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On Zoom calls instead of practice field, Patriots' timing way off in loss to Broncos, and other observations

Cam Newton can't get a pass off as the Broncos' Anthony Chickillo dishes up a sack in the first quarter.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

FOXBOROUGH — Brandon McManus had just a bit more juice in his legs than Cam Newton Sunday afternoon.

The Broncos kicker went 6 for 6 on field goals and his teammates held off a furious Newton-fueled, fourth-quarter Patriots rally to post an 18-12 win at Gillette Stadium.

New England (2-3) trailed, 18-3, with just under nine minutes remaining before putting up 9 straight points — including the game’s only touchdown — and were within striking distance to pull off the comeback.

Utilizing Newton’s arm, legs and hands, and a couple of completions from Julian Edelman, the Patriots drove to the Broncos’ 24 before Newton’s final pass on fourth down was wide right of intended target, N’Keal Harry.


“Well, we didn’t execute the way we’re supposed to and that’s a lot,” Newton said of the last play. “That was contingent upon me. I knew I was going to get hit. So, I just tried to find a spot to give him so he could make a play on it. There was a defender on the interior part stealing the field, so I still tried to give him an opportunity. So that’s what it came down to.”

The game appeared out of hand when the Patriots went three-and-out on their first possession of the fourth quarter as James White was stopped short on third-and-3 at the New England 17. Or was he? Replays appeared to show White crashing the yellow line that would have prolonged the march.

“I thought I had it, but the refs made the call,” White said.

That’s when the fun started.

After forcing a Denver punt, Newton drove the Patriots 65 yards in just five snaps — with his 38-yard scramble the signature play. The quarterback capped it with a 1-yard plunge that was reversed on replay and cut the Patriots’ deficit to 18-9 after Newton was stoned on a 2-point conversion rush.


The Broncos gave it back just over a minute later when J.C. Jackson snagged a deep Drew Lock sideline ball intended for Tim Patrick and returned it to the Denver 25-yard line.

Bill Belichick signals to J.C. Jackson to head to the end zone after Jackson intercepted a Drew Lock pass in the fourth quarter.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Patriots lost 7 yards on the first two plays before a Newton 12-yard scramble saved them and set up Nick Folk’s 38-yard field goal cutting it to 18-12 with 3:27 left.

Lock again gave it back immediately, throwing a first-down pick to Jonathan Jones on another deep ball intended for Patrick.

Josh McDaniels reached into his bags of tricks and pulled out a couple of Edelman rabbits — the former QB completed passes to White for 22 yards and another to Newton for 16 to keep the drive alive until the fun ended at the 24.

The lack of practice over the last two weeks was evident as Newton’s timing was a hair off most of the day.

Newton (17 of 25, 157 yards, 2 interceptions, 4 sacks) did not have a lot of pocket time as the Broncos (2-3) were able to generate pressure on a New England offensive line that had several starters missing and several others playing out of position.

“Without a doubt … the time off showed,” said Newton, who rushed 10 times for team-high 76 yards. “But we’re still professionals. We’re still expected to perform at a high level. We still had an opportunity to win.”

Here are some other observations as the Patriots fell to 2-3 with another home game up next against Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers.


▪ The red menace

While the Patriots’ defense stiffened in the red zone, the offense couldn’t make its way into that desired chunk of football real estate through the first three quarters and it cost them dearly.

Although Denver could only generate field goals, New England couldn’t produce anything until the fourth quarter.

▪ Giveaway days

Newton was intercepted on New England’s opening drive and then again at the end of the third quarter. Both picks came on deflected balls as the Broncos got their arms up at the line, knowing Newton’s arm angle.

“Those guys get paid too. They watch film just like we watch film, and that was just headsy plays by those guys of seeing an opportunity and making the most of it,” said Newton.

Ryan Izzo’s fumble also short-circuited a promising third-quarter drive.

“Those are drive killers and game killers,” Newton said of the turnovers.

▪ Lack of targets

Edelman (2 catches for 8 yards on 6 targets) and Harry (0 catches, 2 targets) came in tied for the team lead with 18 receptions but had little impact.

Isaiah Zuber (16 yards), Damien Harris (14), and Newton (16) had more receiving yards. Receivers Gunner Olszewski and Jakobi Meyers had zero offensive snaps.

Newton said his confidence level in his pass catchers remains "extremely high.''

▪ Flags weren’t flying

The Patriots were flagged for just one penalty — a remarkable feat for a team that had just two practices in the last two weeks.


They rebounded after a holding call on Stephon Gilmore, too, keeping the Broncos out of the end zone despite facing first and goal at the 4 in the third quarter.

More Patriots coverage

Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.