Defense makes a stand
Patriots regain edge, force five turnovers
FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots defense, smarting from its subpar showing in San Diego, heard all week about Denver, its strong-armed quarterback, and the yard-churning offense it was bringing to Gillette Stadium last night.
They apparently had heard enough.
New England forced five turnovers and held the Broncos to their lowest point and yardage totals of the season in a 41-7 pounding.
"It definitely builds confidence," said rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo, who had one of the three fumble recoveries. "We came in with the mind-set, 'Everybody do their jobs,' and that's what happened."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said his team had its best week of practice so far this season, and that was evident on the defensive side of the ball. Playing with energy, emotion, and maybe even a little bit of urgency, the Patriots pitched a shutout until the 13:21 mark of the fourth quarter and limited Denver, which was averaging almost 400 yards a game, to 275 yards of total offense.
The Chargers, who racked up 30 points and 404 yards, made the Patriots - in particular their defensive backs - look pretty foolish with all those big pass plays last week. It was assumed the Broncos would try to attack New England the same way.
But Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, who proclaimed last week that he has a stronger arm than Denver icon John Elway, did not complete a pass longer than 20 yards. Playing with an injured pinky suffered on his first pass of the game, Cutler, the AFC's leader in passing yards, finished 17 of 26 for 168 yards.
The Patriots, who did not get to Chargers QB Philip Rivers at all last week, sacked Cutler twice.
Denver's four first-half turnovers led to 13 New England points.
"We didn't leave our best performance on the field last week," said safety James Sanders, who had a third-quarter interception. "We wanted to come out and make a statement, make plays, cause turnovers, put our offense in position to make plays. That's what we did tonight."
Denver running back Andre Hall carried twice in the first quarter and fumbled the ball away both times.
Lewis Sanders forced the first one, after Hall appeared to have gotten a first down inside the New England 30, and LeKevin Smith recovered it at the Patriots' 32.
On Denver's next possession, Ty Warren knocked the ball away from Sanders. Deltha O'Neal got a hand on it before Mayo recovered at the Denver 37. The Patriots picked up 15 more yards on a Broncos personal foul penalty.
The Patriots got a pair of Stephen Gostkowski field goals off the takeaways and converted a Brandon Meriweather interception into a touchdown in the second quarter.
"It was very, very important to start fast," said Meriweather, who has three picks on the season. "We needed to start fast and continue to play with emotion."
With backup Patrick Ramsey finishing the first half for Cutler, the Broncos again moved the ball into Patriots' territory (38-yard line), but the Patriots again squelched the drive.
Mike Wright wrapped up Ramsey and jarred the ball forward to Gary Guyton, who recovered it near midfield.
"That play came to me," Guyton said. "The ball was sitting there floating and I grabbed it. We just made the plays that came to us."
The Broncos have 12 turnovers in their three losses.
The Patriots had just six takeaways in their previous five games combined.
"Right from the jump, we played with emotion," Sanders said. "We were celebrating with our teammates, making plays on both sides of the ball, and that's what we have to do as a team."
Cornerback Ellis Hobbs did a nice job matching up against Brandon Marshall, limiting the talented wideout to six catches and 77 yards.
The news wasn't all good for the New England defense, though. Safety Rodney Harrison was carted off the field with a knee injury at the end of the third quarter.