The Denver Broncos are headed to Super Bowl 50 after beating the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. To no surprise, the game came down to the wire. The Patriots had the chance to tie the game and force overtime late in the fourth quarter but Tom Brady was picked off to prevent New England's two-point conversion attempt. At that point, the game was virtually over.
The Broncos obviously deserve all the credit for shutting down Brady and the Patriots' offense, but give an assist to the Philadelphia Eagles for helping this game take place in Denver. If the Patriots had simply beaten a bad Eagles team that no one (myself included) thought could win in Foxboro, the AFC Championship Game would have been a home game for New England. And if the Patriots had home field advantage, there's a much better chance they would have won. Some good points here from Jim Buzinski of OutSports.com:
I am confident that, had the game been in New England, the Patriots would have won. A 15-3 home playoff mark doesn't lie. At Denver, the crowd noise can be deafening for an opposing team's offense and Tom Brady looked uncomfortable all day Sunday. Patriots offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer said the crowd was a factor and that the team had to resort to using a silent count. "It’s part of it," Vollmer said. "The crowd was loud today. Good for them. ... It’s not easy, but it’s also not the first time. I don’t think that will be a good excuse." Playing in Foxboro it's a different story, and Manning is the one who would have looked rattled.
The game was close and came down to a missed two-point conversion, but playing on the road at a mile high against a hostile crowd made the job that much tougher. Had New England taken care of business against either the Eagles or Dolphins, two below-.500 teams, the Patriots would be making Super Bowl travel plans, not cleaning out their lockers. Instead they lost to two teams that fired their coaches at season's end. Chip Kelly and Dan Campbell will be honorary Broncos for their contributions in two games the Patriots "never" lose but somehow did this year.
Further, the Eagles were able to lay out a blueprint to help the Broncos beat the Patriots. Along with benefiting from some return touchdowns, Philadelphia defeated New England by pressuring Brady A LOT. The Birds sacked Brady five times, hit him 10 times, and hurried him a whopping 23 times. The Broncos did even better by hitting Brady 20 (!) times, which was the most times a quarterback has been hit in a single game since 2006. Of course, it's not like Wade Phillips needed the Eagles game to know that pressuring a quarterback makes him struggle. But still!
It's funny that Chip Kelly, a friend of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, ended up being the only coach to win in Foxboro last season. It's even more strange that he was able to do that yet not be able to keep his job. Eagles fans can always look back at the team's win over the Patriots as one of the positives from the Kelly era.