Patriots Go Down Fighting

How many times have the Patriots done the impossible by coming back late in the game? The game against the Broncos almost became another one of those fabled stories, but injuries and the awful display of defense in the first half were too much for even Tom Brady to overcome. It was a tough game, with the tone set early. The Denver Broncos held on to defeat the New England Patriots 28-20.

PHOTO: Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer (16) sets to fire a pass during the first quarter as teammate Matt Lepsis, center, blocks New England Patriots Jarvis Green (97) in Denver, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2005. (AP Photo/Bill Ross)

Patriots Go Down Fighting
By Darren Kelly

Left guard Logan Mankins was ejected just before half-time for throwing a punch. The rest of his teammates took up his cause in the second half of their game against the Denver Broncos, fueling a furious comeback from a 28-3 deficit. New England ultimately fell short, falling 28-20 to the Denver Broncos.

It was a tale of two halves for quarterback Tom Brady, who finished 24-of-46 for 299 yards and 1 touchdown. In the first half he found no space to move in the pocket and no time to find receivers downfield. But during the second half comeback, Brady finally had the time he needed, and led the team on 3 scoring drives.

The offensive star of the game for the Patriots was running back Patrick Pass, who started in place of Corey Dillon. Pass rushed for 64 yards on 10 carries with 1 touchdown, and had 89 yards receiving.

For one quarter at least, the Patriots' defense looked as if it would make this a defensive battle. They forced a three-and-out on Denver's first possession, which led to an Adam Vinatieri 39-yard field goal, and a 3-0 New England lead. Denver picked up a first down on their next possession, but following a huge hit on Bronco tight end Jeb Putzier by Asante Samuel, the Patriots forced another punt.

The New England offense couldn't take advantage of good field position, though. Forced to punt for the second time in their first three possessions, Josh Miller booted the ball into the end zone. But a holding penalty forced a re-kick, and this time Miller buried it inside the 10 for the second time in the 1st quarter. Denver also had a penalty on the play, and started their drive on their own 3-yard line.

Two plays later, the good field position was erased, as Rod Smith (6 catches, 123 yards, 1 touchdown) beat Duane Starks on a crossing pattern, and Jake Plummer (17-for-24, 262 yards, 2 TDs) hit him with a 72-yard pass. Two plays later, running back Tatum Bell burst into the end zone on a 3-yard run, ending a 6-play, 97-yard drive, and giving the Broncos a 7-3 lead.

Following another Patriots punt, the Broncos connected on another long pass play. This time it was Ashley Lelie beating Starks and hauling in a 55-yard pass. Three plays later, Plummer rolled right and hit Rod Smith with a 6-yard touchdown pass, and Denver led 14-3.

On the Patriots' next two possessions, the offensive line looked awful, as Brady got pressure on every snap. They finally picked up some yards on the ground, but it was when Brady escaped the pressure for a 12-yard run. Both drives ended in punts.

After gaining big yardage through the air, the Broncos picked up their next large chunk on the ground. Just after the 2-minute warning, Bell (114 yards rushing) rumbled 68 yards straight through the heart of the Patriots' defense. Two plays later Plummer hit Kyle Johnson on a 1-yard touchdown pass to increase the Denver lead to 21-3. The Broncos rushed for 178 yards in the game.

The Patriots drove to the Denver 35, thanks to a screen play to Patrick Pass that went for 39 yards. But Vinatieri missed a 53-yard field goal to end the half. After the play was over, left guard Logan Mankins was ejected from the game for fighting.

Denver came out of the locker room for the second half and marched 74 yards in 9 plays for another score (a Mike Anderson 2-yard run), and a commanding 28-3 lead. But just when it appeared the game was over and New England would fold quit fighting back, the Patriots showed signs of life.

Following punts by both teams, the Patriots finally moved the ball, as Brady hooked up with Tim Dwight on a 49-yard pass. They drove to the 21-yard line, and Vinatieri kicked a 38-yard field goal, cutting the lead to 28-6.

The Patriots' defense woke up and finally stopped the Broncos in the 3rd quarter, forcing two punts on back-to-back possessions. Following the second punt, Brady led New England on a 9-play, 73-yard drive, which Pass capped off with an 8-yard touchdown run. The Denver lead was then down to 28-13 and momentum had swung firmly in the Patriots' favor.

After New England forced another Denver punt, the Patriots offense Brady and the offense starting clicking by driving 71 yards in 7 plays. Pass was the key cog on this drive, hauling in a screen pass that he took 32 yards downfield. Facing a third down and 8, Pass rumbled up the middle for 17 yards and a first down. Brady then hit David Givens with an 8-yard touchdown pass, cutting the Denver lead to 28-20, and putting new life into the Patriots' comeback

After allowing one first down, the Patriots defense stiffened once again as Ty Warren batted down Plummer's third down pass, forcing another punt with just over 5 minutes remaining. The comeback appeared well in hand when Brady hit Deion Branch with two big passes, but ran out of steam a few moments later. Following an intentional grounding penalty which put the patriots in a 3rd and 20 situation, Branch made an incredible catch, but dropped a near first-down catch when he was leveled by three Denver defenders. The incompletion ended the Patriots charge forcing New England to punt. It was the last time Brady would get the ball.

The Broncos took control of the situation by chewing up the remaining time on the clock with a Plummer to Putzier connection on a 13-yard pass play for a first down. One last gasp for the Patriots came in a second and long situation, but Plummer hit Rod Smith with an 8-yard pass for another first down, sealing the win for the Broncos.

Decimated by injuries, the Patriots head into the bye week with a 3-3 record, tied for first with the Buffalo Bills -- their next opponent. The defense desperately needs to get healthy, and with the announcement during the game that Tedy Bruschi might be returning soon, help may be just around the corner.

The Patriots showed signs of life in what could have been an ugly loss in Denver. The Broncos made enough big plays to win 28-20 and improve their record to 5-1.

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Darren is a regular contributor to Patriots Insider. You can find him in the forums under the name: DestinationSuperBowl. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "Darren Kelly"

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