Judgements: Broncos better hope that’s last trip to Foxboro


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Denver will recover from Sunday’s knockout punch, but the Broncos better hope they don’t have to return to Gillette Stadium for the AFC championship game. Reason: With Sunday’s loss, Manning is 2-11 in New England and 2-8 vs. Tom Brady there. Then, of course, there’s this: Brady is 33-4 when the temperature at kickoff is 40 degrees or colder. Manning is 8-8. Guaranteed, it will be colder than 40 degrees in Foxboro in January.

2. Last week it was the Indianapolis defense that got savaged. Now it’s another top-five unit … Denver. Tell me a defense you trust. Me? I’ll take Arizona.

3. Gutsiest call of Brady-Manning XVI: Bill Belichick going for it on fourth-and-5 at the Denver 37 midway through the third period with the Patriots up by 13. If he fails, he gives the ball to Manning in great field position … and maybe, just maybe, puts the Broncos back in the game. But he doesn’t fail … with Brady launching a tightly thrown spiral to Shane Vereen to keep the series going and, eventually, pad New England’s lead. That, folks, is why Belichick gets paid the big bucks.

4. New England has next weekend off; Denver gets Oakland. Which mean both get byes.

5. I never thought I’d say this but … beware, Miami. The Fins won four of their last five and are three seconds away from 6-2 and a five-game winning streak. Oh, yeah, then there’s this: They’ve already beaten New England. No, they’re not a threat to the Patriots in the AFC East — not as long as Tom Brady is standing. But second place comes down to them vs. Buffalo, and stay tuned. The two meet Nov. 13 in Miami.

6. Just a hunch, but that should satisfy Mike Wallace.

7. San Diego is in a downward spiral, losing its last three, and here’s why: Defense. The Bolts don’t have one. They’re last in Red-Zone defense and don’t have a pass rush, with three sacks in their last four starts — all in one game. Result: In those four games opposing quarterbacks have passer ratings of 103.4 or better ( including Ryan Tannehill, who checked in at 125.6 Sunday), with 11 touchdowns and one interception.

8. San Diego had 10 days to prepare for Miami, and this is what we get? Mike McCoy, please report to the principal’s office.

9. Best team in the NFC East: Arizona. It’s 4-0 vs. its old division.

10. The standings do not lie. Arizona is the class of the NFC and, maybe, just maybe of the NFL. The Cards are 14-3 over their last 17 games, and tell me who’s better. Never mind, I’ll save you the trouble: No one. At 7-1 the Cards not only are off to their best start in 40 years; the last time they were 7-1 no one on their roster was alive.

11. The more I watch Ryan Fitzpatrick, the more I wonder when Tom Savage (please, not Ryan Mallett) comes out of the bullpen.

12. Make Bruce Arians frontrunner for Coach of the Year and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles everyone’s short-list candidate as their next head coach.

13. Why do I get the feeling that we should pay more attention to Kansas City?  The Chiefs won five of their last six, including a last-minute win in San Diego, and look as good — no, better — than the team that a year ago started 9-0.

14. Hard to believe that’s the best we get from San Francisco after a bye … except, no, it’s really not. The 49ers did the same thing a year ago when they lost 10-9 to Carolina following a bye.

15. I love those yahoos who say you don’t have to run to win because …well, because it’s a passing game. So the worst rushing team, Oakland, is winless. And the best passing offense in the history of the league? Yep, it got waxed in Super Bowl XLVIII. So when people tell you don’t have to run to win, tune them out.

16. Dear Jerry Jones: Sit Tony Romo again next week. You play Jacksonville in London, and I don’t care who quarterbacks your team; it should win. Then you have a bye. That gives Romo three weeks of rest for a back injury. Do that, and, trust me, you’ll be grateful.

17. Dallas has only two home games left, but that’s the good news. The Cowboys are the only team in the league that’s undefeated on the road.

18. I’m sorry, there’s no better receiver right now than Antonio Brown. He leads the league in catches and has at least five receptions for 84 or more yards in every game this season and in 11 straight dating back to 2013. Moreover, he leads the Steelers in TDs with eight. Translation: Not only is he consistent; he’s remarkably productive.

19. I guess that settles it: We need to start taking Pittsburgh seriously again. Yeah, I know, four of the Steelers’ next five games are on the road, but three are vs. losing opponents (the Jets, Tennessee and Atlanta). Now it’s Baltimore, somehow stuck in last in the AFC North, I can’t figure.

20. Look who’s laughing now: In one afternoon, Mark Sanchez has as many wins as the Jets this season. And now he’s the starter on a first-place team.

FIVE HALL-OF-FAME SIZZLES

1. Cincinnati RB Jeremy Hill. With Giovani Bernard sidelined, he got the start … and he responded with 154 yards and two touchdowns — becoming the second rookie in franchise history (Corey Dillon was the first, vs. Tennessee in 1997) to run for 150 yards and score twice in the same game.

2. Cleveland RB Terrance West. It wasn’t his running that made a difference; nor was it his receiving, though he did score a touchdown. It was the block he threw on Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David that sprung Brian Hoyer from a certain sack and gave him time to unload the game-winning touchdown in another Cleveland victory.

3. Miami QB Ryan Tannehill. That’s four wins in five games, with Tannehill producing passer ratings of 109.3 or better in three of those games. But that’s not all. He’s had runs of 20 or more yards in each of his last four starts. So he’s not Dan Marino. He doesn’t have to be. What he must be is something more than what he’s been the past two years … consistent … and he’s getting there. Entering this season, he had four games with passer ratings of 100 or better. He’s one short the past five games.

