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Hard to believe, but it's over, 27-13

All good things must come to an end, the story of the night for the New England Patriots as their season came to a close along with its attempt to make history with three straight championships. It was Denver 27, New England, 13, the first postseason loss for the the Patriots in 11 games.



]()New England doesn't beat itself in the postseason -- except on this night. Five Patriot turnovers spelled doom as the Denver Broncos scored 24 of their 27 points as a result of those miscues.

Two Patriots turnovers and an awful pass interference call on Asante Samuel led to a 10-3 Broncos lead after the first 30 minutes.

Both teams began conservatively on offense, punting after their first possessions. It was on the Patriots second try that they drove into Broncos territory but on fourth and 1 from the Denver 36, Brady took a shotgun snap and threw behind a wide open Christian Fauria allowing Denver to take over on downs.

Although Denver managed to only get to the Patriot 45, Todd Sauerbrun's punt dropped inside the 10 and was downed at the 4-yard line by Curome Cox.

It was a key play in the field position battle. With the Denver faithful deafening, Brady had to work with little room for error. His first pass was nearly intercepted by Al Wilson. After Dillon ran for 5 yards, Brady had to call timeout on third and 5. Even with the time to talk with the sideline, the ensuing play wound up clearly miscommunicated as Brady turned and fired to his left with no one there. New England punted again.

Josh Miller got off a 50-yard punt and the Broncos began at their own 37. Plummer quickly got them over midfield with a 15 yard pass to Ashley Lelie. Two runs by Mike Anderson netted 4 yards and the first quarter ended with Denver third and 6 from the Patriots 44.

Plummer opened the second quarter with another 15-yard completion, this one to Rod Smith. A holding call on Tatum Bell brought up a third and 17 and it looked like the Patriots would keep Denver out of the red zone but Plummer found Jeb Putzier in the right flat for 24 yards to the 12. Bell then ran for 8 yards to the 4 and again for 1 yard, only inches away from a first down. That brought up third and 1 and a Plummer sneak that was thwarted by Ty Warren.

Denver elected to go for it being so close to the first down. Plummer floated a fade pass to Lelie heading toward the left corner of the end zone but the ball was overthrown and amazingly New England escaped.

Once again Brady had to start with his heels virtually on the goal line and once again New England was forced to punt after three plays.

Denver continued to apply the pressure not only on defense but also when it had the ball, and it wasn't with its vaunted running game. Plummer was connecting with his receivers and he began this drive with a 15-yarder to Anderson and 11 more to Smith. After a 1-yard run by Anderson, Plummer looked a little deeper down the left sideline to Lelie. Samuel came across and made the catch with the ruling on field being Samuel out of bounds.

The play was close and the Patriots challenged the call. Replay showed both of Samuel's feet in bounds with possession and the Patriots took over at the Denver 11. It was the best field position New England had in its last three drives.

Brady took immediate advantage. On first down he looked long to Andre Davis with Champ Bailey in coverage. The pass was caught 51 yards downfield to the Broncos 38. Two plays later Branch was good for a 13 yard catch but New England would get no further than the Broncos 22 where Adam Vinatieri booted a 39-yard field goal to put his team on top, 3-0.

The Broncos answered after Kevin Faulk fumbled later in the quarter. After the turnover, Plummer looked long to Lelie on first down with Samuel in coverage. A completely ridiculous pass interference call was made on Samuel as both players were looking at the ball and no contact came until the ball sailed over both players' heads. The penalty moved the ball to the 1 where Anderson pounded it in for a gift-wrapped touchdown.

Denver added three more to its lead after Ellis Hobbs fumbled the ensuing kickoff. Jason Elam nailed a 50-yard field goal to make the halftime score 10-3, Denver.

New England opened the second half by stopping Denver three and out and then starting a drive from its own 27 that quickly went into Denver territory thanks to an 18-yard pass to Daniel Graham thrown over heavy Bronco pressure. Givens caught a 14-yarder to the 37. He later caught another pass for 6 yards to the 14 but that was as far as his team would get on this drive, settling for a 32-yard Vinatieri field goal to make the score 10-6.

At this point the Patriots seemed to have an extra hop in their step. After Mike Vrabel sacked Plummer to bring up the Broncos second consecutive punt, Brady went right to work and hit Troy Brown for 33 yards to the 45. A little trickery followed with a give to Dillon who turned and sent the ball back to Brady for the flea flicker. He then found Branch all alone for a pick up of 26 yards to the 19. From there, Givens snared a 9-yard pass to the 10.

On third and goal from the 5, things got wild. Brady looked to Brown at the edge of the goal line but Bailey snatched the ball away and headed down the sideline. It was clear sailing for the cornerback but just as he was about to cross the goal line, Benjamin Watson came out of nowhere, sending Bailey flying out of bounds and ball out of his hands. The ref called the play down at the 1-yard line but New England challenged the call, thinking the ball may have been fumbled out of the end zone. If it did, it would be the Patriots ball first and 10 at the 20.

There just wasn't enough evidence to overturn the call and the Broncos were in prime position to add to its lead, first and goal at the 1.

Anderson took it in around the left side on the next play and just like that the momentum New England was feeling went right to the Broncos. Instead of the game being at least 10-9 or 13-10, Patriots, it was now 17-6 Denver with play moving into the final frame.

Undaunted, Brady drove his team down to the Broncos 25 with Dillon running for 17 and Faulk catching two passes for 20 yards total. On third and 4 from the Denver 25, however, he overthrew Brown who had beaten his man toward the end zone. Vinatieri then missed a 43-yard field goal attempt and New England was unable to cut into the lead with 12:48 remaining in the game.

The game was sealed for Denver after the Patriots defense forced the Broncos to punt on their next series and the usually dependable Brown muffed his catch. Denver's Mike Leach pounced on the loose ball and the Broncos were poised to put the game away. After two Anderson runs, Plummer hit Smith in the end zone, making the score 24-6 and thus making New England's amazing reign of dominance over the NFL looking like it might come to an end.

Like the champions they are, New England never gave up. Brady hit Branch for a 73-yard play down to the Broncos 4 as soon as he got the ball back. On the next play it was Givens along the back of the end zone for the score.

Denver managed to kill a good chunk of the remaining clock on its way to adding three to the scoreboard, making it a 27-13 game. Elam was good on a 34-yarder, the only Denver points of the night that did not come as a result of a Patriot turnover.

Brady ended his night on a last ditch bomb intended for Davis that was picked off by John Lynch.

It's been an amazing ride and like the old cliche goes, wait 'til next year, Patriots fans.

Patriots inactives: Bam Childress; Patrick Pass; Gene Mruczkowski; Nick Kaczur; Dan Klecko; Bethel Johnson; Santonio Thomas; Matt Cassel (3rd QB).
Broncos inactives: David Terrell; Darius Watts; Hamza Abdullah; Roc Alexander; Taylor Whitley; John Engelberger; Monsanto Pope; Nate Jackson.

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