“Especially at the beginning of the game, it was raining and everything, the type of conditions we had, it’s easier to make the inside throws,” Arrington said. “Everything they got, we wanted to make them earn. The outside throws, given the game conditions, would be harder. We were really emphasizing the easier, across-the-middle, seams, those type of routes.”
Ras-I Dowling, playing the dime linebacker role that Wilson normally fills, was asked to put his 6-foot-2-inch frame and enormous wingspan in the middle of the field, as well.
“Any throw going to the outside is the harder throw,” Dowling said. “We just stuck to the game plan that coach gave us and it turned out to be a victory.”
Especially as the Patriots built a 31-7 lead, and made some big plays along the way.
Everyone seemed to chip in.
Cornerback Sterling Moore was let down by no safety help on a 43-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first drive, but Moore punched the ball out and recovered the fumble.
Rookie Alfonzo Dennard, active on game day for the first time, broke up a few passes, including a key third-down throw to Brandon Stokley in the second quarter that forced a punt.
Tackle Kyle Love did a great job standing up against two offensive linemen on a surprise third-and-4 run to start the second half. That allowed Rob Ninkovich and Spikes to shut down the play for just 1 yard.
Then Ninkovich went to work with a sack/fumble against Manning in the third quarter, and a punch-out fumble from running back Willis McGahee on the Broncos’ final possession with 3:48 left.
“I knew I was capable of making some big plays and being a guy that you can count on,” Ninkovich said. “The first couple of weeks I didn’t feel that I was playing my style and the way I would like to play. I felt the last couple weeks I’ve been trying to change some things.”
Going back to defensive end from linebacker has been a little bit of a process for Ninkovich, but he’s turned the corner with three turnovers the past two games.
“Rob was huge today for us. Can’t speak enough about that,” Arrington said. “But you never know who will step up for us. That’s the good thing about this defense, we’re all capable of making plays at big moments.”
That’s what we’re starting to see. Combine that with improved execution, and the Patriots can do some things on defense.
It might not be great things for the unit. But it could very well be good enough to do great things as a team.