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Patriots Offensive Struggles, Muffed Punt Lead To Overtime Loss At Denver

By Gregory Hunt

On a cold, snowy and breezy Sunday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the New England Patriots suffered two losses at the hands of the Denver Broncos. One was the loss of the game, 30-24 in overtime. The other was the loss of superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski, who left the game in the second half after suffering what appeared to be a serious knee injury. The Broncos have now won two consecutive games with backup quarterback Brock Osweiler at the helm, while the Patriots now deal with their first loss of the season after starting the year 10-0.

Offense: C-

Before his injury, Gronkowski broke a tackle on a 23-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, but in the fourth quarter he was called for his fifth pass interference penalty of the season. Guard Josh Klein had difficulty blocking Denver defensive end Derek Wolfe, who overpowered Klein twice — once to sack quarterback Tom Brady, and another time to tackle running back Brandon Bolden for a loss. Brandon LaFell dropped a deep pass in the second quarter that could have resulted in a touchdown.

After Denver reduced its deficit to seven points early in the fourth quarter, New England's next drive was blown up by penalties to tackle Sebastian Vollmer and guard Tre' Jackson. New England's inability to move the ball in the second half allowed Denver to overcome a 14-point deficit. The only big offensive play for New England in the second half came on Bolden's 63-yard touchdown catch.

Defense: C-

The Patriots defense got off to a fast start with linebacker Rob Ninkovich making a tackle for a loss on Denver's first play from scrimmage. New England forced three-and-outs on Denver's first two possessions, and Denver's offense never got on track until a 10-play, 77-yard drive in the second quarter. Linebacker Jonathan Freeny made a key sack that took Denver out of field goal range in the first quarter, then Jabaal Sheard hit quarterback Brock Osweiler's arm, causing the ball to pop into the air and allowing linebacker Chandler Jones to make an interception in the second quarter. Cornerback Logan Ryan did an excellent job covering Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who made only one catch on 12 targets.

On the down side, New England had great difficulty containing running back C.J. Anderson, who had no problem making quick cuts despite the slippery field conditions. He rushed 15 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns, including the 48-yard game-winner in overtime. Denver wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders picked up the slack for Thomas with 113 yards receiving, including a 39-yarder on New England cornerback Malcolm Butler that set up Denver's go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. A holding penalty on safety Patrick Chung negated a sack by defensive tackle Alan Branch. That sack would have set up a 3rd-and-goal from the 19-yard line; instead, Denver got an automatic first down at the 4-yard line and scored a touchdown on the next play.

Special Teams: B

Punter Ryan Allen put in a solid performance on a night when he needed to punt 10 times. He put five punts inside the 20-yard line, and his best punt was a 53-yarder that was downed at the Denver 3-yard line. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski made a 47-yard field goal to tie the game as the clock expired at the end of regulation.

Without wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, rookie wide receiver Chris Harper was assigned to return punts, and a muffed punt by him in the fourth quarter gave Denver a short field for a 36-yard touchdown drive. That touchdown cut New England's lead to seven points and changed the entire momentum of the game.

Coaching: B

The cold, snowy, breezy weather conditions may have had something to do with it, but when the Patriots gained possession of the ball at their own 20 with 2:07 remaining in the first half, they didn't appear to try to score. After passing on nearly every play to that point, New England ran the ball five consecutive times before throwing a deep pass out of bounds on 4th down to run the final five seconds off the clock. On the positive side, the offensive game plan did a good job of isolating Denver's linebackers on New England's running backs. Denver had difficult staying with the running backs on deep routes.

With five games left to play, the Patriots still have a one-game lead over the Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals for the number-one seed in the AFC playoffs. But now that the Broncos hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Patriots, New England doesn't have much room for error. Next week, the Patriots will return to Gillette Stadium where they will face the 4-7 Philadelphia Eagles Sunday afternoon.

Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He's also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women's college basketball. He currently works for where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on

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