FOXBOROUGH — It didn’t take long for the same problem to resurface, which put Stevan Ridley in the same spot: in the doghouse, and on the bench.
Ridley, who came into Sunday night’s game against the Broncos having lost three fumbles, lost another on the Patriots’ first series, which started a lowlight tape tailor-made for the “Football Follies” put together by NFL Films. Ridley’s was the first of 11 — count ’em, 11 — combined fumbles by the teams, six by the Patriots, who lost three of them, yet still won, 34-31 in overtime.
The Patriots lost fumbles on their first three possessions, a comedy or errors that led to a 17-0 deficit.
Ridley’s latest gaffe started it. On a second-and-3 play from the Broncos’ 40, Ridley was hit by Denver linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who knocked the ball loose. Von Miller scooped the ball up and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown.
Ridley lost a fumble in the season opener against the Bills, which was also returned for a touchdown. He lost a fumble in the home game against the Steelers, but came right back on the next series. But when he lost another fumble, last Monday against the Panthers, Ridley sat for 18 offensive snaps.
This time, he stayed on the bench for the remainder of the game.
Tom Brady was strip-sacked on the Patriots’ next drive, which set up the Broncos at the Patriots’ 10 and led to another touchdown.
LeGarrette Blount fumbled three plays later, his fumble recovered by Danny Trevathan. Denver converted that into a field goal to push the lead to 17-0.
Warm reception for Wes Welker
He was wearing a different uniform, but former Patriots receiver Wes Welker received a warm pregame reception on his return to Gillette Stadium.
As the Broncos took the field before the start of the game, a video tribute to Welker was shown on the stadium scoreboard. After a collection of highlights from Welker’s six seasons spent with the Patriots, a message was shown: “The Kraft family, New England Patriots, and Patriots fans thank Wes Welker for six memorable seasons.”
Welker met briefly with Patriots owner Robert Kraft on the field before the game, and exchanged a handshake with coach Bill Belichick after the Patriots’ win.
He didn’t put up Welker-like numbers, finishing with four catches for 31 yards. He also returned punts for the Broncos, and was on the field when Ryan Allen’s overtime punt hit Tony Carter.
The game’s final turnover was recovered by Nate Ebner, and led to Stephen Gostkowski’s winning field goal.
Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib active
Going up against Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ potent passing game, it figured to be an all-hands-on-deck kind of game for a banged-up Patriots secondary. Anyone healthy enough to play, would.
Come game time, Alfonzo Dennard was surprisingly in the lineup, despite being limited in practice all week after undergoing a minor surgical procedure to his knee, reportedly last weekend, before he missed the Carolina game. Safety Steve Gregory was deemed not healthy enough to play, missing his second straight game with a broken thumb. Gregory also had been limited in practice.
Cornerback Aqib Talib was also active. Talib had missed three games with a hip injury, returned to the lineup last week against Carolina, but then sat for part of the Panthers’ winning drive when his hip tightened on him.
Dennard left the game in the second quarter and did not return.
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (knee injury) was the only player ruled out by the Patriots prior to Sunday. In addition to Gregory, the other five inactives were receiver Josh Boyce, linebacker Steve Beauharnais, defensive end Jake Bequette, offensive lineman Chris Barker, and defensive lineman Marcus Forston. All were healthy scratches.
Those decisions meant that defensive back Justin Green, promoted from the practice squad on Saturday, made his NFL debut. He was part of the defensive rotation, seeing his first action early in the second quarter.
For the Broncos, standout tight end Julius Thomas was inactive because of a knee injury. Thomas, who has 45 catches for 590 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns, missed Wednesday’s practice, was limited on Thursday and Friday, and was listed by the Broncos as questionable. Cornerback Champ Bailey (foot injury) was also inactive.
Killing the clock
The Patriots’ worst quarter of the season — the first, when three fumbles led to 17 Denver points — wasn’t limited to the field. Both the game clock and play clock temporarily malfunctioned, forcing the referees to keep track of both from the field.
Both clocks were working again early in the second quarter.
‘It didn’t work out’
In a wide-ranging interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer, former NFL receiver Chad Johnson (a.k.a. Chad Ochocinco) said that the biggest disappointment from his professional football career was the one season he spent with the Patriots.
Johnson was traded from the Bengals in 2011, but had little, if any, impact on a Patriots team that advanced to the Super Bowl. After averaging 75 catches and 1,078 yards in 10 seasons with the Bengals, Johnson caught just 15 passes for 276 yards and one touchdown for the Patriots.
“That season was supposed to be a heyday,” Johnson told the Enquirer. “I expected to go there and turn it up, but for some reason it didn’t work.”
Super Bowl XLVI (one catch, 21 yards) was the last NFL game played by Johnson, who was cut after the season, by the Patriots, then released by the Dolphins.
It took a while, because the Patriots were shut out in the first half for the first time in almost two years, but Gostkowski set a franchise record by scoring at least 1 point in his 102d consecutive game. He had been tied with Adam Vinatieri and John Smith . . . As part of the Patriots’ “Salute to Service” recognition, the team’s honorary captain was Ed Solder, father of left guard Nate Solder. Ed Solder was a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam . . . Game-time temperature was 22 degrees, with winds at 22 miles per hour. That made for a wind-chill factor at the opening kickoff of 6 degrees . . . Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins started in place of Brandon Spikes, who was limited in practice with a knee injury. Spikes did play, though . . . With Boyce inactive, Devin McCourty was back to receive the Broncos’ initial kickoff in the first quarter, and returned it 22 yards. He returned two more for another 29 yards . . . Marcus Cannon left with an ankle injury on the first-quarter play when Brady was strip-sacked. Will Svitek replaced him at right tackle. Kenbrell Thompkins briefly left the game after catching a third-down pass, but returned . . . Brady’s TD pass to Rob Gronkowski in the third quarter gave the QB 350 for his career, the fifth player to reach that mark . . . According to the Denver Post, Knowshon Moreno (224 yards on 37 carries) was spotted in the visiting locker room on crutches.