DENVER -- From 35,000 feet, it could look like the Broncos took a straight line to their seventh Super Bowl appearance. They started the season 6-0, finished with the league's best record, set an NFL scoring record and had three losses by a combined 16 points, none by more than seven.
But it doesn't take much of a descent in altitude to see the path was anything but, navigating through obstacles like the suspension of
Just one of those three made it back, and for cornerback
“I knew I would come back," said Bailey, who missed 11 games in the regular season. "You might not have known. But I knew I’d be back at some point. My coaches, teammates they never gave up on me. They knew I’d be back to 100 percent at some point."
And Sunday, Bailey was himself. He had a new role, working in the combination outside cornerback/slot cornerback role depending on the personnel grouping that
"Here I am, I’m playing probably my best football of the year because I haven’t played much," Bailey said, with a laugh. "I’m just looking forward to the next one, making sure my body is right for the next game.”
Even with Bailey, the team won't have its intended form; that has been assured for months, since
A look at how the three keys to Sunday's game played out:
1. BE THE AGGRESSOR.
This wasn't about fourth-down decisions, and whether the Broncos opted to go for it or take three points via a
The Broncos took a timeout before the play, which at first seemed a curious move, given that it was their second of the half. But the Broncos changed their personnel, inserted defensive tackle
"We were in a personnel group where we’re a little smaller on the ball. We got a little bigger," said Fox.
Bigger -- and better.
"I wasn’t going to go in at first. (
Perfect execution was of equal importance when the offense went on the attack. With 9:19 left and a 13-point lead, the Broncos turned away from their long-drive tendency of the previous two quarters and sent
2. SOUND TACKLING.
The Broncos flourished in this area, limiting the Patriots' yardage after receptions and preventing running back LeGarrette Blount from getting any downfield momentum.
Blount had been the focal point of the Patriots' offense in their last two wins over the Bills and Colts. But the Broncos' front seven collectively occupied blockers and filled every gap, preventing him from advancing beyond the line of scrimmage. His five carries gained just six yards, and his longest run was a piddling three yards.
As a team, New England had just 16 yards at halftime, and 39 after three quarters. The Broncos had successfully made them one-dimensional, and even a fourth-quarter surge to 25 yards on three carries was inconsequential.
3. MISTAKE-FREE SPECIAL TEAMS.
The only mistakes involved bounces of punts.
But aside from that, the Broncos were clean. Every Matt Prater kickoff was a touchback. Every field-goal attempt sailed between the uprights. No punts or kickoffs were bobbled. No penalties were committed. It wasn't spectacular, but it was the clean game the Broncos' special teams needed.