Sometimes the stats lie; sometimes they don't. Sunday night at Gillette Stadium the Denver Broncos handed the Patriots a fourth-consecutive loss with a deceivingly dominating 24-16 win in a game that was close in score only. The Broncos (6-2) led the game wire-to-wire and out-dueled the Patriots (3-4) in nearly every statistical category.
The Patriots continued to be riddled by the same basic problems that had the team ailing prior to the bye week. New England couldn't stop the Broncos on third down, 8-of-13 for 62-percent, couldn't convert its own third downs, 3-of-12 for 25-percent, allowed three touchdowns in the red zone and allowed a 100-yard rusher for the fifth consecutive game.
The game started in disappointing fashion as New England took its opening possession and proceeded to go three-and-out, including a three-yard sack of quarterback Tom Brady. A fluttering, 21-yard Ken Walter punt out of bounds gave the Broncos the opening possession in Patriots territory at the 48-yard line.
The Broncos first play from scrimmage set the tone for the evening as quarterback Brian Griese hit wide receiver Rod Smith for a 21-yard gain. Denver proceeded to march the 48 yards in just seven plays capping its opening drive with a Clinton Portis one-yard score to take the 7-0 lead early in the first quarter.
After a second Patriots three-and-out the Broncos looked to strike quickly as Griese looked for Smith again, this time deep down the right sideline. Patriots cornerback Ty Law was step-for-step with Smith and went up for the slightly underthrown ball for his second interception of the season, at the Patriots 15-yard line.
Brady then connected on consecutive passes to Troy Brown, 15 yards, and Christian Fauria, nine yards, to quickly put New England at its own 39-yard line. The Patriots would gain just one yard in the next five plays though and was again forced to punt.
Taking over at its own 28, Denver quickly put together a nine-play, 72-yard drive to take a 14-0 lead on the first play of the second half. The drive culminated with a Griese to Shannon Sharpe eight-yard touchdown. The score was set up by the biggest play of the drive on the prior play, third-and-four at the Patriots 28. Griese hit wide receiver Ed McCaffrey for a 20-yard gain. McCaffrey was a thorn in the side of the Patriots defense for much of the game as he finished with a game-high eight catches for 116 yards.
New England did little with its next possession, although the team did move into Broncos territory, reaching the 46-yard line before being forced to punt for the fourth time in four possessions.
The Broncos took over yet again, but this time a little good fortune came the Patriots way. After getting a first down on third-and-one, Griese hit Smith in the right flat on the ensuing first down play. Smith went eight yards before being hit and forced to fumble by Victor Green. The ball was recovered by Law at the Denver 42-yard line and a subsequent challenge by Denver's Mike Shanahan was upheld. The Patriots took over in Broncos territory at the 42.
The Patriots were quick to capitalize as the Brady-led offense moved 42 yards in just six plays to pull within seven on a three-yard Antowain Smith score. Smith carried three times on the short drive for 24 yards as New England marched back into the game at 14-7.
But no sooner did the Patriots crawl back in, then did the Broncos answer with a systematic drive of their own. Denver drove 70 yards in eight plays to pull back out to a 14-point lead at 21-7. The drive ended with a Portis four-yard touchdown run up the middle, but the biggest Broncos gain came via penalty. Patriots safety Tebucky Jones was assessed a 24-yard pass interference penalty on the first play of the drive on a throw from Griese intended for tight end Shannon Sharpe. The penalty was one of eight for 82 yards called on the Patriots in the game.
The Patriots got the ball back with 2:45 left in the half, but could not venture into Denver territory and the teams went to the intermission at 21-7.
The second half opened with yet another drive into New England's end of the field as Denver used a mix of Portis runs and Griese short passes to work down to the Patriots 30-yard line. The Patriots caught another break though as the drive stalled and Broncos kicker Jason Elam missed wide right on a 48-yard field goal attempt.
The Patriots ensuing drive turned into a penalty-filled affair. The Patriots were called for two penalties on the drive, but the biggest was a 46-yard pass interference call on Broncos defensive back Denard Walker that negated teammate Deltha O'Neal's interception of a Brady pass. The penalty set New England up at the Broncos 10-yard line, but the offense moved to just the eight before settling for an Adam Vinatieri 26-yard field goal to get to 21-10.
Following two punts by Denver and one of its own, New England took over at the Broncos 35-yard line thanks to a 40 yard Deion Branch return of Denver punter Tom Rouen's kick. New England struck quickly four plays later and pulled within 21-16 on a Brady to Fauria eight-yard scoring hookup. Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick then made the decision to go for two points and attempt to pull within a field goal, but a Brady corner pass to wide receiver David Patten was broken up and the score remained 21-16.
The Broncos added an Elam 19-yard field goal on their next possession to complete the games scoring 24-16. Denver even missed a 39-yard field goal later in the fourth quarter, but it didn't matter as the Patriots offense got no farther than its own 43-yard line on two late game drives and the Broncos ran the clock out late on the win over the now-struggling defending Super Bowl champions.
Patriots inactives for the game were quarterback Rohan Davey, cornerback Ben Kelly, center Grey Ruegamer, tackle Tom Ashworth, wide receiver Donald Hayes, tight end Daniel Graham and defensive lineman Bernard Holsey. … Branch gave the return game a bit of a lift as he returned one punt for 40 yards and three kickoffs for 60 yards. … Victor Green led New England in tackles with 9. … The Patriots became the first Super Bowl champion to lose four in a row since the Broncos in 1999