Injuries aside, no game in Denver is ever chalked up as a win for New England when the schedules are announced and this was no exception.
It took a coach's decision to give up a safety and a two-minute drive that ended with a Tom Brady to David Givens touchdown to give the Patriots its seventh win against two losses by the score of 30-26.
Brady had one of his most productive games of the year with 20 of 35 passing for 350 yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception. Deion Branch led the Patriots receivers with 3 catches for 107 yards and a score. Givens also had 3 catches, for 87 yards and a score.
For Denver, Clinton Portis had 111 yards -- the first 100-yard rusher against New England this year -- on 26 attempts. The always dangerous Rod Smith had only 4 receptions for 58 yards.
With Richard Seymour a late scratch in this one, injuries continued to by a sub-plot for New England, but with Denver playing with a quarterback just signed off the street in Danny Kanell, no one was shedding any tears in Denver for the Patriots.
So, if the Patriots plan was to take the crowd out of the game early, fumbling the snap from center was probably not part of the plan.
That's exactly what happened on New England's first possession. It looked like center Dan Koppen may have been late with the snap, after Brady had pulled back, causing the loose ball. Denver's Kenoy Kennedy recovered the botched snap and four plays later Clinton Portis ran it in from 15 yards out for the early 7-0 lead.
On third and 10 on his next try, Brady threw downfield for David Givens and the night's second turnover went to Kennedy who came down with the pass. Denver set up first and 10 at its own 35 but despite a 26-yard completion to Rod Smith, the Broncos got no further than the New England 26 and Jason Elam missed the 44-yard field goal attempt.
That's when the new over-the-top Patriots offense did its thing. On the Patriots next possession, Brady hit Deion Branch on the first play from scrimmage with a beautiful 66-yard post pass to tie the game at 7.
After both teams were unable to move the ball for any significant yardage, field position shifted to Denver's favor when a Micah Knorr punt was fair caught at the 10 by Branch. A holding call on Matt Chatham during the kick moved the ball back to the 5 and a false start on Tom Ashworth on first down moved it to the 3.
After three and out, the Patriots punted from deep in its own end and Denver took over at the New England 42. Kanell hit Smith for 13 yards down to the 29. But he could move the ball no further than the 25 and Elam was good on the 43-yard field goal attempt to put his team up 10-7.
Brady came right back going vertical again. This time he hit Givens down the right sideline for 48 yards on first and 10 from the 20. Brady followed that up with a 17-yard strike to Daniel Graham over the middle.
Down at the Denver 17, Matt Light was caught moving before the snap. Two incompletes and a no gain run by Antowain Smith later, Vinatieri was good on a 44-yard attempt to knot the game at 10.
Penalties hurt New England in the first half. After two more on the next Denver drive (offsides on Anthony Pleasant and holding on Rodney Harrison), the Patriots had 8 for 42 yards to the Broncos none. A hold on Matt Lepsis was the first for Denver but it didn't stop them from driving into New England's red zone. Kanell was finding his receivers and had plenty of time to do it as New England gave him virtually no pressure when he dropped back to pass.
When Ty Law was flagged for pass interference in the end zone – New England's ninth flag of the half -- the ball was moved to the 1-yard line where Kanell hit Mike Anderson for the touchdown.
With 24 seconds left in the half, Denver kicked off to speedster Bethel Johnson and Johnson answered with a 63-yard return. Brady threw to Faulk for 8 yards on first down and Vinatieri hit a 46-yard field goal to make the halftime score Denver 17, Patriots 13.
The Patriots began the second half with the ball and even though they had to punt, they did so in Denver territory and then the defense did its part, holding the Broncos to three and out.
The ensuing punt had Brady and company in good field position at the New England 44. Brady went to work hitting Smith for 14 and then Branch for 11. Fred McCrary got in on the action with a 9-yard swing pass and the Patriots found themselves at the Denver 18.
A huge hole up the middle opened for Smith and he rumbled for 11 yards to the 7. After a 1-yard run by Faulk, Brady looked to Graham in the end zone and the tight end made a magnificent diving catch for the score and the first Patriots lead of the game, 20-17.
New England held Denver again to a three and out. On the Broncos punt, Branch fumbled and Denver recovered but the play was challenged by New England. It was correctly ruled the ground caused the loose ball, overturning the call on the field.
That sigh of relief was short-lived, however.
A play that will have Tuesday morning quarterbacks talking happened on third and 1 for the Patriots. Instead of going for the first down in a high percentage fashion, Brady took a shot downfield. The play went incomplete and on the following punt (after another Patriot penalty) Deltha O'Neal took the low Ken Walter punt all the way for the score and Denver regained the lead at 24-20.
New England had a good opportunity to grab the lead when it drove to the Denver 7 but an ill-conceived end around to Troy brown lost 5 yards and then a hold on Joe Andruzzi lost another 10. The result was an elapsed 7:05 drive only netting 3 points on a 28-yard Vinatieri field goal.
That 1-point lead for Denver stood as New England took over with 3:06 left in the game. A Knorr punt was downed at the 1 and New England had the clock and the noisy fans at Mile High working against them. When Graham dropped an easy second and 10 pass and Brady being hit as he threw on third down, the Patriots lined up to punt.
Instead, with 2:49 left, the Patriots decided to take a safety, making the deficit 3 points. The thinking was apparently that punting from that deep would invariably wind up with Denver scoring at least 3 points and New England needing a touchdown. Despite having to kick the ball to Denver, a quick defensive stand would give the ball back to New England with only a field goal needed to tie.
The first part of the decision worked as the free kick was mishandled and rolled down to the Denver 15. Now it was up to the New England defense to get the ball into the offense's hands.
Stage two of the three-part plan worked as well. Denver advanced the ball to only its 19 and Knorr punted.
With one timeout left and 2:15 on the clock, the Patriots had the ball at their own 42.
Brady to Faulk went into high gear with completions of 5, 19 and 16 yards. Then from the Denver 18, Brady dropped back, Givens fought off his coverage and caught the game winner in the front left corner of the end zone. A stunned Mile High crowd headed for the end zone with :30 left in the game.
A last-ditch bomb by Kanell was picked off by Asante Samuel and that's the way it ended, the Patriots escaping with a 30-26 win.
New England enters its bye week with a 7-2 record and still on top of the AFC East. Its next game comes on Nov. 16 at Gillette Stadium, a Sunday night tussle with the Dallas Cowboys.