DENVER - The good folk of the Mile High City yesterday boasted of a team still alive in the Major League Baseball playoffs and a surprising squad still among the undefeated in the National Football League. Sadly, Bostonians were unable to make the same claim after the Angels swept the Red Sox in three games and the Broncos handed the Patriots a 20-17 overtime loss and a ticket back to Beantown.
In a game that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the American Football League - Denver beat the Boston Patriots, 13-10, at BU Field Sept. 9, 1960 in the league’s first game - the Patriots failed to pin their third opponent in as many weeks with its first loss of the season.
New England (3-2) squandered leads of 10-0 and 17-7 in the first half, went scoreless in the second half after their last three possessions resulted in a punt, a punt, and a Tom Brady fumble, and allowed the Broncos to tie the game on a 12-play, 98-yard drive with 5:21 left. It resulted in a loss that was as unsightly as the Broncos’ god-awful brown-and-gold throwback uniforms.
“Poor execution is what it comes down to,” said Brady, who completed 19 of 33 passes for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns but was outdueled by Kyle Orton, who completed 35 of 48 passes for 330 yards and threw a pair of 11-yard TD passes to Brandon Marshall that capped drives of 90 and 98 yards.
“There were plays to be made all day and we didn’t make them,” Brady said. “We just didn’t execute well.”
Denver kicker Matt Prater, who missed an earlier attempt of 48 yards wide right, converted a 41-yard field goal to cap an 11-play, 58-yard drive with 10:09 remaining in OT to help the Broncos improve to 5-0 under first-year coach Josh McDaniels, who led the euphoric celebration that erupted among the crowd of 76,011 at Invesco Field.
“Obviously that was a tough loss for us,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “Like a lot of games in this league, it came down to a few plays and they made more plays than we did. We have to give them credit. That’s a good football team. Josh has done a really good job with them, and they made a few more plays than we did. Really, that is about all you can say.”
All week long, McDaniels, the former Patriots offensive coordinator, tried to downplay the matchup with his mentor, Belichick, as just another game. But in the postgame news conference McDaniels admitted, “I lied.”
It was clearly more than just another game to McDaniels and the seven ex-Patriots (expatriates?) he brought with him from Foxborough.
“It was a little bit more special to me because I knew how hard it would be to beat them,” said McDaniels, who indicated he and Belichick agreed to shake hands before the game and eschew any postgame meeting to avoid a circus-like scene. “They don’t beat themselves.”
In the first half, that seemed to be the case when the Patriots took a 7-0 lead on Brady’s 8-yard strike to a lunging Wes Welker, capping a seven-play, 62-yard drive highlighted by Sammy Morris’s 35-yard gain on a screen pass. Jerod Mayo, returning to action after spraining his right knee in the season-opening win over the Bills, made a ball-jarring hit on Knowshon Moreno that Brandon McGowan recovered at the Broncos 43.
McDaniels lost his challenge of the play, giving the Patriots possession inside Denver territory.
After Brady badly overthrew a wide-open Randy Moss on a corner route in the end zone, the Patriots were forced to settle for a 10-0 lead when Stephen Gostkowski converted a career-long 53-yard field goal with 3:51 left in the first quarter.
Orton, whose 48 attempts and 72.9 percent completion percentage represented career highs, got the Broncos on the board when he found Marshall (eight catches, 64 yards) with an 11-yard TD pass. It culminated a 10-play, 90-yard drive with 4:31 left that got off to a flawed start when Rob Ninkovich sacked Orton for a 3-yard loss.
“He’s playing well,” Brady said of Orton. “He made all the throws they needed today. I could see what they were doing on every play. I could basically call the plays. He was making the right reads and he was very accurate.”
After the Patriots took a 17-7 lead on Brady’s 7-yard pass to tight end Ben Watson with five seconds left before intermission, Orton’s only blemish came when he threw his first interception of the season, snapping a streak of 173 attempts without a pick. Moss, who was deployed as an extra pair of hands in a prevent defense, came up with the first interception of his career when he picked Orton’s Hail Mary heave as the half expired.
“I thought he played really well and hung in there,” McDaniels said of his QB. “He made a bunch of key third-down throws late in the second half, stood in there, took some hits, but read the coverage.”
Prater atoned for his errant 48-yard attempt with a 24-yard field goal that pulled the Broncos within 17-10 with 7:22 left in the third. Former Patriot Jabar Gaffney kept the 12-play, 66-yard drive alive when he made a 14-yard catch after coming down with a deflection by McGowan.
Gostkowski missed on the Patriots’ only scoring chance of the second half when a 40-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
On the Patriots’ ensuing drive, the offense marched 44 yards from its 4 only to stall at the 48 after the drive had been sustained by a pair of gaffes by Denver’s special teams: a roughing-the-kicker call against Darrell Reid and a neutral zone infraction by Richard Quinn. To make matters worse, the Patriots lost left tackle Matt Light on the sixth play of the drive when he injured his right knee. It was the second week in a row the team saw an offensive starter hobble off the field in the fourth quarter after Fred Taylor injured his ankle last week against Baltimore.
On Denver’s tying 98-yard march, Orton connected with Royal three times for 30 yards, hit Moreno with a screen toss that went for 27 yards, and, after Brandon Meriweather was penalized for taunting Royal on a second-and-9 incompletion, hit Marshall with another 11-yard TD pass.
Both teams exchanged possessions twice in the final five minutes. The Patriots punted and turned it over on their last two possessions, the second time when Vonnie Holliday strip-sacked Brady and Elvis Dumervil recovered. The Patriots never touched the ball again after losing the coin toss and, eventually, the game to the Broncos in OT.
“I think they’re a well-coached team,” Brady said of the Broncos. “Offensively, they really played well and really played well on third down, it seemed. As an offense, we left our defense out to dry. We didn’t convert and they were on the field too long and any time you do that against a good offense, they’re going to move the ball just because the defense gets worn down.
“It wasn’t a very complementary game by us.”