DENVER — Disaster was once again looming in the Mile High City.
Locked in a 3-3 rock fight Sunday with the Broncos, their AFC nemesis, the Patriots were on the verge of falling behind as Trevor Siemian was orchestrating a nice drive. The second-year quarterback was mixing in passes and runs, moving his troops to the New England 14.
That’s when Logan Ryan stepped in and put an end to it.
The Patriots cornerback, sliding laterally across the defense as he shadowed Emmanuel Sanders, jumped in front of the Broncos receiver and snatched a Siemian softy at the 7 and raced the other way before being caught at the Denver 46.
It turned the momentum and sparked New England to a 16-3 win, clinching the Patriots’ eighth straight AFC East championship (an NFL record) and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Ryan picked the perfect time to record his first interception of the season. Not only did he silence the sellout crowd of 76,893 at Sports Authority Field, he got to silence his secondary, too.
“It was a long time coming,’’ said Ryan, while simultaneously trying to answer questions and fend off some good-natured ribbing from his teammates. “I was the last one of the group. It didn’t make sense. I was questioning life for a while being the last one [in the secondary] to get [a pick]. But now everything makes sense. They know I’m back in the race.’’
Often lauded by his coaches for his studious ways and physical play, Ryan had a feeling the ball was coming his way.
“[Siemian] threw an out route toward me earlier in the game and it was third down and I just felt like I needed to play the sticks a little bit,’’ said Ryan. “I went with my gut and it paid off.”
The Patriots capitalized on the turnover when Tom Brady, shaking off a miserable first quarter, marched his mates to the end zone, connecting three times with Julian Edelman and once with James Develin as he found a rhythm.
LeGarrette Blount capped the seven-play drive by powering over from the 1-yard line for his franchise record-setting 15th rushing touchdown of the season.
“It just hurts,’’ said Siemian. “Moving the ball really well and don’t get any points to show for it and just give the ball to them. Can’t make that mistake for us.’’
The victory helped avenge a pair of losses here a season ago — including the AFC Championship game — as Brady and a swarming Patriots defense pinned a loss on the reigning Super Bowl champion Broncos.
“This is big for us,’’ said Ryan. “I’ve been here four years and we’ve never won in Denver. How they ended our year last year, this was a personal game for us, I don’t care what anyone says. We wanted to come out here and completely dominate the game and make the quarterback look like a young quarterback.’’
Siemian not only looked young, he looked lost at times. Though he completed 25 of 40 passes for 282 yards, he was under consistent pressure and the Patriots sacked him four times.
“We’re having fun, man. We’re getting after the quarterback. We’re playing great defense. Guys are feeding off each other, we’re joking a lot,’’ said Ryan, part of a defense that forced five straight three-and-outs to start the second half. “So, we’re just having fun playing ball right now. It’s working.’’
Ryan said it felt especially good for the defense to come up with this kind of effort, especially when the offense wasn’t clicking on all cylinders.
“We’re trying to play good ball week in and week out and get the ball back to 12 and let him do what he does,’’ said Ryan.
Other observations as the Patriots improved to 12-2 as they get set for a Christmas Eve date with the Jets.
■ Marcus Cannon was immense.
The right tackle was the driving force behind neutralizing edge rusher Von Miller, who had five tackles but never got a sniff of Brady, who absorbed 20 hits in last year’s title game. Much the way he deflected Miller all day, Cannon deflected praise, too.
“It was a challenge. Those guys are good,’’ said Cannon. “It was a team effort. The tight ends, the way they chip. The backs, the way they chip. My guards helping me. The whole offense line played great together.”
Brady was appreciative. “The pass protection was great,’’ he said.
■ Jonathan Jones continues to make plays on special teams.
The rookie gunner with the blinding speed recovered Jordan Norwood’s muffed punt, leading to the Patriots’ first points, a 45-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
“Ryan [Allen] hung that punt up there pretty good and [Norwood] just misjudged it, fumbled it,’’ said Jones. “Just being in the right place. It was a good jump-start for us. Changed the field position and gave the offense a short field.’’
■ Trey Flowers had two sacks and now has a team-leading seven.
“That kid has no idea how good he is,” said Ryan.
■ The Flying Squirrel was back at it.
Edelman took over punt returning duties and and collected 21 yards — including a 16-yarder — on three attempts and he had three fair catches.
■ Brady bounced back nicely after a historically horrible first quarter.
The quarterback was 0 for 6 in the first 15 minutes, the first time since Week 15 of the 2009 season when he went without a completion in a quarter.
He finished with pedestrian numbers (16 of 32 for 188 yards) but wouldn’t trade those numbers for anything.
“[Winning] is ultimately the most important thing,’’ he said.