Posted January 19, 2014

First Down/Fourth Down: ‘Pot Roast’ Knighton helps stuff Tom Brady’s offense

AFC East, AFC West, Denver Broncos, First Down/Fourth Down, New England Patriots, NFL Playoffs, Super Bowl XLVIII
Terrance 'Pot Roast' Knighton helped contain Tom Brady and the Patriots offense throughout the game. (

Terrance ‘Pot Roast’ Knighton helped contain Tom Brady and the Patriots offense throughout the game. (John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Back when he was head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Jack Del Rio (along with then-rookie GM Gene Smith) used a third-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft on one Terrance Knighton. Four years later, when Knighton hit free agency, he opted to follow Del Rio — now the Broncos’ defensive coordinator — out to Denver.

“He knows what type of player I am,” said Knighton of Del Rio, after signing a two-year, $5 million deal with the Broncos, “what type of system and what type of style I’ll excel in.”

Never have those words proved more prophetic than in Denver’s two playoff wins. Knighton was an absolute force in the divisional round, as he helped slow a San Diego run game that had abused the Broncos just a few weeks earlier. Then, in Sunday’s 26-16 AFC title win over the Patriots, Knighton again played a starring role, with four tackles and a crucial fourth-down sack of Tom Brady.

The MMQB’s Greg Bedard wrote in October about a key moment in Knighton’s Denver development: after the team’s second preseason game, when a member of the organization told the defensive lineman to get in shape. Over the next three weeks or so, the man affectionately called “Pot Roast” dropped 25 pounds and cemented himself in the Broncos’ rotation.

His presence in the middle has been even more invaluable because of Von Miller’s extended absences — first on a multi-week suspension to open the year, now with a season-ending injury.

“I’m sure their game plan is to take me out of the game,” Knighton told USA Today this week ahead of his team’s showdown with the Super Bowl on the line.

That may have been New England’s goal. Chalk it up as a failure, though, because Knighton turned in another stellar performance, and the Patriots offense never kicked into gear as a result.

First Down: The Broncos’ passing attack.

Denver’s first drive Sunday looked promising, only to stall after a second-down run play from inside New England territory fell apart. With Peyton Manning and a record-setting passing offense in tow, the Broncos did not make the same mistake twice.

New England found itself unable to generate pressure on Manning for most of the game — Chandler Jones’ fly-by disruption of a third-down throw by Manning in the red zone was about it for the pass rush — and the Broncos’ weapons overwhelmed the Patriots’ secondary, particularly after Wes Welker knocked Aqib Talib from the game.

Manning finished 32-of-43 for 400 yards and two touchdowns. Even more impressive was how he spread the football around, with eight Broncos making catches. Demaryius Thomas (seven catches for 134 yards and a TD), Eric Decker, Welker and Julius Thomas all had key moments, while little-used TE Jacob Tamme hauled in a touchdown early and picked up a critical first-down pass late.

The Broncos rolled to the AFC West crown and the No. 1 seed on the strength of Manning’s arm. Why stop now?

Fourth Down: Tom Brady.

The Patriots’ quarterback deserves all the credit in the world for getting his team this far in spite of a roster thin on game-changing talent. Aside from a too-little, too-late charge in the fourth quarter, however, Brady was off his game Sunday.

The issues were most noticeable when Brady looked for the deep ball, as he did several times without any success. His most glaring mistake came in the first quarter, off a pretty play-action fake, when Brady simply overthrew an open Julian Edelman in Denver territory. New England trailed 3-0 at the time and would have at least been in field-goal range with a completion there. Instead, after a punt, the Patriots watched Denver score to take a 10-0 lead.

Brady’s touchdown pass to Edelman in the fourth quarter was his first and only TD toss in the playoffs. New England did not need him much last week to get by Indianapolis, but Brady had to be at his best to take down the Broncos. He wasn’t even close.

(GIF via The Big Lead.)

First Down: Matt Prater.

Prater is as strong an ace in the hole as any special-teams unit has in the NFL right now. He bombed a record 64-yard field goal in December and Sunday nailed all four of his field-goal attempts. For as many yards as the Broncos piled up, and for as much as it felt like they were dominating, they had several drives stall out. Prater picked up the slack, with FG makes from 19, 27, 35 and 54.

