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How limited was the Patriots’ offense? Even when gimmick plays worked, they couldn’t take advantage

Julian Edelman had as many completions (two) as he had receptions (two) against the Broncos.
Julian Edelman had as many completions (two) as he had receptions (two) against the Broncos.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

FOXBOROUGH — Desperate times apparently call for desperate measures.

When very little seemed to be working against the Denver Broncos, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels got creative with his play-calling Sunday afternoon. With the Patriots trailing, 18-12, late in the fourth quarter, McDaniels resorted to some good ol' fashioned trickery to generate two of the team’s more successful offensive plays of the game.

On the second play of New England’s final drive, quarterback Cam Newton got the snap and immediately fired a lateral to wide receiver Julian Edelman. Edelman, a former college quarterback, then lofted a throw to running back James White, who took it for 22 yards.

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Later in the drive, with just under 90 seconds remaining, the chicanery returned. This time, Newton handed off to White, who flipped it to Edelman, who threw it back to Newton, who managed to break a tackle and go 16 yards for a first down.

The gimmicks proved to be all for naught, though. After reaching Denver’s 24-yard line, the Patriots turned the ball over on downs with 59 seconds remaining. Game over.

“We got the ball in our hands at the end of the game,” White said. “In our minds, we got to win the football game. We just didn’t make enough plays at the end.”

The gadget plays represented rare moments of excitement on a stagnant day for New England’s offense.

The unit couldn’t seem to get anything going. Newton threw two interceptions. Edelman caught two of his six targets for 8 yards. Tight end Ryan Izzo lost a fumble. Second-year receiver N’Keal Harry had zero catches and was targeted just twice, once on Newton’s pick in the third quarter and again on fourth down of the Patriots’ final play of the game.

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The start of the second half was particularly ugly. The Patriots went three-and-out, next drive Izzo fumbled, third possession Newton threw an interception, and then the team went three-and-out again.

“We just couldn’t put drives together,” White said.

Newton was also sacked four times for a loss of 24 yards. Asked about the amount of time Newton spent in the pocket, coach Bill Belichick said he’ll have to watch the film to see if the problem was a lack of open receivers or a lack of awareness by Newton. The depleted offensive line, which lost starting right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor to an ankle injury, certainly didn’t help the cause, either.

The performance may be partially attributed to the Patriots' lack of practice time. The team has worked out just twice over the past two weeks because of COVID-19 issues. Belichick acknowledged the challenge given the circumstances.

“We need more time together,” Belichick said. “We need to practice together.”

Regardless, the Patriots' offense will have to find a way to regain its rhythm. Relying on trickery doesn’t seem to be the answer.

“The urgency’s been up,” White said. “It just has to keep going up.”

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Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.