DENVER – After throwing an NFL record 162 passes without an interception to open his career, second-year phenom quarterback Tom Brady saw the clock strike midnight as he threw four interceptions on four straight possessions in the second half in a 31-20 loss to the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field.
Two of the interceptions were tremendously costly as one was returned for a touchdown and the other came in the Broncos end zone, effectively taking points off the board. It was a nightmarish second half and the antithesis of the way the young Brady has played in most of his five starts.
In the end, Denver posted 21 unanswered points and rallied from a pair of 10-point deficits to send the Patriots back under .500 at 3-4 while improving to 4-3 themselves.
Now it will be interesting to see how Brady responds.
After a first half in which he looked like his typical sharp self and completed 13-of-16 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, Brady fell apart, completing only 12-of-22 passes for 84 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions after the break. For the day, he was 25-of-38 for 203 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Those turnovers along with the Broncos big plays were the difference as the Patriots lost for the second time with Brady at the helm.
Early in the second half, it looked as though the Patriots may pull away. A Matt Stevens interception on the second half's opening possession set the Patriots up for Adam Vinatieri's second field goal and a 20-10 lead.
But Denver showed its offensive power on the next play when quarterback Brian Griese (19-of-30 for 283 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) hit a streaking Rod Smith over the middle, and the NFL's leading receiver streaked down the left sideline untouched for a 65-yard touchdown that immediately cut the deficit to 20-17.
The Broncos took the lead for good on their next possession, driving 80 yards in nine plays before Griese hit tight end Dwayne Carswell for a 6-yard touchdown and a 24-20 advantage. A big play on the drive came on a third-and-six play when Griese hit tight end Desmond Clark near the sideline for the first down and Stevens jumped over him instead of touching him down. The big tight end got up and rambled down the sideline for a 35-yard pickup.
Two plays later, Griese threw a wide receiver screen to Smith, who broke a tackle and ran 21 yards to the New England 19 setting Denver up for the go-ahead score.
With the crowd back in the game in full force, Brady engineered a long, productive drive in trying to answer Denver's back-to-back touchdowns. But facing a third-and-12 from the Denver 13-yard line, Brady stepped through the pocket away from pressure and threw across his body on the run toward Troy Brown in the back of the end zone. Denver's Denard Walker leaped in front of the pass for the interception – the first of Brady's career – thwarting New England's scoring threat.
It was the last time the Patriots even came close to the end zone.
Two pass attempts later, still trailing 24-20, Brady threw a ball deep down the left sideline that Deltha O'Neal picked off at the Patriots 19-yard line.
After a personal foul against Matt Chatham on a punt return pinned the Patriots deep in their own territory, Brady's third interception was the dagger that killed any hope of a comeback win. After driving the team from its own 8 out of harms way to the 31, Brady threw downfield to his left where Walker intercepted it and raced 39 yards to the end zone for a touchdown and the 31-20 final score.
Brady's fourth interception came on a fourth-and-24 play with less than 2:00 remaining in the game, but put the exclamation point on the turnover-ridden loss.
It was a complete reversal of the Patriots first half play.
In fact, Brady and the Patriots offense picked up where it left off in Indianapolis last week, driving 74 yards in 10 plays to open the game before settling on a 24-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis showed that he'll go back to his bag of tricks as he pulled out the end around for the second week in a row, this time letting Troy Brown take the handoff. Brown ran right, eluded tacklers by cutting back to the middle and scampered 31 yards to the Broncos 13 to flip the field. On third-and-two from the 5, Antowain Smith was hit for a 2-yard loss and Vinatieri came on to make it 3-0.
New England wasted no time making it 10-0 after taking over on its second possession. Brady opened the drive with an 18-yard completion to Brown and finished it with a 30-yard strike to David Patten to put the wraps on a 4-play, 70-yard drive.
But Denver stormed right back. Griese found his favorite target, Smith, wide open down the right sideline for a 47-yard pickup to move from his own 18 to the Patriots 35. A 20-yard completion from Griese to Clark on a second-and-14 play gave the Broncos a first-and-goal at the 8 and Mike Anderson needed just one play to run it in up the middle to make it 10-7.
New England was poised to continue its offensive prowess when it efficiently drove from its own 24 to the Denver 35. Once again, a 13-yard end around by Patten was a key play and so Weis went back to Patten's arm trying to rediscover the newcomer's magic. The Patriots ran a double reverse and let Patten throw again, but this time the athletic wideout threw into double coverage trying to find Charles Johnson near the goal line, and Denver's Eric Brown made a leaping interception at the 2-yard line.
Denver turned around and marched 66 yards in 17 plays to tie the score. The Broncos ran a balanced attack, running 10 times for 37 yards and throwing seven times for 29 yards before calling on Jason Elam to tie the game with a 50-yard field goal.
A Bronco turnover on a wacky play then gave the Patriots terrific field position and they took advantage, scoring on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Brown with 1:21 left in the half. On the interception, Griese threw to Clark and Stevens deflected the pass in the air where Tedy Bruschi snared it and starting running across the field.
Bruschi then fumbled it with Griese diving on it, but the ball actually squeezed down to his legs where Stevens recovered it. During the scrum, Griese was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul and the Patriots took over at Denver's 17-yard line. Three plays later, the Patriots were up 17-10, the lead they took to the locker room.
But the third quarter, which has been a problem for New England all season, saw the Broncos take over the game, as Denver's opportunistic defense then made sure Brady would not enjoy his fourth win in five starts. Denver outscored the Patriots, 14-3, in the third quarter to take the lead and then clinched it late in the fourth with the interception return for a touchdown.
The 3-4 Patriots will now have to respond on the road against the 3-3 Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome next Sunday.
Third quarter woes: The Patriots have now been outscored 69-16 in the third quarter.
Brady streak snapped: Brady threw 30 passes without an interception against Denver, running his NFL-record streak to 162 passes without a pick to open a career. He then tossed four in four possessions and just 10 attempts.
Injuries: Left tackle Matt Light left with a right shoulder injury in the third quarter and did not return. Grant Williams replaced him. Linebacker Bryan Cox also went down in the third quarter with a right leg injury and did not return. Bruschi came in at weakside, inside linebacker with Ted Johnson moving to the strong side.