You can't blame it on turnovers this time. Or the refs. In a physical game, the Patriots offense was no match for a Denver defense that took away the Patriots ground game for the first time this season. That was the difference. Laurence Maroney had only 18 yards on 12 attempts while Corey Dillon, who left the game in the first half with an arm injury, had 5 carries for 16 yards.
For the Broncos, Tatum Bell had 27 carries for 123 yards.
Despite gaudy numbers for Tom Brady -- 31 of 55 for 320 yards and a touchdown -- he once again struggled for most of the game. Whether it was simply having no one open or just being off with his throws, the Patriots passing game posed no threat until the fourth quarter when Denver had already built a 17-0 lead and its defense gave up the short pass, forcing the Patriots to eat up valuable time.
If there is any good news out of this game it's that the Patriots defense played well. That will be a necessity going into next week when New England travels to Cincinnati to play the high-octane Bengals.
The two teams felt each other out during the first quarter, jockeying for field position. Each took turns getting out of holes deep in their own territory but unable to sustain a drive into the other's red zone.
New England had a chance to do some damage early in the second quarter when it went for a fourth and 1 on the Broncos 36. Maroney ran to the left but Denver's Demetrin Veal came from his left side and caught Maroney from behind for a 1-yard loss.
Plummer took the turnover on downs and found his wide receiver David Kircus for consecutive completions of 12 and 24 yards. On the second pass, Ty Warren was flagged for roughing Plummer to move the ball to the New England 12. Despite that, the Patriots held on from there, only allowing a 23-yard field goal by Jason Elam for the game's first score.
It looked like Brady might have an immediate answer. On his next series he began working his tight ends with a 7-yard pass to Daniel Graham and then 17 yards downfield to Ben Watson at midfield. On the next play, Brady play-actioned to Maroney, pumped to Troy Brown and then hit Maroney with a little dump off. The rookie back did all the work from there, stiff-arming his way for a 31-yard gain to the 19. That was as far as New England could get and worse, Stephen Gostkowski had his 37-yard field goal attempt blocked.
Instead of a 3-3 tie, Denver got the ball back and 7 plays later, a 10-point lead on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Plummer to Javon Walker. The running of Tatum Bell (70 yards in the first half) set up the play, a third and 1 fly pattern that had Walker beating Ellis Hobbs by a step.
The Patriots had a last chance in the first half but came up empty with 43 seconds to operate from their own 33 and the two teams headed to their locker rooms with the Broncos up, 10-0.
While the Patriots defense did its part during the third quarter, keeping the Broncos off the scoreboard, the Patriots offense had no answer to the fast, sure-tackling Denver D. Linebacker Ian Gold was all over the field, bottling up Maroney. Meanwhile, Brady was completely stymied. He was underthrowing, overthrowing and just not in synch with his receivers except the few times he found Brown or Graham for completions.
In the fourth quarter, Denver broke it open with an 83-yard Walker catch and run. Plummer found him on third and 5 from his own 17 and lofted the ball in between Asante Samuel and James Sanders.
Down 17-0, Brady finally started finding receivers with the Broncos playing a little off. He completed 8 passes in a row with three of them to Doug Gabriel for 18, 12 and 6. Maroney's catch for 14 brought the ball first and goal at the Denver 8. Brady's ninth in a row went to Gabriel in the end zone. It was the first touchdown allowed in the 2006 season by the Broncos with 9:13 left to play in the game.
The Patriots did get two more cracks at trying to narrow the score. On their first, Brady went three and out without coming close to a completion. On his second bid, New England got down to the Broncos 20 but a fourth and 1 pass went incomplete and Denver knelt to the win.