That 54-yarder gave the Broncos a 26-10 lead, thereby forcing the Patriots to try (and fail on) a two-point conversion after a later touchdown.

Fourth Down: 4th-and-2.

One of the greatest chapters in the Brady-Manning rivalry came in 2009, with Manning in Indianapolis. Holding a six-point lead in the fourth quarter and facing 4th-and-2 from his own 28, Bill Belichick elected to go for it rather than punt the ball away to Manning. The Patriots failed to pick up the conversion, and the Colts scored a touchdown to win the game.

Sunday’s 4th-and-2 failure by the Patriots did not change the game’s outcome quite like that one, but it loomed large nonetheless. Trailing the Broncos 20-3, the Patriots tested the waters on 4th-and-2 rather than try a 47-yard field goal to pull within two touchdowns. That’s the play on which Knighton blew through for a sack of Brady. Had they taken the three points there, they would have been within one possession following Brady’s fourth-quarter rushing touchdown.

It’s hard to really question the call given the circumstances — Denver’s offense was clicking and New England believed it needed touchdowns. But the result obviously leaves Belichick open to criticism.

First Down: Julian Edelman.

Consider this more of a season achievement award than a nod to what happened Sunday. That said, Edelman caught 10 balls on 15 targets in his team’s loss, despite drawing a matchup with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (and the most attention of any Patriots receiver, by far).

Edelman averaged fewer than nine yards per catch, down from the 10.1 mark he posted during the regular season. He would have had a stronger finish in that category had Brady not missed him on that deep crossing route in the first quarter — Edelman would have had at least 30 yards there.

All season, New England showed off the “Next Man Up” approach on offense, with Aaron Hernandez in jail, Rob Gronkowski in and out of the lineup and its rookie receivers developing slowly. Edelman was the rock. He caught 105 balls during the regular season and 16 more in the playoffs. Plus, he never shied away from his other duties, as evidenced by a huge block he laid on Rodgers-Cromartie early.

Fourth Down: LeGarrette Blount.

New England had been shuffling its running backs all season, so in a way, seeing Blount slide out of the plans Sunday — particularly against a Denver defense that appeared more susceptible to the pass (and Shane Vereen) than the run — was not a stunner. And yet, with Blount coming off a monster Week 17 and a four-TD showing last weekend, it seemed safe to count on Blount to play a larger role than he did.

He finished with just six yards on five carries, all coming before halftime. Blount was not even on the field for the Patriots’ two-point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter, which resulted in a failed up-the-middle run by Vereen.

53 comments
billthompsonbaby
billthompsonbaby

Brady fans are cut from the same cloth Romo fans are cut from. Nothing but excuses.


What we know is this - if Tom Brady doesn't have HoF talent around him and 4 seconds to throw with lots of space around him, he's mediocre.


Stop bashing the rest of the players on the team to make excuses for Tom Brady, who could have won that game if he hadn't missed several wide open receivers. But I guess that's THEIR fault, right?


Just like Romosexuals...

ElvisHitler
ElvisHitler

Total Domination. Thank you Peyton Manning for shutting up the 2nd worst fanbase in the NFL. Now it's time for you to shut up the worst fanbase.

Voiceover310
Voiceover310

Good game by Denver, completely shut down the NE running game that everyone had been talking about all week. Amendola,Edelman are good but not great. Maybe if they had some more weapons around those guys, they could be a lot more dangerous. Props to NE for making it this far, I definitely didn't expect to see them in the AFC title game. Should be some big changes coming in the off season for the Patriots. Denver controlled the game from start to finish. As far as the "Manning chokes in big games against Brady" talk, Manning is now 2-2 against Brady in the playoffs and 2-1 in AFC title games. I don't think we will see these two face-off against each other with so much on the line again. 

FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

Give the broncos D, playing - 5 starters  credit. Back to back outstanding performances vs 2 pro bowl QBs.

salvaje50
salvaje50

Not a fan of either team but the backlash at either QB when they lose is ridiculous.  Both of these Qb's and teams are among the best in the league.  Manning may have choked in big games before but he has won a few as well.  And Brady and Bill have won 10 straight games in like 11 straight seasons.  That is remarkable.  So you hater fans can bash Manning or Brady but both of them and their teams are probably much better than the QB and the team that you root for.  So be jealous and be petty with your hate but you look stupid in doing it.

