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Broncos 18, Patriots 12

Broncos upend rusty Cam Newton, Patriots, 18-12, in postponed matchup

Michael Ojemudia takes down the Patriots' Cam Newton in the second half.
Michael Ojemudia takes down the Patriots' Cam Newton in the second half.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

READ MORE | Instant analysis: This loss to the Broncos underscores how few weapons Cam Newton has around him

A ragged start for the Patriots Sunday proved to be too much to overcome, as they were surprised by the Broncos, 18-12, at Gillette Stadium.

New England, which was led by Cam Newton (17-for-25, 157 yards, two INTs, 76 rushing yards) and James White (8 catches, 65 yards), cut an 18-3 fourth-quarter deficit to 18-12, but couldn’t finish the job.

On the other side of the ball, Drew Lock (10-for-24, 189 yards, two INTs) and Brandon McManus (six field goals) carried Denver.

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Over the first three quarters, there were multiple breakdowns from the Patriots. On offense, three turnovers – a pair of picks off tipped balls from Newton and a fumble from Ryan Izzo – forced the New England defense to defend a short field on multiple occasions.

By the same measure, it wasn’t all great for the defense — that group held Denver out of the end zone all day but the Broncos didn’t punt until early in the fourth quarter.

To be fair, the Patriots had to do a lot of shuffling because of injuries. New England started its fourth different offensive line combination in five games, and an early injury (and ineffectiveness) forced more changes as the game went on. And there was the fact that, because of COVID-related issues, the Patriots hadn’t spent a lot of time on the practice field the last 10 days or so.

Whatever the reason, New England struggled out of the gate, particularly on offense. The Patriots, who have yet to score an offensive point in the first quarter all season, trailed 6-0 after one and 9-3 at halftime. The Broncos stretched that lead to 18-3 before a fourth-quarter rally on the part of New England that included a 1-yard touchdown run from Newton fell short when the Patriots turned the ball over on downs with less than a minute to go.

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Here’s how the game unfolded:

3:57 p.m.: That does it -- 18-12, Denver.

3:43 p.m.: Big momentum swing, as Jonathan Jones comes away with an interception of Drew Lock. Back-to-back picks of Lock, and the Patriots are in position to win this game with less than a minute to go. Remarkable.

3:41 p.m.: Newton got up a little gingerly after that third-down scramble, but it set up the 38-yard field goal attempt for Folk. It’s a six-point game with 3:23 to go. This has gone from a disappointing first three quarters to a winnable fourth. The defense has to get a stop or takeaway here, though, for them to have a chance. (Underrated part of this game? A good afternoon from Nick Folk.)

3:38 p.m.: Big defensive play there for J.C. Jackson, who also provided a great return after the pick. A quick score here would set the Patriots up nicely for a possible comeback win.

3:32 p.m.: Really great series there for Newton, which was punctuated by his 1-yard run up the middle. A “jump on my back boys” sort of moment from the quarterback. It’s 18-9 midway through the fourth quarter -- the two-pointer was no good.

3:26 p.m.: Great run there for Newton -- a 37-yarder that might give the Patriots' offense a spark. We’ll see.

3:20 p.m.: Newton is 12-for-16 for 131 yards and two interceptions, while Harris has six carries for 19 yards and James White has four catches for 34 yards. It’s 18-3, Denver, with just over 11 minutes remaining.

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3:05 p.m.: Cam Newton intercepted again, off a tipped ball. Should we go ahead and put the three-pointer on the board for McManus now, or wait a few minutes?

3:00 p.m.: A 54-yarder from Brandon McManus makes it 18-3 with 37 seconds left in the third. Again, this is a New England team playing like it hasn’t spent a whole lot of time on the practice field the last two weeks. Rusty, ragged, and forced to turn to backups is no formula for success. They’ve got to make it two scores over the last quarter. It’s possible, but given what we’ve seen from the offense over the first three quarters, I don’t know how likely it is.

2:56 p.m.: Ryan Izzo fumbles the ball away for New England’s second turnover of the afternoon, and it looks like Denver will take over in Patriots' territory. Another sloppy possession for the New England offense -- the Broncos hold a 15-3 lead with 2:08 left in the third quarter.

2:51 p.m.: Another field goal for the Broncos, and another good news/bad news situation for New England. Holding Denver out of the end zone is a good thing -- after all, 15-3 is better than the alternative. The bad news? The way the Patriots' offense has played for the first two-plus quarters, asking them to break 15 at this point might be too big a hill to climb. Basically, the offensive sluggishness means the New England defense will have to pitch a shutout the rest of the way if the Pats want to have a chance of winning this thing.

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2:41 p.m.: Just an unforgivable sequence there on that third-down pickup for the Broncos. The Bentley sack set up third and 21, but a 35-yard connection from Lock to Patrick gives Denver the first down.

2:40 p.m.: Big blow for the offensive line.

2:34 p.m.: The only way that first drive could have been worse was if the Patriots had turned the ball over. No offensive spark, little protection, no rhythm. That last sack was on Wynn, but the offensive line needs to figure things out in a hurry if the Patriots want to have a chance in this one. The defense will have to respond again here to start the third quarter.

