David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB
David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB

‘One of Those Moments You Prepare for All Week’

No Von Miller? No Chris Harris? No problem. The Broncos relied on linebacker Danny Trevathan and nosetackle Terrance Knighton—wait, who?—to make the crucial stops in the AFC title game

By
Robert Klemko
· More from Robert·

You’d think at this point of the season, with 17 games on film, there’s not much the Broncos could throw at the Patriots that would be new.

But you’d be dead wrong.

How about stacking the box early against Tom Brady like he’s Christian Ponder, daring him to throw against a Cover 1 shell at midfield? Yeah, that’s pretty original.

“Sometimes you have to be crazy,” Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan said, “switch it up, make them think they’re going to get one thing and give them another.”

With outside linebacker Von Miller out for the season and top cornerback Chris Harris down, too, many expected the Broncos to back off, to minimize the Brady effect by supporting backup corner Tony Carter while daring running back LeGarrette Blount to beat them. Instead, they went after Blount and Brady with a cast of little-known rushers and won the AFC title, 26-16.

A defense without its top two players didn’t just beat an offense led by one of the best quarterbacks of his generation; it dominated. New England’s first three drives ended with punts, and its first six drives spanning three quarters netted 155 yards. Granted, Brady could have made it close if two of his errant deep balls hadn’t missed their targets, but there was something special about the Broncos defense—something unexpected even by those in the home locker room at Mile High.

Trevathan puts a punishing hit on Vereen. (John W. McDonough/Sports Illustarted/The MMQB)
Trevathan puts a punishing hit on Vereen. (John W. McDonough/Sports Illustarted/The MMQB)

“If at the beginning of the season you had said we’d have our best defensive game of the season without Chris Harris and Von Miller, I would’ve slapped you,” Broncos safety Duke Ihenacho said. “But we’ve got depth on this team, [backups] who would start in other places.”

Perhaps no player better illustrates that depth than Trevathan, and none embodies the element of surprise better than defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. They made two of the most important plays of the season during a pivotal defensive stretch.

With just under three minutes left in the third quarter and Denver up, 20-3, Brady dropped back on 3rd-and-2 and located running back Shane Vereen tip-toeing across the middle. The throw was perfect, and the catch and first down seemed complete until Trevathan came crashing down from his weakside linebacker spot to separate Vereen from the ball. It was a moment of triumph for the undersized 23-year-old linebacker who started the season as backup and took offense to the popular media opinion that the Patriots would make the AFC Championship Game a shootout (the Vegas over/under: 57.5).

“I usually don’t even watch that media stuff, but this time I took heed to it,” said Trevathan, whose team-high eight tackles were key in holding New England to 64 rushing yards. “I took it as a personal challenge. I showed the D-line and the linebackers in the locker room on Wednesday on my phone. I said we needed to step up.”

For all his Internet savvy, Trevathan was unaware until after the game that he and Tom Brady were the only former sixth-rounders on the field at the start of the game, though he did recognize the significance.

“We were both out there trying to do our thing,” Trevathan said. “He didn’t get drafted high for whatever reason, and I worked out poorly because I hurt my groin. We both came into this league with a chip. I have the mentality that every team that passed on me is going to pay for it.”

A play after Trevathan’s pass breakup, on 4th-and-2, big-bodied nosetackle Terrance Knighton came up with the most shocking play of the day. Lined up on Pro Bowler Logan Mankins, he recognized the formation and the situation and surmised that the Patriots would pass instead of hand off to Shane Vereen in the backfield. The 27-year-old, who is listed at 335 pounds, opted out of his traditional gap-occupying technique and swim-moved past Mankins, catching Brady off-guard for a drive-ending sack.

“I watch a lot of film, probably more than most of the guys besides [defensive end] Shaun Phillips,” Knighton said. “I saw the formation they were in, which I’ve seen all week. I put myself in that position all week, thinking about how I was going to beat Mankins.”