4. Pittsburgh LB James Harrison. Where did that come from? At36, he was supposed to be finished. In fact, he was … until the Steelers pulled him out of retirement last month when they started running out of linebackers. Now, all of sudden, he’s irrepressible, with his second straight two-sack game Sunday. You want to know what’s gotten into the Pittsburgh defense lately? Start with this guy.

5. Minnesota RB Matt Asiata. That’s his third career three-touchdown game, and if that sounds like a lot you’re right. It’s the most by any undrafted player in his first three seasons since 1967 (the common draft era).

FIVE HALL-OF-SHAME FIZZLES

1. San Diego QB Philip Rivers. He had three interceptions. He lost one fumble. He was sacked three times. He produced no points. And he produced his lowest passer rating (31.0) since taking over as San Diego’s starter in 2006. “I was terrible,” he said. He’s right.

 2. Dallas QB Brandon Weeden. He had a chance to be Colt McCoy for a day. Instead, he was Brandon Weeden all over again, making the mistakes that caused Cleveland to give up on him. I don’t know that Tony Romo could’ve beaten Arizona, but I do know Brandon Weeden had a chance — staked to an early 10-0 lead. But he screwed the pooch.

3. San Francisco’s offensive line. In the past two games, quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s been sacked 14 times — including a career-worst eight Sunday by a team that had six in its first seven starts.

4. San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick. With a chance to win the game in the last 10 seconds, he fumbled … literally. Losing the ball on a quarterback sneak at the St. Louis 1, he loses the game … and don’t look now but the 49ers are 4-4 and in deep kimchi.

5. Dallas WR Dez Bryant. He had a season-low two catches for 15 yards, and both receptions came in the last two minutes of Sunday’s loss. OK, so Brandon Weeden was doing the throwing. That doesn’t explain a near-shutout by Patrick Peterson,the guy covering Bryant.

WHAT WOULD LOMBARDI DO?

Tampa Bay trails by six, it’s late and the Bucs are driving. It’s second-and-1 at the Cleveland 37, and the Bucs … throw. OK, i can live with that. But now it’s third-and-1, and they throw … deep? That’s a big 10-4. And that, too, fails. So W.W.L.D.? What do you think? You run on third, and, if you don’t get it, you run on fourth. The Bucs did not, and instead of having two snaps to gain a yard, they had one … and got called for offensive pass interference. That made it fourth-and-11, and the rest you know. Bad teams find ways to lose, and the Bucs are the evidence.

ON THE HALL-OF-FAME RADAR

1. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger.  The guy’s on fire. In his last three games, all at home, he’s thrown 14 touchdowns, with no interceptions — including an NFL-record 12 scores his last two starts vs. Indianapolis and Baltimore; completed 74 percent of his passes; thrown for over 1,100 yards and put up a passer rating of 142.38. Forget Brady and Manning. This is your most dangerous quarterback now.

2. Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. His defense was the first to prevent DeMarco Murray from gaining 100 yards, but, of course, it did more … much more … than that. It allowed only one offensive touchdown, had two interceptions and all but took Dez Bryant out of the game — holding the Cowboys’ star receiver to two catches, both on the Cowboys’ last possession.

3. Philadelphia WR Jeremy Maclin. His 345 yards are the most in a two-game span by a Philadelphia Eagle since Pete Retzlaff’s 355 vs. Cleveland and Washington in 1965.

4. New England TE Rob Gronkowski. He makes THE catch of the afternoon, with a leaping, left-handed stab near the goal line. He scores a touchdown. He has 105 yards in catches. In short, he’s a load. But look what he’s done the past two weeks: 18 catches, 254 yards and four TDs. If New England is going to go to Super Bowl XLIX, he better do what he hasn’t before — stay healthy.

5. New England WR Julian Edelman. Now you know why Tom Brady exhaled when the Patriots re-signed Edelman in the offseason. He is to Brady what Wes Welker was three years ago — a security blanket. But he was more than that Sunday, scoring once on a Brady pass, another on an 84-yard punt return (the fourth of his career, a New England record) and coming this close to hauling down a second TD reception. Edelman was the difference in a first half where New England dominated, 27-7, and that’s money well spent.

THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME NOMINEE

New England QB Tom Brady. That makes him 11-5 vs. Peyton Manning and gives him 18 touchdowns and one interception in New England’s last five starts … all of them victories. But that’s not all. With the victory he’s won 42 straight regular-season home games vs. the AFC and thrown three or more TD passes in his last four starts. Those are just two reasons I still trust Brady more than any other quarterback and why New England fans chanted “Brady’s better! Brady’s better” midway through the fourth quarter.

 THIS WEEK’S HALL-0F-FAME QUOTE

“We got our ass beat today. Pivotal part of the season. We can move forward or make excuses.” — San Diego LB Jarret Johnson.

WALL-OF-FAME NUMBERS

5 — Different cornerbacks to start for the Jets this season

6-7 — Tom Brady lifetime vs. Denver

6 — Tashaun Gipson interceptions this season

8 — Straight Jets’ losses

9-8 — Combined 2014 record of John and Jim Harbaugh

10 — Straight Washington road losses

12-2 — Carson Palmer in his last 14 starts, including 5-0 this season

110 — Combined passes in the New England-Denver game

1999 — Last time San Diego was shut out (Kansas City)

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