The Patriots struggled to get back into gear against the Denver Broncos, falling 18-12 in the thrice-rescheduled game that ended up costing both teams their bye weeks. Despite a signature late push, New England made too many early mistakes and turnovers that kept them from threatening a Broncos lead that was built with only field goals for three quarters.
Cam Newton and the offense started things off with a fumble on their first drive and couldn't find any consistency throughout the game. Defensively, the Patriots didn't have many answers for Drew Lock and Broncos offense, except when it came on third down and in the red zone, where New England clamped down and held Denver without a touchdown despite multiple double-digit-play drives that controlled most of the game.
After two weeks of uncertainty and a lack of practice routine, the Patriots flat performance wasn't entirely surprising but, now 2-3, the Patriots must quickly bounce back and get their season on the right course.
Here's everything that stood out from the disappointing loss.
- The Broncos took an early 3-0 lead on their first drive, powered by a 41-yard completion to Tim Patrick up the sideline over Jason McCourty. The Patriots would hold though, with Jonathan Jones having good coverage on two consecutive passes on second and third down to force the field goal attempt. The referees picked up their flag for pass interference on the second down play as Jones avoided a penalty that would've set the Broncos up near the Pats goal line.
- Personnel notes...With Shaq Mason out the Patriots rejiggered their offensive line, sliding Joe Thuney to center, Mike Onwenu to right guard, Isaiah Wynn inside to left guard and rookie Justin Herron at left tackle. Only right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor started in his regular spot. Herron started at right tackle against the Chiefs. Rookie Anfernee Jennings got the start at linebacker as his snaps continue to post gains. Eluemunor was injured in the first quarter, resulting in additional juggling on the offensive line as Hjalte Froholdt entered the game at right guard with Onwenu sliding to right tackle.
- The Patriots first possession showed a focus on running up the middle but a third-down deflected pass by Cam Newton was picked off with an athletic play by Denver's DeShawn Williams, who made the diving interception. It appeared New England was looking to set up a screen pass on the play and it might've been a big gain, however it was a sloppy turnover that gave Denver the ball at New England's 33-yard line and some early momentum.
- The defense wouldn't give up a first down though, with Jonathan Jones again showing excellent coverage deep on third down to get a pass defensed and force the Broncos to settle for another field goal, a 44-yarder that gave Denver a 6-0 lead. The early work by the defense against Phillip Lindsay and the Denver run game was a positive carryover from the job they did against the Chiefs. The long layoff and lack of practice didn't appear to cause any rust early on for the D.
- Newton couldn't get much going on the next drive, taking a big sack that resulted in an injury for Jermaine Eluemunor. It was clear early on the Patriots were going to lean heavily on the run. Newton would attempt just four passes on the two drives of the first quarter, with James White being targeted on all of them.
- Drew Lock and the Broncos offense would respond with an excellent drive, including plays of 11, 18 and a big 27-yard gain on 3rd-and-8 from New England's 38 to rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbunam with Kyle Dugger in coverage. Lock was calm in the pocket, completing passes with good rhythm. But once again, the Patriots defense stiffened in the red zone, holding Denver to a third-straight field goal, this one 27 yards that made it 9-0 early in the second quarter. It was 13-play, 83-yard scoring drive that also saw a second significant-looking injury, this one to Adam Butler which was later ruled an elbow injury.
- The Patriots started to find some success offensively on the next drive with Newton finding tight end Ryan Izzo for two nice gains totaling 22 yards. Isaiah Zuber would get in on the pass-catching action, grabbing his own for 16 yards. The practice squadder has been getting more and more involved in recent weeks in a bit of a surprise development. The drive was derailed with a bad snap that lost 15 yards and forced the Pats to settle for a 41-yard field goal by Nick Folk. It was still a 12-play drive that saw the passing offense come to life a bit.
- The Broncos would pick back up where they left off on their next drive, with gains of 20 and 17 yards quickly moving them past midfield then converting a 3rd-and-1 as time wound down in the first half. John Simon would get a key sack that cost the Broncos 13 yards and backed them back to the New England 33. It was a huge play as the Broncos were looking to extend their lead going into the half, perhaps all the way to 16-3. Brandon McManus would make the 52-yard field goal to make it 12-3 going into the half.
- It was a sloppy first half for the Patriots who looked every bit as rusty as you might expect a team with limited practice over the last two weeks. The red zone and third down defense saved it from Denver grabbing an early insurmountable lead, but a two-score lead still looked fairly daunting as the Patriots offense couldn't string much success together.
- The Patriots would adjust their offensive line for the second half, putting Wynn back to left tackle and sliding Onwenu to the left guard spot and Herron over to right tackle, but it didn't make much difference as Newton would be sacked and fumble on their first third down after two ineffective runs. Luckily, Onwenu would recover the fumble and New England would still get to punt. It was not the start to the second half the Patriots were looking for.
- Ja'Whaun Bentley would come up with a big second-down sack but Lock would make one of his best throws of the day on 3rd-and-21, connecting for 35 yards down the sideline with Patrick in between the coverage of Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson. The Broncos would continue their drive, picking up a holding penalty on Stephon Gilmore in the end zone to give them a fresh set of downs, but once again the red zone defense came through and held Denver to their fifth field goal of the game, this one a 20 yarder. But again New England had few answers for stopping the Broncos offense outside of the red zone stops.
- The offense couldn't counter after Denver took the 12-point lead and time in the third quarter ticking down, with Ryan Izzo fumbling what would've been a third-down conversion. That set Denver back up on New England's 42-yard line but once again the defense would hold, forcing McManus' sixth field goal, this one his longest at 54 yards.
- The Patriots would get the ball back again, somehow still only down by 15 points despite Denver carrying most of the play throughout the game, but Newton would throw another interception on the next play as things went from bad to worse. The Patriots defense would manage to force their first punt of the day to keep it a two score game, but the offense would quickly go three-and-out themselves.
- New England would show some signs of life in the fourth quarter, sparked first by Gunner Olszewski getting run into while trying to return a punt which gave New England an easy 15 yards to start the drive. Newton would then find Byrd for 19 yards, followed by a 38-yard scramble by Newton that got the Patriots down inside the Broncos 10. The quarterback would keep it himself for the first touchdown of the game (after review), giving the Pats new life, but a failed two-point conversion maintained a two-score lead for Denver.
- Lock was mistake-free for most of the game but that fell apart on the next possession as his third-down pass was picked off by J.C. Jackson and returned 30 yards to the Broncos 25-yard line. Nick Folk would make a 38-yard field goal to close the score to 18-12 with 3:23 left. As always, even when they don't have their best stuff, the Patriots make things interesting. This set up a critical possession for Denver to close the game out or give the Patriots a chance at a game-winning touchdown drive. Lock would respond on the very next play with another interception, this one a dynamic downfield pick made by Jonathan Jones. The Patriots took over at 3:14 from their own 28-yard line.
- The offense would break out the bag of tricks on the final drive with a double pass, Newton-to-Edelman-to-White, that would pick up 22 yards and get them out to midfield. Edelman would then complete a pass to Newton for 16 yards to keep the drive moving. Josh McDaniels opened up the playbook in trying to manufacture offense late. But unfortunately the final 4th-and-10 pass would fall incomplete, sealing the win for the Broncos. It was a nice late push by the Patriots but too little, too late to get a win.