Despondent Patriots fans watched in near-silence on Sunday at a Boston sports bar as the final seconds ticked away on their beloved team’s wrenching 26-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game.
Scores of rooters stared up at the flat screens that had broadcast the game at the Cask ’n Flagon near Fenway Park, expressing sadness and frustration over the Patriots’ second-straight loss in a conference title matchup, their hopes for a Super Bowl appearance once again dashed.
“I mean, it’s only a -point deficit,” said Jillian Cummins, 29, who wore a foam hat bearing the Patriots’ insignia, the so-called Flying Elvis. “They should have been able to overcome this.”
Cummins was referring to a string of comeback victories the Patriots had pulled off en route to a 12-4 regular-season record. The storied franchise had managed to keep winning despite injuries to several key starters and the off-season arrest of one of their offensive standouts, tight end Aaron Hernandez, on murder and weapons charges. He was immediately released by the team.
A friend of Cummins’s, Ryan Scharfenberger, 29, pounded on a table when asked for his initial reaction to the loss.
Scharfenberger, who wore a Patriots T-shirt, then collected himself and said the Patriots fared well during the season, considering all of the setbacks.
“But I also think it’s really sad, given the expectations of the team,” he said.
And while most patrons at the bar shared Scharfenberger’s view, there were a couple of jubilant outliers sporting the orange-and-blue of the rival.
“I’m feeling amazing,” said Abby Farrand, 26, a Brighton resident who grew up in Denver and made the bold decision to wear a Broncos T-shirt in enemy territory. “Really excited about going back to the Super Bowl, and it’s great that we’re here cheering against Patriots fans.”
Her roommate, Joanne White, 26, also hails from Denver and wore a long-sleeve Broncos shirt. She proudly gave off a “Mile High Salute,” a military-style salute given by Broncos fans and teammates in celebration.
“So excited, we’re going back to the Super Bowl,” White said. “I couldn’t be prouder of Peyton Manning. We couldn’t be happier to see [Patriots quarterback Tom] Brady go down.”
The hype surrounding the matchup between Brady and Manning, the Broncos quarterback who previously starred for the Indianapolis Colts and has squared off repeatedly against the New England signal-caller, had reached a fever pitch in the days leading up to Sunday’s game.
Both players are a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame when their careers end, and Brady’s teams had won most of the prior games against Manning’s Colts and Broncos, including a thrilling overtime victory in November at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
Sunday’s result means Mayor Martin J. Walsh lost the wager made with Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, so Walsh must, among other things, wear a Broncos jersey during the US Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C.
After Manning prevailed on Sunday, one Patriots fan placed most of the blame on the Patriots’ defense, rather than Brady.
“I don’t know what adjustments they made” in the second half, said Dave Charton, 34, of Boston, who wore the jersey of retired Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi. “The problem was that the defense didn’t get any stops.”
His friend, Meyer Goldberg, 40, of Hingham wore the jersey of Patriots receiver Julian Edelman and had a different take on the loss.
“I think that the whole problem was on the offense,” he said. “The offense didn’t lead. They left the defense in poor field position.”
Still, Charton conceded that with Sunday’s victory, it remained an open question whether Brady, who was won three Super Bowls, or Manning, who took home one title with Indianapolis, would go down in history as the better quarterback.
“I think it cements that it’s actually a debate,” Charton said. “You can’t go against the numbers today. He [Manning] was sharper.”
Asked if he would be rooting against Manning in the Super Bowl in two weeks, Charton said without hesitation, “hundred percent.”Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.