So now that we know that, what we’ll be watching for is how many touches the talented but fumble-prone running back gets Sunday.

2. Josh Gordon — The Cleveland wide receiver has had a couple of epic performances this season, including his 10 receptions for 261 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. More than likely, he’ll get to face Patriots corner Aqib Talib, who has had his fair share of matchups with the league’s elite wide receivers and has won more battles than he has lost. Hopefully, there will be fireworks.

See the rest of this entry on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Texans game

HOUSTON – The Patriots snapped a three-game road losing streak, which is probably the most notable side accomplishment for a team that just clinched its 13th straight winning season.

Beating the Houston Texans (2-10) certified New England’s status as a team with no quit. They outscored their opponents 27-14 in the second half to win 34-31 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. That’s two weeks with come-from-behind wins. The networks must love the Patriots.

As usual, there were a number of interesting tidbits from the game. Here are some that I thought were most noteworthy.

1. Defense when it matters — It’s not shocking that the Patriots are giving up an alarming amount of rushing yards in these games. The Texans managed 121 against the Patriots, with Ben Tate accounting for 102 on 22 carries to go along with three touchdowns. It’s an improved effort from last week, when the Patriots defense allowed a whopping 280 yards on the ground. But what can you expect from a team that has lost its top two defensive tackles to injured reserve as well as the team’s top linebacker. Those are legitimate excuses. But what we’ve seen instead from this team, outside of the glaring running lanes for opposing backs, is a candid ability to stop the big play at the most timely moments. The Patriots were able to hold the Texans to a three-and-out with 6:54 left in the fourth quarter and follow it up by forcing Houston quarterback Case Keenum into making three bad throws, including one under pressure from Andre Carter and Chris Jones. Moments like these, which came with a little more than two minutes left, are pivotal in one-possession games. The Patriots excel in this environment.

2. Edelman over Amendola — Julian Edelman is at it again, usurping the luster over another coveted receiver. While he is sometimes overlooked because of the allegedly more talented and experienced slot receivers in front of him (see Wes Welker), he’s built a steady rapport with Tom Brady over his five seasons that has made him invaluable to this offense. So when you see that he has 12 targets Sunday, while Danny Amendola has five, there should be a clear understanding of who is a larger part of this Patriots offense and identity.

Edelman, who officially got the start Sunday, now has 70 receptions this year for 711 yards and four touchdowns. On Sunday, he caught nine passes for 101 yards. Because he has 70 receptions on the season, he has hit his contract incentive for an extra $250,000, maxing out his 1-year deal to $1.015 million. What a bargain.

See the rest of my takeaways on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.