2:20 p.m.: The Broncos lead the Patriots 12-3 at the half in Foxborough. A few stats:

Cam Newton: 9-11, 100 yards, 1 INT

James White: 3 catches, 29 yards

Damien Harris: 5 carries, 16 yards

Drew Lock: 6-14, 114 yards

Phillip Lindsay: 9 carries, 54 yards

Tim Patrick: 2 catches, 58 yards

Brandon McManus: 4 field goals (45, 44, 27, 52)

•The Patriots' offense has not put a single point on the board through the first five games. Sunday against Denver, some of that was clearly due to rust — there were moments where New England looked like a team that hadn’t seen the practice field a whole lot over the last two weeks or so. But the early offensive inefficiency here in the early stages of the season is a bad sign — the defense can only do so much when it comes to keeping the team in games.

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•Speaking of the defense, that group did as well as could be expected for much of the first two quarters, especially after Newton’s tipped ball went for an interception. There’s also the fact that any time you force a team to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown, it’s a good thing. Bottom line: the defense is playing well enough to win, but it’s shouldering too much of the load here in the early going. The complementary football has to be better in the second half for the Patriots.

•This is the definition of a next-man-up contest the rest of the way for New England, as Jermaine Eluemunor and Adam Butler are both questionable to return, forcing the Patriots to rely on the depth at two positions they were already thin at coming into the week. In particular, the offensive line has to figure out scheme and protection going forward. Like we said, some of it is due to the fact that there’s been so little practice time the last two weeks, but there’s also the fact that New England is on its fourth different starting lineup up front in five games. But there’s too much penetration by the Denver defense.

•The special teams has done well, with the highlights coming on a nice kick return from Gunner Olszewski and a 41-yard field goal from Nick Folk.

•The Patriots get the ball to start the second half. Let’s see if they can find an offensive spark to get closer at the start of the third quarter.

2:15 p.m.: A 52-yard field-goal from Brandon McManus makes it 12-3 with 19 seconds left in the first half.

2:00 p.m.: Best play on that drive? Excellent job by Cam Newton to hang in the pocket and nice awareness from Damiere Byrd to come back for the ball on that second-down completion. That helped set up the 41-yarder from Nick Folk -- it’s 9-3 with 5:20 to go in the first half. At the same time, offensive sloppiness (a bad shotgun snap from Thuney) and failure to execute played a role in them settling for three instead of seven. Important that the Patriots get a stop here and try and get some more points on the board before the end of the half.

1:55 p.m.: The Patriots are now forced to rely on their depth along the offensive line and tight end, and (likely) the defensive line. Not a recipe for success, especially with so little practice time over the last 10 days or so.

1:52 p.m.:

1:46 p.m.: You want some good news? Holding teams to field goals is always a positive. Three field goals from Brandon McManus -- the latest coming from 27 yards out -- makes it 9-0 with 12:13 to go in the first half. The defense holds Denver out of the end zone, and New England will get the ball back. Maybe the fact that the Patriots are into the second quarter will mean they’ll collectively arise from their offensive slumber.

1:43 p.m.: One of the great things about the Patriots through the first four games of the season was the fact that they had done well to control the line of scrimmage, on both sides of the ball. They have struggled with that today -- not sure if it’s the fact that had almost no on-field time the last 10 days or so, or Denver’s schemes. But the Broncos are getting the best of them up front. The fact that New England is without Jermaine Eluemunor, and now Adam Butler, went down certainly doesn’t help things.

1:40 p.m.:

1:35 p.m.: It’s 6-0 after one quarter. Good start for the New England defense, but the offensive is stuck. Can’t believe we’re saying this, but the Patriots' offense, through five games, does not have a single first-quarter point.

1:28 p.m.: That last sack of Newton was more about coverage than the offensive line, but the point still holds -- New England is going to have to do a better job figuring out protection and blocking schemes here in the early going if it wants to find some offensive consistency this afternoon.

1:25 p.m.: The Patriots' offensive line is a little leaky here in the early going, as Denver is starting to find some seams and get some penetration. Makes sense, as this is their fourth different starting lineup in five games. But New England is going to have to figure things out up front.

1:20 p.m.: Under the circumstances, a good stop for the New England defense, especially given the field position. McManus delivers his second field goal of a day, a 44-yarder, to make it 6-0 with 8:05 to go in the first quarter. Not sure if it’s a matchup thing or what, but Lock has gone after Jonathan Jones an awful lot in the early going. We’ll see how it plays out the rest of the way.

1:16 p.m.: Great, disruptive play on the part of the Denver defensive linemen to not only tip the ball, but to swoop in and scoop it away. The Broncos force the turnover, and they’ll get the ball deep in New England territory. That early offensive inconsistency on display again for the Patriots.

1:14 p.m.: Patriots defensive starters: Simon, Guy, Butler, Winovich, Jennings, Bentley, Gilmore, J. McCourty, Jones, D. McCourty, Phillips.

Patriots offensive starters: Newton, Harris, Johnson, Harry, Byrd, Izzo, Herron, Wynn, Thuney, Onwenu, Eluemunor.

