New England Patriots: An Awful Night In Denver


Things seemed to being okay in the early going Sunday night. The New England Patriots weren’t dominating, but steadily getting the job done against the Broncos in snowy Denver. Even with two of his top targets sidelined, Tom Brady managed to throw three touchdown passes and the Pats led 21-7 to begin the 4th quarter with the Broncos set to punt. That’s when it all went to shit.

Fielding the punt was undrafted rookie wide receiver Chris Harper, who signed with the team less than two weeks ago off the practice squad. He muffed it and Denver recovered at the New England 36-yard line. Had Harper managed to hold on to the ball, the Patriots would have likely begun to pound away with running back LeGarrette Blount and eat up the clock. Instead, the defense was forced to come right back on the field and the Broncos scored four plays later to make it 21-14.

A couple penalties killed New England’s next possession, and after a three and out Denver got the ball back with 11 minutes remaining. They drove all the way to the New England 3, but a stop on 3rd and goal led to a field goal with 6:08 remaining to make it 21-17. The teams traded punts on the next two possessions and the Patriots got the ball back with 4:12 to go and the same 4-point lead. They had an opportunity at this point to get a few first downs and seal the game. They’ve escaped some close ones this season, and weathered the storm after injury upon injury, but on this night they were dealt what may prove to be a disastrous blow.

On the second play of the drive, Brady completed a 14-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski, moving the ball to New England’s own 40. On 1st down with under three minutes to go, Brady went right back to him, but the pass fell incomplete and Gronk took a shot to his right knee from Denver’s Darian Stewart. He stayed down for some time and appeared to be in tremendous pain, but did manage to get to his feet and walk with some assistance to the cart. He didn’t return to the field and we don’t know at this time exactly how bad the injury is. Initial reports say it isn’t one that will threaten his season, with more definite news likely to come Monday morning.

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It felt though that in the moments after it occurred Patriots fans and players alike were fearing the worst. The rest of the game seemed to be played in a fog of speculation and concern. New England punted with 2:39 to go and the Broncos drove the ball 83 yards and scored a touchdown with just over a minute remaining to take a 24-21 lead. They were aided by a very questionable defensive holding call on Patrick Chung, which erased an Alan Branch sack and set Denver up with 1st and goal at the 4. They scored on the next play.

With just one timeout remained, Brady led the Patriots into field goal range and Stephen Gostkowski tied the game with a 47-yarder as time expired. Overtime, however, followed the trend that started with Harper’s fumble at the beginning of the 4th. New England got the ball first, but quickly punted after a sack sandwiched by two incompletions. Denver took over at their own 43, and running back C.J. Anderson broke a 48-yard run on 3rd and one for the game winning score, handing the Patriots their first loss.

It was a tough one to swallow, and will be much, much worse if it also results in Gronkowski missing substantial time. As fantastic as Brady is, he can’t catch the ball himself, a point once made famously by his wife Gisele. The Patriots need their All-Pro tight end to be okay. He’s essential to their offense and completely irreplaceable. The Patriots won’t be undefeated this season, but a 5th title is still well within reach. Their luck must change, however, with injuries moving forward, starting with the status of Gronk’s right knee.