In The Red Zone

The New England Patriots walked into a potential trap game and came out with their second road win in two weeks and their sixth consecutive win overall as the clinched their third consecutive AFC East Division title and 9th in the last 11 seasons.

It did not start out very well as the Denver Broncos and Tim Tebow gashed the New England defense for nearly 200 total yards in the first quarter. But defensive coach Matt Patricia was able to chuck out the original plan and re-scheme on the sideline and it led to a much steadier defense as the game progressed.

The defense was able to get three Denver turnovers and nearly had a fourth when Tebow fumbled in the end zone, recovered the ball and was able to elude the rush and get rid of the ball for an incomplete pass.  The “Immaculate Incompletion” saved at least two points in what at first looked like a sure safety and it most likely saved a touchdown when the ball was bouncing around in the end zone.

The big stories on defense are unfortunately the season ending injury of DE Andre Carter and then fortunately how well his replacements DE Ron Brace and DE Mark Anderson played after he was forced from the game.

Carter in his first season with the Patriots was having a Pro Bowl season with 10 sacks and 22 QB hits.  Anderson came on and registered two sacks and a forced fumble that he recovered and Brace forced a fumble too that started the turnaround towards and the inevitable victory over a team on the rise.

Offensively the shocker was the play of WR Chad Ochocinco, who had a great block that took out two Broncos and then followed it up with his first TD catch as a Patriot.  He played extremely well in place of injured WR Deion Branch as did WR Tiquan Underwood, who is earning a rep for his Kid ‘N Play style high top fade haircut.

While TE Aaron Hernandez took over when Denver took away fellow TE Rob Gronkowski, one of the lesser knowns on offense that I was impressed with was rookie RB Stevan Ridley.  Ridley a second round pick out of LSU, played in some huge games in the SEC and I’ve seen him get some big yards, hard yards on tough carries and you saw just a glimpse of it on Sunday.  The kid has a ton of potential and this season grinds to an end and the playoffs loom you may see more of the kid as the yards get tougher to come by.

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Head coach Bill Belichick had his weekly day after the game media meeting about the week ahead.

His 188 career wins are good for 9th all-time. Former LA Rams, Washington and Seattle head coach Chuck Knox is 8th with 193.

Patriots clinched the AFC East and their 13th playoff berth in the last 18 seasons with the win in Denver.

A look at the AFC Playoff scenarios from Mike Reiss at ESPN-Boston.

New England has won 6 consecutive games after a 2 game losing streak.  It is their longest win streak of the season.

New England is 39-5 in December games since 2001.  That’s the best in the NFL in that time period.

The Patriots have had 6 undefeated Decembers since 2001.  They are 3-0 this month.

Since 2000 have the Patriots the best road record in the NFL at 63-33.

This is what Tom Brady had to say about the win on WEEI AM/FM on Monday morning.

Brady’s 2 TD passes give him 296 TD passes in his career he is now 6th all-time.  Hall of Fame QB John Elway is 5th with 300.

Brady has 122 career wins he is 6th all-time.  Fran Tarkenton is 5th with 124.

Brady and Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien were happy for WR Chad Ochocinco.

WR Wes Welker now has catches in 96 consecutive games including playoffs, 79 as a Patriot.  The last time Welker did not have a catch in a game was 12/24/05 as a Dolphin.

Welker admits to thinking about his contract.

LB Jerod Mayo signed a five-year contract extension on Saturday.  It’s reported to be worth $50 million with $27 million guaranteed.

DE Andre Carter hurt his knee in the second quarter and did not return.  It didn’t look good as he was carted off. According to a NFL source they say he injured his quad and will need surgery.  Belichick said no decision has been made on Carter’s status yet.

With Carter down and out DE Mark Anderson stepped up and had his biggest game as a Patriot.

Vince Wilfork admitted after the game that he “Tebowed”.

After a change, the defense was money on Sunday.

DE Ron Brace gave himself a birthday gift with a forced fumble that sparked a defensive turnaround.

The Patriots were 5 of 12 on 3rd conversions (42%) and 1 of 2 on fourth down (50%) while the Broncos were 4 of 10 on 3rd down conversions (40%) and 0 for 2 on 4th down.

New England was 4 for 6 (67%) on red zone efficiency and 3 for 4 (75%) on goal to go efficiency.  Denver was 2 for 3 (67%) in the red zone and 1 for 1 (100%) in goal to go situations.

New England is now plus 12 in turnover differential after recovering 3 Denver fumbles.

The best and worst of the Patriots and Broncos game.

The Gator Aide ends up on Aaron Hernandez instead of Tim Tebow.

CBS crows about ratings for Patriots/Broncos game and the overnight ratings were the highest of the season for the NFL.

Mike Reiss charts the Patriots offensive snaps and defensive snaps played vs. Washington.

New England plays the Miami Dolphins on Saturday Christmas Eve Day at 1 p.m. at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.  Look for the Sox & Dawgs “In The Red Zone Game Preview” available on Friday.

Follow Steve on Twitter @djstevem