Knighton, who lost 25 pounds in three weeks after showing up to training camp overweight—he says he shed the weight by “eating more greens”—is as loquacious as any player in Denver’s locker room. He spent 20 minutes chatting with reporters before retreating to the showers and emerging with a too-small towel covering just a fraction of his torso. He was happy to explain how he bested New England’s top lineman by reputation.

“Just knowing he’s aggressive and wants to get his hands on you,” Knighton said. “It’s just one of those moments you prepare for all week.”

It’s a moment the Patriots couldn’t have prepared for, which in the age of Belichick in Brady, is really saying something.

mmqb-end-slug-square

11 comments
rgrandchamp
rgrandchamp

Trevathan is not a "depth" player for Denver and wasn't a backup to start the year.  He started all 16 games and has been an impact player for them since he stepped on the field as a rookie in 2012.  Knighton has also been a key contributor especially in run defense.   These guys have been making key plays all season.


While it's nice to see these guys getting some publicity for a change, the misrepresentation of their impact on the team is a perfect example of just how ignorant the "popular media opinion" of this team is.  Now that they're in the Super Bowl, the national media will be scrambling to cover a team they typically know little about aside from Peyton Manning. 

Matthew3
Matthew3

Uh, are we forgetting something?  The Pats lost its two interior run-stuffers Wilfork and Kelley.  They lost their all-pro linebacker and top tacklers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes.  They lost their top corner for the game in the second quarter (Talib), which seemed to be their breaking point as 23 of the Broncos 26 points followed.  And of course we all know on offense they lost their two-headed tight end attack in Gronk & Hernandez.  And they lost Welker (to defection) and Deion Branch & Brandon Lloyd (to attrition).  A 26-16 loss in Denver in the AFC Championship Game is a scary decent outcome for a team with such personnel crisis.  Broncos be not proud.  

Rocksteady1986
Rocksteady1986

@Matthew3 Patriots fans are perhaps the most narcissistic group of fans in the NFL.  The Broncos' injuries and offseason issues have been well documented.  New England's ignorance of them is a reflection of an uninformed fanbase; it is not a reflection of a lack of significance.

What are Pats fans expecting?  For the Broncos to apologize for beating a team with injuries?  Should they apologize for being a more desirable destination for Welker than New England?  Should they apologize that players get old?  

"Poor Patriots.  Sorry your tight end was convicted of double homicide.  Sorry your best cornerback can't fend for himself against a 5'9" concussed wideout.  Sorry your head coach alienated that wideout to the point to where he would take less money to get out.  Sorry that same coach did nothing to attempt to fill those gaps with better players.  We concede the big game to you."


Denver overcame their obstacles.  New England did not.  That is why Denver is in the Super Bowl and New England is not.

amilian
amilian

@Matthew3Please don´t make any excuses the Patriots lost to the better Team on the road and for the first time this year they lost by more then 4 points, to be honest the Broncos should have scored 40 on them like they did all this year, but the Patriots are very resilient and proud team and their Defense stiffened in the Red Zone congrats to them, but don´t excuse them on the injuries they had, they needed to work with their available talent and patch up things like the Broncos did along the way... Now on to the Super Bowl and the Seahawks

CMFJ
CMFJ

@Matthew3 


Why are the Patriot's inability to assemble a talented roster a badge of pride for Patriots fans today?  


The Broncos lost just as many key players over the course of season.  Miller and Clady are among the top 3 at their position.  They lost CB Chris Harris, rated in the top 5 of cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus, and FS Rahim Moore, who had played >95% of the snaps for the Broncos over the past two years.  They lost DT Vickerson and DL Derek Wolfe, who both were mainstays in the defense last year.  They lost Elvis Dumervil to a malfunctioning FAX.  So basically 6 projected starters.  More than half their defense.  However, the Broncos actually had capable guys to replace them.  



