DENVER - It was the Brady Bunch yesterday - four interceptions in the fourth quarter - that contributed to the Patriots’ 31-20 loss to the Broncos.
To blame it all on quarterback Tom Brady would not be fair. Troy Brown and Lawyer Milloy were more than willing to take their share of the blame, and coach Bill Belichick said Brady played well.
When he didn’t play well was in crunch time.
After the Broncos had taken a 24-20 lead with two unanswered scores, Brady needed to rally the troops, and he failed.
“I’m the guy who needs to make those plays,” said Brady, who had four of his last 11 passes intercepted after not being picked off in the first 162 of his career. “No excuses. I’ve just got to get better, and I will.”
Milloy said a breakdown in the secondary occurred when Rod Smith was allowed to cross over the middle, catch a Brian Griese pass at the 40, and then race down the sideline for a 65-yard score, cutting the Patriots’ lead to 20-17 with 10:35 remaining in the third quarter.
“There was miscommunication on the coverage, and that’s inexcusable,” said Milloy. “For Smith to beat us like that, that’s hard to swallow. We were doubling him and I was the safety helping out over the top. It was a quick crossing play and the corner thought I was going to be somewhere else. It’s our job as a defense to put Tom in a stress-free situation and we didn’t do it.”
The Denver defense then started coming hard at Brady. The Broncos sacked him twice on the next series, which was a three-and-out. The Broncos took over at their 20 and marched 80 yards as Griese, again beating out Brady, just like in their University of Michigan days when Griese won the starting job, hooked up with tight end Dwayne Carswell for a 6-yard touchdown with 3:35 left in the third. That gave Denver a 24-20 lead.
The big play on that drive was another Patriots defensive blunder, this one by Matt Stevens, who overpursued tight end Desmond Clark, went past him, and allowed Clark to get off the ground without touching him, making it a 35-yard gain.
“The whistle didn’t blow,” said Belichick. “It was an alert play by them and a not so alert play by us.”
Brady’s first big mistake came when he tried to get the ball to David Patten in the end zone early in the fourth quarter. Brady, under pressure, threw off-balance and Denard Walker picked it off, deflating New England’s spirit after it had driven from its 22 to the Broncos 13.
On the Patriots’ next series, Brady threw from his 49 to the Broncos 19, but Deltha O’Neal was there to pick it off over Patten. And after the defense held the Broncos again, Brady tossed one into no-man’s land, a ball Walker picked off and ran in 39 yards for the final score.
“I take most of the blame for the loss,” said Brown, the intended receiver on the play. “I was out there reading the defensive back and I didn’t get on the same page. He threw it to the outside and I went to the inside. My fault.”
The worst part was that the Patriots had built a 20-10 lead when Adam Vinatieri hit a 44-yard field goal after a Stevens interception early in the third quarter. Another win was in the offing, but the Patriots blundered it away.
The Patriots scored on Vinatieri’s 24-yard field goal on their first drive of the game. Brady made some decent throws under pressure, but the big plays were a 31-yard reverse by Brown, who took the handoff, ran right, then cut nicely to the inside all the way to the Broncos’ 13. The Broncos forced the field goal after Antowain Smith was cut down for a 2-yard loss at the 7.
The Patriots continued to take the crowd out of the game. After the defense forced the Broncos to go three-and-out on their first series, New England took over at its 31.
Brady, feeling pressure, stepped up and found a wide-open Brown on the right side. The Broncos seemed confused and compounded the gain with a facemask penalty, adding 15 yards to the 18-yard gain.
The Patriots advanced it to the 30 when Brady waited for Patten to break into daylight beyond O’Neal. Brady drilled a bullet into Patten’s hands in the end zone, giving the Patriots a 10-0 lead in the first.
With Griese hearing some boos, Willie McGinest chased him down for a 2-yard sack on the Broncos’ next possession. But Griese was not deterred. He found Rod Smith on the right sideline, with separation on Otis Smith, for a 47-yard gain to the Patriots 35.
After a Broncos touchdown was called back because of an offside, Denver kept its poise, as Griese hit Clark on a 20-yard pass, a nice comeback by Clark. Mike Anderson then stormed up the middle from 8 yards for the score, pulling the Broncos within 3 with 57 seconds left in the first.
The Patriots then tried to repeat their trickery, which worked so well against the Colts, once too often.
With the Patriots moving the ball early in the second quarter, from their 24 to the Broncos 35, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis trotted out the old double pass, which got the Patriots a touchdown last week. But this time Patten’s attempt, intended for Charles Johnson, was short, and the ball was picked off by safety Eric Brown at the 2. The Broncos turned that mistake into a 50-yard field goal by Jason Elam with 4:03 left in the second to tie it.
The action-packed half was far from over. Tedy Bruschi intercepted a Griese pass off the hands of Clark, and advanced the ball 3 yards before he lost it. It appeared Griese recovered, but he lost it as well, near his legs. Bryan Cox wrestled it away at the Broncos 32, then Griese got angry and punched Cox, drawing 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.
It then seemed the Broncos forgot Brown was on the field. After he caught a 9-yard pass, two defenders let him go to the back of the end zone, where Brady easily hit him with a 4-yard pass for the go-ahead score with 1:21 left.
Brady had a 137.2 quarterback rating in the first half. By game’s end it was 57.1. Unfortunately, in the NFL there are no reruns.