Wake up Patriots fans, it’s Christmas and there’s a shiny new present sitting under the tree.
It’s a shocking 26-23 Christmas Eve road win over the Broncos. The Patriots have now won two of their last three games, and Bailey Zappe has improved to 4-2 as an NFL starter after leading his first game-winning drive.
But, the real story here is the slice of redemption sitting on the table for rookie kicker Chad Ryland.
He made his first field-goal attempt of the night from 33 yards out, but things went south quickly for him after that.
He shanked a 47-yarder wide right just before halftime. It wasn’t even close. He missed the entire upright. The ball sailed into the stands. Then, he had an extra-point attempt clang off the upright for another miss.
The struggles weren’t new. Ryland missed the final kick against the Giants. He had a big miss against the Chiefs. He’s 15-for-23 this season, which puts him at 65 percent on the year.
“I’m just working through some process things fundamentally that I know will make me a better kicker,” Ryland said.
But, Ryland came through when it mattered the most on Sunday night. He nailed a 56-yarder right down the middle with two seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to break a 23-23 tie and secure the win for New England.
“Oftentimes, you find the greatest treasure in the darkest caves,” Ryland said. “I’ve obviously been struggling a little bit this year and I was really, really fortunate to be surrounded by a team that believes in me.
“That helped me continue to move forward with my process and then go ahead and knock the last one down with a good snap, protection, and then hold by Bryce [Baringer].”
The Patriots stuck with Ryland through the struggles, and the fourth-round pick delivered a memorable kick just in time for Christmas.
“I’m blessed to be here, as it is,” Ryland said. “From little Lebanon, Pa. to Eastern Michigan, to a year at Maryland and then playing for the Patriots as a rookie place kicker, I couldn’t ask for more of a blessing.”
Ryland had a feeling the kick would go in. So did special teams ace Matthew Slater, whom Ryland called a “prophet” for predicting the game-winner.
As it turned out, a little belief went a long way on the holiday, bringing a sliver of joy near the end of a lost season.
“I didn’t waver in confidence at all because I knew the guys that I had around me still believed in me and had believed in me all year,” Ryland said. “That means more to an athlete, and even more-so a kicker, than I can put into words having that support system in the guys.”
Dominant performance from Barmore
Christian Barmore was dominant from start to finish. He played a crucial role in the Patriots’ goal-line stand on Denver’s first possession of the game.
He had three sacks and a team-high eight tackles. He punished the Broncos’ interior offensive linemen with a combination of speed and power in the run game and the pass rush.
It was a complete performance for the third-year defensive tackle. Although he had already recorded a sack by halftime, Barmore said he took his performance up a notch in the second-half.
“My coach told me ‘hey, turn up’ and I said ‘I got you’. I felt a little sluggish in the first-half, but I said in the second half I had to turn it up. That was my goal.”
Demario Douglas had an explosive catch
Rookie receiver Demario Douglas had one of his best games of the season, hauling in five catches for 74 yards.
He made an acrobatic two-hand catch at the height of his jump, holding onto the ball for a 41-yard gain as he fell backwards early in the third quarter.
He showed his speed on a 13-yard catch on a slant route, and popped back up quickly after a forceful hit.
It was Douglas’s second game back after missing a pair of games with a concussion. The rookie is back, and played well against Denver.
Zappe’s final drive
Bailey Zappe completed 25 of his 33 passing attempts, threw a pair of touchdown passes, and didn’t throw an interception. After fumbling on the first play from scrimmage, he settled in and managed the game well.
With the kind of defense that the Patriots have, it usually doesn’t take much more than that to be competitive.
Zappe went 3-for-3 on the final drive, including a 27-yard completion to DeVante Parker that pushed the Patriots past midfield, before spiking the ball to stop the clock. The accurate performance gave the Patriots just enough time and field-position to give Ryland a shot to win it, and the rookie kicker made it happen.
Play of the day: Zeke’s hurdle
Ezekiel Elliott hurdled a defender and dove into the endzone for the Patriots’ first touchdown. It was a magnificently smooth play, and one of the best ones from Elliott this season.
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