Thomas15
Thomas15

Marv Levy and Jim Kelly were a GREAT combination. Excellent Head Coach. Excellent QB.  Both of them greats and should be HOFers. What EVERYONE needs to understand is that WITHOUT ERNIE ADAMS, that's who bellichek and brady are. AND THAT'S NOT AN INSULT. They were both great and so are bellichek and brady. But the SB's were due to ERNIE ADAMS and so were so many of the wins in the regular season and the playoffs. Without ERNIE ADAMS the patriots have ZERO SB's and Peyton Manning has at least 2 possibly 3. THERE IS NOT COMPARISON between Peyton Manning and tom brady. They are on 2 different levels. 

Marchoir
Marchoir

Wes Welker gets the last laugh on New England.

Marchoir
Marchoir

Dungy and Caldwell somehow responsible for Manning's success? Are you on crack? Peyton Manning made Tony Dungy. And Caldwell isn't worth mentioning.

Gfunk
Gfunk

Tony Dungy's and Jim Caldwell's tutelage of Peyton Manning has truly paid off...I know there are to would disagree...But, don't get it twisted...Tony as his HC and Jim as his QB coach were both integral factors to his development.

JasonMorrisRVA
JasonMorrisRVA

Spygate.
Spygate.

No titles for the Pats since Spygate.
I'd say if New England wants to win another Super Bowl, they should consider re-acquiring the services of Matt Walsh and Matt Estrella.  

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

Not sure where you stand on Blount's miniscule role in NE's plans, Chris: "not a stunner" v. "safe to count on?"  I'll weigh-in: I'm very surprised...'if it works, don't fix it.'


And "Pot Roast," that's terrific.  'NFL, fun for the whole family (just stay away from halftime show (SB)!'  

JahliSuwaghaman
JahliSuwaghaman

There has been some horrific officiating in both games today.  Makes me wonder if the NBA and NFL guys switched places.

Vinny Cordoba
Vinny Cordoba

Good to see the Broncos put a whooping on the Pats. Good for the NFL, good for humankind, good for the universe in general.

Cool
Cool

Only SI writers, along with Boston Sportswriters, can make a story about Denver winning and heading to the SB ...into a long story about the Patriots.  

jfrosty4500
jfrosty4500

Peyton loses his second straight superbowl in 2 weeks, simple.

eltex.tx
eltex.tx

People say Billy B is the best coach, and praise his talents on draft day, especially the way he slides down and picks up more picks. Well, your bubble is finally busted. The man simply can't draft. He hasn't had a decent WR, DB or Safety in a decade. If he could draft anything close to a good DB, they probably have more rings to show. At some point, we have to realize that drafting is NOT a science, but is closer to roulette. Sure, you might hit a good batch of picks some years, like the Pats did when he first came aboard, but eventually the law of averages catches up, and you are struggling to field a decent team. 


Look at history, of the truly great and dominant teams. From the Steelers, to the 49's, to the fading Pats and the now surging Seahawks. These guys got lucky in the draft for 2-3 years, and BAM, they are able to dominate teams that are having normal draft luck. Once those contracts play out after 4-7 years, those teams come back to average, or even lower, and a new team is able to step in. 


I know we all want to think that if we just get the right GM in who can draft better than all the others, but after watching this sport for 4 decades, I feel confident that their isn't such a person. 

GO22JETS
GO22JETS

Mr. Billacheat - 


Enjoy watching the Super Bowl on TV. Let me know what you think of the commercials as you eat your cheetos. 

Ed16
Ed16

Peter King is wrong again, as usual. He claims to be an expert , but he knows nothing.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

And Bill Belichick STILL cannot win a Super Bowl without cheating!

anon76
anon76

@Marchoir 

There will be at least one laugh next year, so nothing's final yet.

Gfunk
Gfunk

Like I said, don't get it twisted...You are on crack if you think Peyton had it all figured out before Dungy became his HC and Caldwell became his QB coach...Read the book "Quiet Strength".

