FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Picked-up pieces from third quarter review of the Patriots’ 34-31 overtime win over the Broncos:
1. There were so many things to digest in the game that the contributions of rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins were easy to overlook. Thompkins really got the Patriots started in the second half with three catches (for 25 yards) on the first four plays. Thompkins’ potential role has been a hot topic since he was a healthy scratch Nov. 3 against the Steelers, but even in limited opportunities the last two weeks, he’s made some important plays for the team. His route-running and craftiness at the line of scrimmage to gain a free release highlight how he is a tactician who is still searching for more polish.
2. Linebacker Dane Fletcher made a solid play on the screen pass to running back Montee Ball that Ball fumbled (8:40). It looked like Fletcher’s helmet/shoulder might have initially jarred the ball free, but I’m curious how the defensive coaches will credit the forced fumble because defensive end Rob Ninkovich had his hand in there as well. Regardless, it was a ball-hawking play by both at a time when the Patriots needed it to get back in the game.
3. As the season progresses, and top players return to health, the creativity of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels starts to show. For the second week in a row, we’ve seen tight end Rob Gronkowski detached wide to the left side in the red zone as the only receiver to that side. It’s almost like an isolation play in basketball and it’s produced solid results. If you’re an opponent, that’s something that probably jumps off the tape that must be accounted for which we assume is unique to the Patriots and maybe a small handful of other clubs.
4. While on the topic of coaching, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia dialed up a well-timed five-man blitz, bringing linebackers Jamie Collins and Dane Fletcher up the A gaps and dropping right defensive end Chandler Jones in coverage to produce a sack on third-and-5 (2:45). Blitzing Peyton Manning always comes with risk because the ball is often out so quick, but it was particularly well timed by Fletcher and Collins, and Manning fumbled the ball as Collins showed some power by steamrolling running back Knowshon Moreno. Collins, the team’s top draft pick, is still learning the defense and that’s part of the reason why his playing time has been so limited this year. But there have been some impressive flashes from him, such as that play.
5. Credit special teams captain Matthew Slater for drawing the holding penalty on Malik Jackson while playing on the kickoff coverage unit following the Brandon Bolden touchdown run to cut the deficit to 24-14.
6. This is the quarter when things turned for the Patriots. The Fletcher/Ninkovich fumble and recovery (Brandon Spikes), coupled with the third-down sack, were the type of plays that the team needed to have a chance. And, on offense, better protection along the offensive line -- with help from the play-action passing game producing some big results (Tom Brady to Julian Edelman for 43 yards) -- were key ingredients to the turnaround.