Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski connected for a touchdown in the waning seconds in Denver on Sunday to give the visiting Patriots hope of a late comeback in the AFC Championship Game.
But it is a missed connection a few seconds later that in the end decided New England's season and left Bill Belichick's defending Super Bowl Champions a long offseason to lament what could have been.
Brady's 4-yard touchdown to Gronkowski pulled the Patriots to within 20-18 with 0:12 showing on the clock.
Obviously, New England needed a two-point conversion to potentially extend the game into overtime, which would have marked a second straight trip to Denver that went to extra time and the fourth Broncos game this season that needed more than four quarters to be decided.
Brady took his team to the 2-yard line with the ball on the left hash mark. The New England passer, who's been in so many high-pressure situations like this one before, was in the shotgun with James White aligned to his right in the backfield.
Gronkowski was set in a three-point stance as an inline tight end to the right, with Julian Edelman split wide. To Brady's left was a tight twins set with Keshawn Martin on the outside and Danny Amendola just inside him in the slot
Just before the snap, Edelman motioned inside. As soon as he got the ball, Brady rolled to his right side and seemed to look for White cutting to the outside. Gronkowksi got a free release and has one-on-one coverage with backup Broncos safety Shiloh Keo, who was in the game due to injuries in the Denver back end, working inside out.
Two Broncos defenders, including Chris Harris run with White. Brady immediately seemed to scan left from White to the middle of the field, skipping past Gronkowski and zeroing in on Edelman. Brady threw the ball, which was deflected and intercepted by cornerback Bradley Roby.
Meanwhile, Gronkowksi was cutting to the back corner of the end zone, easily beating the backup safety for what could have been a pitch-and-catch two-point play for the Patriots.
Heck, even if Gronkowksi didn't have much space, seeing him one-on-one with a backup safety should have given Brady a clear target.
Maybe Denver did a good job pre-snap of disguising the coverage. It did initially look like the Broncos were prepared to bang Gronkowski at the line and maybe keep their top cover guy, Harris on him. Keo was actually late to get over into position to cover Gronkowski.
Regardless, Gronkowski had already made pair of key fourth-down plays to even get the Patriots in position they were in – a 40-yarder and the 4-yard score. He earned another shot to almost single handedly carry a struggling offense into overtime.
But Brady, rolling right, either never saw big No. 87 or didn't see him at the right time in his progression of reads.
Now, Brady will have an entire offseason to see Gronkowksi on film and see what could have been.
New England easily could have scored the two points it desperately needed to extend the day. The offense that had struggled most of the evening had gotten into scoring territory on three-straight possessions, so it certainly had some momentum heading into overtime.
The final Take Two-sday of the 2015 season is the most unfortunate of the year. Despite getting manhandled for the better part of 50-plus minutes in Denver, Brady and the Patriots had the chance to pull one out the end. Unfortunately, Brady just didn't see that chance, that lifeline that is Gronkowksi, and the season came to a painful, abrupt close.