Before Dungy and Caldwell, Peyton was another Matthew Stafford (maybe Matt Ryan) at best; a QB with lots of potential.

Remember, prior to Dungy and Caldwell, Peyton's play lead to coaches rants like "Playoffs??Don't talk about playoffs. You Kidding Me???!!!

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

@Gfunk Did I hear right, that Tony & Jim were also "both integral factors (in the internet's) development?"  No, wait, that was somebody else...forget it.  You're pressing, GF.

Thomas15
Thomas15

@JasonMorrisRVA Jason they've never stopped their video-surviellance program and unless ERNIE ADAMS rights a tell all book you'll never fully know what the extent of their unfair advantage. But 8-0 @HOME this year AGAIN  with injuries that would have made any other team int eh League go 9-7 maybe 8-8. The patriots have never stopped and never will stop until ERNIE ADAMAS is dead. You'll never see brady go to another team like Peyton and excel like he has. NEVER. 

Voiceover310
Voiceover310

@JahliSuwaghaman There weren't any calls that were game changers this weekend. The better team won both games yesterday. FINALLY

doghockey
doghockey

@CoolAnd some of you posters can turn any story into a forum for whining and advancing your theories on some mythical media bias.   It's only football.  You may be taking it a bit too seriously.

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

@michaelcassidy2@hotmail.com On this side of the pond we spell Mr. Manning's name "Peyton," ('Sir' is optional, 'Lordly one,' only at black-tie affairs), and don't use the 'u' in 'color or 'favorite.'  Of course, you did give us this language so I guess you retain some rights, no?


You know I'm just messin' with ya,' right?  Can't wait to hear name possibilites for London's NFL franchise pitch: the Foggers, Winstons, Henry 8s, Day-Trippers (or Blackbirds), the Spear-Shakers (?).

JeffreyWolf
JeffreyWolf

@jfrosty4500 Yes, of course...And SD was going to beat the Broncs, and tehn the Pats, and now Seattle or SF...


Whatever


BlackSession1
BlackSession1

@eltex.tx I'm a Peyton Manning fan, and have followed him from Tennessee to Indy to Denver, but I'll never slight Belichick in what he has done. He does seem to favor stockpiling later round picks and that hasn't worked out, but it's hard to deny what he did with this year's team. That roster had no right getting to the AFC championship game, but he was able to cobble something together. To me, this season was more impressive than what they did in '07. I don't know if it's possible to crown a "best coach ever", but he's in the conversation. 

JayReardon
JayReardon

@GO22JETS Pats will be right back next there next year.  Jets?  Jerking off and smoking in Target parking lots and getting kicked off airplanes.  HAHAHAHA.

citizencharlesfosterkane
citizencharlesfosterkane

@GO22JETS LOL. A Jets fan is trying to talk smack.  That's the equivalent of a dog looking at someone riding a bike.  The dog can snap at the heels of the rider, but it's never, ever going to ride that bike itself.

JayReardon
JayReardon

@Rickapolis According to ex Steelers coach Cowher, that had nothing to do with anything and every team was doing it.  Get a life.

Chris62
Chris62

@RickapolisThink it has more to do with constant winning makes it tough to say under the cap. You could also correlate playoff appearances to team depth with big name talent to Brady's cap hit. Hard to field the kind of teams they 7-10 years ago with a $20 mil quarterback. Not a coincidence that almost all the recent SB winners have relatively underpaid quarterbacks. Then they get their payday (like Brady) and the team hits the s**tters (like Baltimore). Add in retirements and free agency and its hard to be successful on a consistent basis.


Finally do you honestly believe that a little tape is the difference? If so you are naive...

jfrosty4500
jfrosty4500

@Rickapolis LOL, that's when you know how great a coach Belichick is, in order to slight him you have to say he hasn't won a SUPERBOWL since spygate, it's great to have such a high bar here in New England.

FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

@doghockey @Cool No its the  lots of $$ bias. Media outlets aren't in the football biz never have been, They're in the ratings, web page views and ad clicks biz

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

@jfrosty4500 Are you arguing with my point, or pretending it doesn't matter? Cheater Belichick - 3 Super Bowls. After spygate - 0 Super Bowls. The facts speak for themselves.