You Can Thank the Denver Broncos for Preventing a New England Patriots Threepeat

It's bad, but it could have been much worse if not for the orange and blue.

The New England Patriots' reign of terror has effectively spanned the entirety of the new millennium. 

They first crept their way into relevance disguised as a gang of lovable, misfit underdogs who simply willed themselves into the Super Bowl despite losing their starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe on an infamous hit leveled by Mo Lewis of the New York Jets.

Led by Tom Brady and a small-ball offensive philosophy to complement a tremendous defense, the Patriots upset the artists previously known as the St. Louis Rams with a game-winning field goal from Adam Vinatieri to win Super Bowl XXXVI.

Two years later and the Patriots were now the favorites as they finished off the ragtag Carolina Panthers with another game-winning field goal from Vinatieri (set up by a kickoff that sailed out of bounds).

Then, against the Philadelphia Eagles, they repeated to make it three out of four.

Fast forward to the next decade, the Pats had yet to hoist the Lombardi trophy since beating Philadelphia, and let two chances slip away from them at the hands (sometimes literally, in the case of Asante Samuel) of the New York Giants. One that would have made them a perfect 19-0 in 2007, and again in 2011 after the passing of owner Robert Kraft's wife, Myra.

It looked like it would be a third heartbreak for the Patriots, and celebration for most outside of New England, when Russell Wilson drove the Seattle Seahawks down to the goal line with a chance to win in the final minute of Super Bowl XLIX.

Inexplicably, the Seahawks infamously dialed up a pass, ignoring one of the NFL's toughest short-yardage running backs, and Malcolm Butler swooped in front of receiver Ricardo Lockette to steal the ball and reverse the fortune of one of the greatest Super Bowls in history. Four victories.

And just this last Sunday, the Pats improbably took their fifth, charging back to come from 25 points down and shock the Atlanta Falcons in overtime. The world looked on in horror as Atlanta's lead was gradually eroded away until it was no more. New Englanders booed and salivated as their new whipping boy, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, handed over the Lombardi after going to extreme lengths to suspend Brady for his role in DeflateGate, in which Brady was found "more probable than not" to have had a role in the deflating of footballs below regulation standard.In part, Goodell dropped the hammer so hard on Brady and the Pats as an over-correction to a light punishment for SpyGate, nearly a decade earlier, in which the Patriots were caught videotaping opponents' signals.

Today, the city of Boston held its fifth parade for the Patriots since 2002. In that span, they've also gotten three championships from the Red Sox, one from the Celtics, and another from the Bruins.

It could be worse. It could always be worse.

If not for the Denver Broncos, the Patriots might have locked up their third consecutive Super Bowl title against the Falcons, a feat no team has ever accomplished.

Of course, when the Broncos won Super Bowl 50 almost exactly one year ago, they got there on the strength of a narrow AFC Championship Game victory over the Patriots, edging them out with a Bradley Roby interception on a two-point conversion that would have tied the game and likely sent it to overtime.

It's all conjecture to say that the Pats would have gone on to beat the 17-1 Carolina Panthers, but they certainly gave the Broncos more trouble than the NFC champs did in the Super Bowl.

The formula in that AFC Championship Game was eerily similar to the one that built a 28-3 lead for the Falcons, before it came tumbling down. Denver got to Brady with a quick outside rush from Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware like the one Atlanta used with Vic Beasley and Dwight Freeney. And if the outside rushers weren't getting home fast enough, Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe moved the pocket and kept Brady guessing. Ditto Grady Jarrett and Jonathan Babineaux through the first three quarters on Sunday night. Each teams both got a pair of turnovers in the first half as well. Denver's lead was never as big as Atlanta's, never leading by more than eight points, but they were able to hold on to it. The Broncos didn't get much out of their offense, but they cashed in on turnovers and ran the ball late, including a late 30-yard run from C.J. Anderson that took crucial time off of the ticking clock and set up another field goal that would be the difference in the outcome.

Ultimately, though, the Broncos made the key stops where Atlanta could not. Twice Denver's tenacious defense thwarted fourth-down attempts from the Patriots in the final quarter, and despite letting Rob Gronkowski into the end zone on their final drive, shut down the two-point try. Atlanta allowed both tries in the 25-point comeback.

Individual plays deciding the outcome of whole seasons.

If you're willing to do so, you could even hearken back to the 2013-14 season, the first time the Broncos defeated the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. With some convincing, it might be conceivable to say that the Broncos prevented an unprecedent fourpeat, but alas, the Patriots were injury-riddled that year, and were thoroughly handled by a team that would run into a buzz saw two weeks later in New York. With Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, though, you just really never know.

Just make sure to count your lucky stars, and thank last year's Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos for giving America a breather from the most insufferable dynasty the NFL has ever known.

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Will Keys is an Editor for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.

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