UpperDecker87
UpperDecker87

Uh Matthew, are you forgetting something.  The Broncos lost two starting defensive linemen Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson.  They we're without starting cornerback Chris Harris and starting safety Rahim Moore.  And they we're without All-Pro Linebacker Von Miller, who was a one man wrecking ball in the 1st half against the Patriots in the first game.  Our offensive line was without All Pro left tackle Ryan Clady, and our top two centers going into training camp, Dan Koppen and J.D. Walton.  Everyone has injuries.  Sure, Manning had a full array of weapons, but the fact is that Tom Brady failed to rise to the occasion against a supposedly mediocre Denver defense that was missing 5 starters, including the second best defender in the NFL last year.

sitefix
sitefix

@CMFJ@Matthew3No they didn't. You can't even compare what New England lost to what the Broncos lost. How much different is their offense from last year? Oh, right, even better. The losses on the offensive line were canceled out by the loss of virtually the entire core of the Pats defense. Rahim Moore? Yeah, wasn't he standing there last year when the Ravens tied the score in the last seconds of the divisional round game? That being said, the Pats still held the best offense in football history to 2 touchdowns and 4 field goals. The Pats offense is what didn't rise to the occasion, Brady sucked and they abandoned the run game far too early. And yeah, the Broncos defense is so awesome that they could stop an offense with half of the starters as rookies.

badflounder
badflounder

@sitefix @CMFJ @Matthew3 Oh and another thing...I didn't see idiots like you pointing out the fact that your Pats only came back on Denver because DRC was injured on the last play of the first half.  Anyone with a decent football IQ knows that comeback very likely doesn't happen if he doesn't get hurt.  Funny I didn't see any of you guys pointing that out?  That was just a great comeback by a resilient team right?  haha.  Injuries happen...Denver couldn't deal with DRC's loss that night, and your Pats couldn't when losing Talib.  Deal.

badflounder
badflounder

@sitefix @CMFJ @Matthew3 Ah sitefix....fans like you are the reason people enjoy watching the Pats lose so much.  Anyone with half a brain knows the Broncos lost just as much to injury, and you could even argue more when talking about the left tackle and pass rushing losses.  Next man up...your team couldn't do that...stop crying about it and give credit where it is due.  Oh that's right...you can't.

Rocksteady1986
Rocksteady1986

@sitefix @CMFJ @Matthew3 I wasn't aware the 2013 Broncos were playing the 2012 Pats.  My bad.  Sorry we improved our offense.  


It's really not the fans' fault our third stringer center, our backup left tackle, our backup guard, three of our backup linebackers, and our backup safety to begin the season were actually really damn good.


Maybe you should make it the 2007 Pats instead.  I hear they were pretty good.


If we're going to play that game though, I'll take the 1998 Broncos fused with the 2013 Broncos vs the 1990 Patriots.

Rosters change from year to year and game to game.  It happens due to old age, free agency, and injuries, but it's what happens.

We won, you lost.  We won because we were the better, more talented team.  I know Pats fans aren't used to it, but it happens.  Pats fans have never apologized to anyone for their team being better or for the other team having injuries.  Expecting to hear it from us is hypocritical.  No one feels sorry for you.  Actually, most fanbases really hate yours.  Both teams had injuries.  Our team became better.  Your team became worse.  That's why we're watching our team in the Super Bowl, and you're trying to somehow make excuses or rationalize the loss.

anon76
anon76

@sitefix @CMFJ @Matthew3  


"the Pats still held the best offense in football history to 2 touchdowns and 4 field goals."  

Yes, they "held" the Broncos to 6 scores on 7 possessions.  Cold comfort, that.


"And yeah, the Broncos defense is so awesome that they could stop an offense with half of the starters as rookie."

The Patriots starters won 13 times in 18 attempts this year.  They gained the 7th most yards in the league, scored the 3rd most points, and they made it to the AFC championship game.  At that point, the "but our starters are all rookies" excuse no longer flies.

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