Tom Brady Had No Chance Against the Broncos Sunday

He was hit more than any other quarterback this season.

Photo via AP

Photo via AP

As it turns out, the most significant injury of the Patriots’ season didn’t occur when Julian Edelman broke his foot against the Giants or when Rob Gronkowski bruised his knee during their first visit to Denver. It happened when starting left tackle Nate Solder tore his biceps in Week 4, leaving the offensive line undermanned and in-flux.

The Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18 in Sunday’s AFC Championship largely because they were able to pulverize Tom Brady all afternoon. Brady was officially hit 20 times in the contest, more than any other quarterback in football this season.

The offensive line had been a spot of concern for the Patriots all year, but they were able to mask its deficiencies due to Brady’s ability to unload the ball quickly. New England’s short, rhythm-based passing attack mitigated the lack of a left tackle and running game. But the Broncos kept Edelman and Danny Amendola in check Sunday, holding them to less than 100 yards receiving combined. Brady was forced to hold onto the ball for longer, and he left Denver battered and bruised.

Brady played arguably his worst game of the season, completing less than 50 percent of his passes, missing a wide-open Gronkowski on the potentially game-tying two-point conversion, and throwing two picks. But he never had a chance against the Broncos’ ferocious pass-rush. Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and the entire Broncos defensive line were in his face all afternoon. Miller’s signature sequence came in the first quarter, when he nailed Brady and then intercepted him on back-to-back plays. (Miller is just the second player since 1982 to record 2.5 sacks and an interception in a playoff game.)

But perhaps no play better symbolizes the porous performance of the Patriots’ offensive line than what happened on a 3rd-and-10 with 45 seconds remaining in the third quarter. New England brought in Cameron Fleming to serve as an extra blocker on the right side for the sole purpose of containing Miller in an obvious passing situation. He couldn’t even get his hands on him.

The Patriots pride themselves on building depth throughout all areas of their roster, but they could never make up for Solder’s absence. Tackle Sebastian Vollmer often looked out of place playing on the left side of the line and his replacements, Marcus Cannon and Fleming, simply looked overmatched. New England used 13 different starting offensive line combinations this season, which was the most in the NFL.

On Sunday afternoon, the Patriots ran 77 plays but only managed to gain 336 yards—an average of 4.36 yards per play. They were completely shut down.

Brady’s “F-U Tour” against the NFL began with the Patriots leading the league in points scored and storming out of the gate to a 10-0 start. But it ended with him on his back, looking up at an offensive line that failed to protect him when it mattered most.