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The Patriots’ defense was good, but to get a win against the Broncos, it needed to be great

Jonathan Jones's interception in the fourth quarter gave the Patriots the ball back with a chance to win the game.Matthew J. Lee/Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

The statement was probably true, but Stephon Gilmore didn’t want to hear that the Patriots' defense did enough to beat the Broncos on Sunday.

“We could’ve made more plays, so that’s how I look at it,” Gilmore said following an 18-12 loss. “We win as a team and we lose as a team, and we lost today.”

The Patriots may have taken the “L,” but it wasn’t really on the defense. The Patriots held the Broncos to just 299 total yards, and kept them out of the end zone all day, limiting Denver to six Brandon McManus field goals.


That had always been a recipe for success with Bill Belichick’s team, until Sunday. The Patriots had been 39-0 under Belichick, including postseason, when keeping the opponent out of the end zone.

But Cam Newton and the Patriots' offense struggled behind a makeshift offensive line, committing three turnovers and struggling to move the ball consistently. Now the Patriots are 39-1.

“The defense gave us opportunities by holding them to field goals,” Newton said. “That’s what we can only ask for as an offense. We just let this game slip away by the lackluster performance of protecting the football.”

The final stats look great for the Patriots' defense. They held the Broncos to 4-of-14 on third down, shut them down twice in the red zone, and held the Broncos to one first down over their final six drives. The Patriots also intercepted Drew Lock twice in the fourth quarter to give the offense a chance to win.

This was the third straight game that the Patriots' defense showed improvement. After getting shredded by Seattle and Russell Wilson in Week 2, the Patriots forced three turnovers in a big win over the Raiders, limited the Chiefs to just 323 yards in a tough loss without Newton, then kept the Broncos out of the end zone on Sunday.


But much like the offense, the Patriots' defense didn’t truly come alive until the fourth quarter. The defense never broke, but it bent a little too much as the Broncos built an 18-3 lead.

The Broncos kicked a field goal on each of their first six drives. The Patriots didn’t force a punt until about 14 minutes remained in the fourth quarter. Nor did they force a turnover until 5:15 was left in the game. The six field goals were the most ever against the Patriots in the Belichick era, and tied the Patriots' franchise record set by the Dolphins in 1999.

“There were some decent things out there today, but we let them into the red area too many times defensively, gave up too many long plays and let them get into field goal range,” Belichick said. “It’s always good to keep them out of the end zone, that’s definitely the goal. But they scored more points than we did, so we need to play better defense and give up fewer and try to score more.”

The Broncos were able to control the ball and burn off some valuable clock in the second quarter, with field goal drives of 5:54, 5:01, and 9:07. The Patriots' run defense was pushed around for much of the day, with the Broncos' running backs combining for 136 yards on 4.3 yards per carry, including 101 yards by Phillip Lindsay.


And the Broncos hit a couple of big shots ― a 41-yard pass down the sideline to Tim Patrick, a 35-yarder to Patrick on third-and-21, and a 27-yarder to rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who also let two sure touchdowns fly through his hands. The Broncos clearly liked their height advantage over the Patriots' cornerbacks, and picked on Jason McCourty a couple of times.

“We gave up a couple deep balls, a couple runs broke out. It’s the little things,” safety Devin McCourty said. “And that’s something that has to change right away. It’s not like we have these huge holes on our team, we just have to play more consistent.”

But the Patriots' pass defense was effective against Lock. He completed just 10-of-24 passes for 189 yards, with 103 of those yards coming on three completions. Lock had a miscommunication with Patrick midway through the fourth quarter that led to an interception for J.C. Jackson, and Lock’s next pass on the following possession was intercepted by Jonathan Jones, giving the Patriots a chance to win it at the end.

“That is what we expect every week, to come and out and keep fighting,” Gilmore said. “It is not going to be perfect, but we are going to make plays and keep fighting. We are going to try and get the ball back to our offense and make plays.”

The Patriots' lack of practice time the last two weeks certainly didn’t help matters. Because of COVID-19 infecting five players, the Patriots spent most of the last two weeks working virtually, and only met for two practices.


Belichick was not pleased with the sloppy performance.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to practice this week. We certainly need it,” he said.

But his players didn’t want to use the lack of practice time as an excuse.

“Practice is obviously important but it’s no excuse,” Gilmore said. “We’re professional athletes. Whatever adversity we hit we have to go out and be able to compete and make plays.”

The Patriots' defense definitely made big plays on Sunday. But the bottom line is the Patriots are 2-3, and the defense hasn’t done quite enough to pull out victories.

“Sense of urgency definitely has to be there,” Devin McCourty said. “It wasn’t all bad today, but we definitely just have to get going, make more plays. We’ve got to find ways to win games, and we’ve got to do it right away.”

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Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.