1:09 p.m.: Eventful first series there for Jonathan Jones -- avoided a DPI, did his part to break up a pass for Jeudy in the end zone. The drive ends with a 45-yard field goal from Brandon McManus, and the Broncos take an early 3-0 lead with 13:02 to go in the opening quarter. The big play was a 43-yard completion to Patrick against Jason McCourty. Let’s see if the Pats answer here -- they are one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to first-quarter scoring, with just seven points in the opening frame through the first four games.

1:01 p.m.: New England wins toss and defers. Time for the foosball!

12:43 p.m.: I like it. You guys are feeling optimistic this afternoon. We’ll see what happens.

12:40 p.m.: As anticipated, another change up front for the Patriots. New England figures to have its fourth different offensive line combination in five games.

12:38 p.m.: If this game was played last week -- without Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore -- this one is almost a toss-up, in my mind. (Of course, the flip side is that if this game was played last week, the Broncos would probably have Brett Rypien under center instead of Drew Lock. Que sera sera.) The bottom line? Both teams probably caught a small break because of the bye, although New England probably benefitted a little more. Ultimately, even though the Patriots will continue to shuffle their offensive line (they won’t have Shaq Mason today), they should still be good to go today. I’m going to say New England 27, Denver 14.

12:20 p.m.

12:15 p.m.:

12:13 p.m.: Spread has stayed pretty much the same over the course of the week, at least when you take a look at most major sports books, but that 7.5-point spread that favors the Patriots looks a lot firmer with both Newton and Gilmore in the lineup. I’d take New England and the points, but just barely. The over/under has stayed in the low 40s, and I’d be inclined to take the under, but just slightly.

11:48 a.m.: We’re going to start to get weather games soon, but not today. According to our pals at weather.com, this is setting up to be a perfect day for football -- highs in the upper 50s to low 60s, no chance for precipitation, and a slight breeze. Good times.

11:39 a.m.:

11:38 a.m.: We’ve got our inactives for today. First, the Patriots:

Defensive lineman Carl Davis: Davis was added late this week, so it’s likely he still needs time to get up to speed.

Defensive back Myles Bryant: Another healthy scratch for Bryant.

Running back J.J. Taylor: The undersized mighty-mite wasn’t on the injured list all week. Given the fact the Patriots will be without Sony Michel today, it’s a curious move. Even so, New England probably feels pretty good about its running back depth, with James White, Rex Burkhead and Damien Harris all active.

Tight end Dalton Keene: The rookie has yet to see the field this season.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer: Not to make this single decision a referendum on the backup quarterback spot, but Hoyer wasn’t on the injured list all week. Given that, as well as the fact that he was yanked in favor of Jarrett Stidham in Kansas City, this could very well signal a changing of the guard behind Cam Newton.

11:27 a.m: Cam Newton is ready to go:

11:15 a.m.: Patriots-Broncos remains one of the more underrated rivalries of the last 20-plus years. I don’t know if it ever got as consistently hot as New England-Indy did from 2003-2007, but for many years, it was always a big contest when the Patriots met Denver. There were plenty of playoff showdowns between 2010 and 2015 — even though New England lost the 2015 AFC title game, the work that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski did in the fourth quarter of that contest remains some of their best ever. I won’t even get into the battles at Mile High the two teams had over the years, or the Ben Watson chasedown of Champ Bailey. (I’ll go to my grave thinking that was a touchback.) There isn’t anything like that at stake today, but it’s still fun to think about those epic battles over the years.

11:00 a.m.: Welcome back to football, everyone! After an unexpected bye week because of multiple COVID-19 tests, the Patriots and Broncos are reportedly ready to go this afternoon, with kickoff looming at 1 p.m. For New England, from an on-field perspective, there’s a level of excitement and relief in getting Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore back. Add in the fact that the Patriots are home, and there’s cause to feel optimistic about their chances this afternoon. Keep it here throughout the day for all the latest updates from Foxborough, weather news (it’s a little chilly today), betting information, inactive anaylsis (which should be along shortly after 11:30 a.m.) and much more. But as usual, we start things with our pregame reading list:

Jim McBride: Three more Patriots placed on COVID-IR, but Sunday game vs. Broncos still on

Nicole Yang: For three Patriots, having wives who are doctors raises the levels of COVID discussions

Tara Sullivan: With COVID-19, the NFL schedule is no longer measured in weeks, but hour to hour

Nicole Yang: Patriots cancel practice, place James Ferentz on COVID-19 list, but Sunday game with Broncos still on

Nicole Yang: Injury, illness force Broncos to leave Noah Fant, Melvin Gordon home

Brandon Chase: Broncos running backs coach Curtis Modkins tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of game vs. Patriots

Ben Volin Sunday Notes: NFL’s approach to COVID-19 testing: better safe than sorry

Chad Finn’s Unconventional Preview: After difficult preparations, Patriots should get an easy win over the Broncos

Christopher Price: A few reasons to be optimistic — and pessimistic — about the 2020 Patriots

Globe Staff NFL Picks for the Week


Christopher Price can be reached at christopher.price@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at cpriceglobe.