By Nicholas Stix
With 0:17 left in the game, and the Patriots trailing 20-12, Tom Brady managed to find tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone for a touchdown. With the score 20-18, Brady was forced to go for a two-point conversion. He did, with 0:12 left, but was picked off in the end zone.
The Patriots then tried an onside kick, but failed.
The reason the Patriots were forced to go for two at the end, was because their placekicker Stephen Gostkowski had missed the point-after in the first quarter, on their first touchdown, after having not missed a PAT in five years. That made the score 7-6 Denver, instead of seven-all.
Brady was facing a much different Broncos team than in the past. Rather than the team of high-powered offense and soft defense, Manning has lost a good deal of arm strength in recent years, while this Broncos team may have been the toughest defense Brady has ever faced. He was under pressure all game, was sacked at least four times, and picked off three times, including on the two-point conversion. New England was also unable to generate any run offense. The patchwork New England offensive line simply could not play with Denver. In particular, Denver’s Pro Bowl linebacker, Von Jones, looked like a superman, sacking Brady 1.5 times, picking off one of his passes, and pressuring him. Denver’s defensive unit seemed much faster than New England’s offensive unit, and seemed to know their plays in advance. On offense, New England looked tired and old.
Tom Brady is also a diminished quarterback. Three or four times, he had receivers open on short routes, only to throw the ball into the turf, a yard short. CBS announcer Phil Simms, himself a Hall of Fame quarterback, covered for Brady, claiming the latter hadn’t liked what he’d seen, and deliberately drilled the ball into the ground, but this observer saw differently. Brady’s receivers were open. In Dan Marino’s last season, I saw the same problem. Marino would blow easy completions to wide-open receivers on short routes the same way, drilling the ball hard and short, the sort of thing he would never do in previous seasons. Marino recognized the problem, and retired at the end of the season. Minnesota Vikings head coach Dennis Green tried to lure Marino out of retirement and while Marino publicly thanked Green for thinking of him, he knew he was done, and did not make the mistake of trying to hang on any longer.
We’ll have to see how gas Brady thinks he has left in the tank.
Manning and the Broncos will play the winner of the Carolina Panthers/Arizona Cardinals NFC Championship Game, which just began, in Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, two weeks from today.