Another wild NFL weekend is in the books with the usual mix of upsets, blowouts, refereeing clangers and kicking ineptitude. Get the lowdown on the weekends games with our below snapshots.
New England Patriots 18 – 20 Denver Broncos
• Let’s get one thing straight, and be very clear, Peyton Manning was in no way responsible for Denver winning this game – despite what any media narrative may try and sell in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl 50. The Broncos are playing in the big game despite, not as a result of, Manning being under centre. Denver’s defense, led by Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, put in one of the most dominant performances of recent years to shut down Tom Brady and the Patriots high flying offense. It is a defense that has largely surpassed the Orange Crush of the late 70s in its efficacy and should be revered long beyond this season. • A hidden narrative in this game that may go unnoticed is the performance of Broncos punter Britton Colquitt. The raw stats might not jump out – 9 punts with a 41.7 yard average – but all night Colquitt worked to flip field position on the Patriots, with 4 punts downed inside the 20, ensuring New England were continually looking at long fields as they tried to get back on terms. • For once, Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick seemed to get their game plan wrong. While understandable that you live and die by Tom Brady’s right arm 59 called passes to only 14 runs is far too lopsided in a game where you never trailed by more than 10 points. The overly pass heavy approach played right into the hands of speed rushers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller who were able to rush without a thought to run defense. New England spent the whole evening behind the chains, and, even if not effective, running the ball would have helped to ease some of the burden on Brady.
Arizona Cardinals 15 – 49 Carolina Panthers
• Any lingering doubts anyone had about the legitimacy of the, now, 17-1 Carolina Panthers were dispelled last night with this truly dominant performance in all areas of the game. A pass defense some commentators had labelled a weakness outside of Josh Norman, held the explosive Cardinals in check all night long and the Panther offense simply steamrollered Arizona’s front 7 as they imposed their will on the game. It was in the trenches on both sides of the ball that Carolina dominated, completely negating the Cardinals speed at the skill positions. • It was clear that Head Coach Ron Rivera must have been preaching all week about the Panthers seeming inability to put teams away, letting big leads slip in second halves of games. Last night they put on a clinic in squeezing the life out of a game with a dominant 3rd quarter performance. Holding the ball for 11.31 of the quarter and scoring 10 points Carolina ensured there was no opportunity for Arizona to mount a comeback. On an almost weekly basis, the Panthers seemingly work to dispel another myth that grows around this team. • The injury suffered by talismanic Carolina LB Thomas Davis will be tough to swallow for this team if he cannot go. An inspirational figure in the Panthers locker room, a player who has come back from 3 torn ACLs, Davis broke his forearm tackling Cardinals TE Daniel Fells and will be a doubt for the Super Bowl. Davis was having possibly his best year as a pro, his dropping of David Johnson for a 6 yard loss early in the game was indicative of his play and how he sets the tone for the entire unit. Davis is a key leader on that defense, and, whether he is able to play or not, he is the player teammates will most want to win for.