The Patriots suffered a disappointing loss to the Broncos on Sunday, struggling to overcome the challenging circumstances of the last two weeks, which were compounded by significant in-game injuries, but doing themselves no favors in the process with another sloppy outing.
There's no question, New England is a better team than what they showed against Denver, but at 2-3 the Patriots need to get back on track and do it quickly with the San Francisco 49ers coming to town Sunday after a big win over the Rams.
Here are the five plays that defined the Pats loss to the Broncos.
First Possession Interception
Situation: 1st quarter, 3-0 Broncos, NE 3rd-and-2 from NE45
After watching Denver execute an opening six-play, 48-yard field-goal-scoring drive, the Patriots ran the ball four straight times to open the game, picking up 28 yards. There was little surprise the Patriots leaned into the strength of their offense early, but their first pass on the sixth play would quickly set the tone for the day.
The play was designed to be a screen pass to James White but Isaiah Wynn, getting a surprise start at left guard, was beat immediately off the snap, allowing pressure in Cam Newton's face. The oncoming defender got his hands up and tipped the pass, which was then intercepted by DeShawn Williams with an outstanding leaping grab.
Screen passes rely on an excellent sense of timing and coordination by the offensive line and the rejiggered group was off on this play. With just one starter playing in position at this point, it wasn't a total surprise to see some broken plays like this throughout the game.
Denver would tack on another field goal to go up 6-0.
Enel Powerful Play of the Game: Simon's Sack
Situation: 2nd quarter, 9-3 Broncos, DEN 2nd-and-10 from NE21
The Patriots offense showed some promise in the second quarter, but short circuited their best drive of the game with a bad snap that held them to a field goal. The Broncos would respond to the Patriots first score of the game with another dominant drive, and were poised to extend their six-point lead before the half.
The defense needed a play, and the defense gave them one, as John Simon's key sack backed the Broncos up 13 yards and kept Denver out of the red zone.
Simon, working in conjunction with Lawrence Guy on a stunt, showed pure power in bowling over Denver's right guard and continuing right into Lock to pick up the sack.
The veteran Simon is this week's choice for the Enel Powerful Play of the Game.
Denver Converts 3rd-and-21
Situation: 3rd quarter, 12-3 Broncos, DEN 3rd-and-21 from DEN25
After a disappointing three-and-out to start the third quarter, the Patriots defense had a chance to get a quick stop after a second-down sack that was split between Shilique Calhoun and Ja'Whaun Bentley and put the Broncos into a 3rd-and-21 situation from their own 25. Bentley made a nice dip around the block of the running back and took down Lock just as Calhoun was arriving around the corner as well.
A simple stop and the Patriots would force their first punt of the game and get the ball back with good field position, but the Broncos would have one of their best passing plays of the game.
The Patriots rushed three, as Dugger and Calhoun waited for the tight end and running back to release. By that math, the defense had seven defenders to cover three Denver targets but it was not enough. Lock stepped up in a perfect pocket and delivered a perfect strike over J.C. Jackson who was trailing in coverage and Jason McCourty, who was the deep middle safety on the play.
Denver would continue the drive, which ended up lasting a whopping 15 plays that took up over nine minutes of the third quarter. They'd add another field goal that would ultimately be all the points they needed to get the win.
Izzo fumble short circuits response
Situation: 3rd quarter, DEN 15-3, 3rd-and-3 from NE42
The defense made an impressive stand in holding the Broncos to a fifth field goal after facing 1st-and-goal from the four yard line. Lawrence Guy, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Devin McCourty all made key plays and that still maintained a fleeting 12-point lead.
On the Pats next drive, they'd pick up 17 yards on the first two plays before an incompletion put them in a 3rd-and-3. For a moment things were looking up as Ryan Izzo grabbed his career-best third catch of the game and took the ball into Denver territory. But just as Izzo was putting the ball away, the Denver defender punched it out and Justin Simmons was there to pick it up and return it 18 yards to the New England 42.
The defense would again hold Denver to a field goal, and then, after Newton threw another tipped-ball interception on the very next play, the defense got another quick-change stop, forcing the first punt of the day by the Broncos.
For the second game in a row the Patriots offense didn't give themselves a chance to keep pace with the opponent. The book-ended fumble by Izzo and interception by Newton were killers.
4th down incompletion ends comeback bid
Situation: 4th quarter, 18-12 Broncos, NE 4th-and-10 from DEN24
As always, the Patriots would make things interesting after getting the first touchdown of the game sparked by a 19-yard pass to Damiere Byrd and a 38-yard scramble by Newton playing off the defense forcing their second-straight punt.
An interception by J.C. Jackson on the next possession set up another field goal and then Drew Lock would throw another interception on a questionable first-down deep throw that was an incredible catch by Jonathan Jones and gave the Patriots one final chance to put together a game-winning drive down by six with 3:14 left from their own 28.
A double pass picked up 22 yards and an Edelman-to-Newton pass picked up a big first down but the drive would stall after Newton took a sack that cost the offense six yards. Facing 4th-and-10, the Broncos sent seven rushers forcing running backs James White and Rex Burkhead to stay in and block.
That left three Patriots receivers against four Broncos in coverage. Newton was right to go to N'Keal Harry on the field side, getting the ball out just as the pocket collapsed around him.
The throw went wide of Harry and instantly became a hot topic of debate as to who was at fault on the final play. Should Harry have known to break the route outside quicker and more decisively? Should Newton have been more on target? Newton would take responsibility for the throw on Monday morning.
But what ultimately matters was that this was just the culmination of a sloppy game where the offense did themselves no favors. They pulled enough tricks from their hat to have a chance at the end, but it was ultimately not enough to let the Pats steal this one.