DENVER (Oct. 16, 2005) -- Jake Plummer did more than merely manage the game, he controlled it. He made big plays when they were there, avoided mistakes and made the New England Patriots look more like a team in disarray than the NFL's reigning dynasty.
Plummer hit on throws of 72 and 55 yards to help the Denver Broncos to a 28-20 victory over the two-time defending champions, the first time he showed his explosive capability this season.
"We knew we were going to get a couple of shots," Plummer said. "They panned out like that."
Tatum Bell had a 68-yard run and finished with 114 yards to surpass the century mark for the second straight week as the Broncos (5-1) jumped ahead by 25 early in the third quarter en route to their fifth straight win.
Plummer finished with 262 yards and two touchdowns and extended his streak without an interception to 17 quarters. Over the previous three games, the errorless ball came seemingly at the expense of the big play -- Plummer didn't crack 150 yards in any of those games -- but this time, the Broncos got both.
"He's definitely been playing a lot smarter," said receiver Ashley Lelie, who caught the 55-yard pass. "He's not trying to make every single play. It's a credit to him understanding and accepting his role on the team. He puts up wins for us when he plays smart like that."
Trailing by 25, Tom Brady picked on the young Denver secondary -- missing the injured Champ Bailey for most of the second half -- to pull the Patriots within 28-20 late.
New England had a chance to tie, but Brady threw three straight incompletions and after a punt, the Denver offense ran the final 3½ minutes off the clock.
Brady went 24 for 46 for 299 yards and a touchdown in a comeback effort fitting of the two-time Super Bowl MVP.
"We pride ourselves on playing smart and playing physical, I just think the execution wasn't there," Brady said. "When we were down 28-3, we started to figure it out a little bit."
New England (3-3) got into the big hole courtesy of Plummer.
After completing only one pass of 30 yards or longer this season, Jake the Snake added two more in the second quarter. He hit Rod Smith for 72 yards and Lelie for 55, getting ample time to set up, then finding both receivers streaking down the middle of the field in single coverage.
The two long passes and Bell's big run all set up touchdowns that gave the Broncos a 21-3 lead before halftime.
Meanwhile, the Patriots came unraveled. The ugliness reached its crescendo on the last play of the first half when Patriots offensive lineman Logan Mankins was ejected for taking a cheap shot on Ebenezer Ekuban, hitting him below the belt after Adam Vinatieri missed a 53-yard field goal.
"It was a cheap shot," Ekuban said. "Hopefully, the NFL will fine him heavily."
The banged-up Patriots listed about half their roster on the injury report this week. Most notable was an ankle injury to Corey Dillon, who dressed but didn't play. And really, the way the first three quarters of this game went, it was hard to think he would have made a difference.
The Patriots were outplayed in almost every phase, and their two fourth-quarter touchdowns prevented them from losing by double digits for the third time this year.
"We didn't give up 70-yard plays," was how coach Bill Belichick described the team's improvement in the third quarter.
In the first half, the New England defense focused on stopping the running game and got torched by Plummer. He went 17 for 24 and finished with a passer rating of 134.4.
He wasn't good only on the long balls. Two plays after Bell's long run, Plummer rolled out to his right and threaded a pass to Kyle Johnson in the back of the end zone for a 21-3 lead.
Then, Plummer completed passes of 13, 21 and 7 yards to guide the Broncos 79 yards for another TD on the first drive of the third quarter to put them ahead by 25.
It may have been Plummer's finest, steadiest effort in his three years in Denver
"I can't say it's any one thing," coach Mike Shanahan said. "He's in his third year. He feels comfortable with the system. I think it's a process and hopefully, he can keep it up."
Notes: Bailey left early in the third quarter when the sore left hamstring that kept him out of the last two games flared up. ... The Patriots fell to 22-3 against teams with records above .500 since the beginning of the 2003 season.