Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

A Cold Reality

The Broncos held a 24-0 lead over the Patriots at the half, only to commit a special teams blunder and lose on a field goal in overtime. Against Tom Brady, the ball never seems to bounce Peyton Manning’s way

By
Jenny Vrentas
· More from Jenny·

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Broncos’ locker room felt like it was operating in slow motion, as if the final score would somehow change if everyone lingered long enough. Running back Knowshon Moreno was the last to leave, hopping on crutches a full hour after the Patriots kicked a 31-yard field goal in overtime to complete the biggest comeback in franchise history.

Interim Broncos head coach Jack Del Rio, his cheeks flushed red from the six-degree windchill and a tinge of embarrassment, didn’t have much to tell the team after the 34-31 loss: This was a tough one, and that was a great team we played against, he said. What more can really be said after blowing 24-0 halftime lead and reinforcing your team’s greatest insecurities in prime time?

You know which insecurities: Peyton Manning lost to Tom Brady for the 10th time in 14 meetings, and yet another big game in the cold. And Wes Welker, in his return to Gillette Stadium just months after his messy split from the Patriots, was part of the muffed punt that led to New England’s game-winning score three plays later.

When it was finally over, three hours and 53 minutes after kickoff, the Broncos took their time gathering themselves. Moreno, who ran for a career-high 224 yards, struggled to walk the 20 feet from his locker to the training room after rolling his right foot on his 37th and final carry. Left tackle Chris Clark winced as he asked a team staffer to help him pull off his pads, and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie fidgeted with a new shoulder sling. Del Rio hesitated before his postgame press conference, staring at the box score.

The Broncos are still 9-2, one game ahead of the Pats (8-3) and tied with the Chiefs for the best record in the AFC. But Manning and Welker didn’t even bother pretending that this was just any old loss.

words tk (Elise Amendola/AP :: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Returning to a hostile Gillette Stadium, Wes Welker blamed the 34-31 overtime loss on himself for failing to make two crucial plays in overtime. (Elise Amendola/AP :: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Welker dressed at his locker in front of a waiting media scrum, slowly buttoning a white collared shirt dotted with navy stars. When he turned around, his glassy blue eyes were opened wide. The blame was his, he said, for a pair of plays in overtime that swung the game the Patriots’ way. There was the 3rd-and-8 at New England’s 37-yard-line, on which linebacker Jamie Collins broke up the pass to Welker, forcing the Broncos to punt. Welker said he should have squeezed the ball in tighter. On the muffed punt, Welker, who was inserted as the “safe” returner, said he should have issued the signal to call off the return earlier.

As it happened, teammate Tony Carter was still blocking his man for the return when the punt bounced into Carter’s leg. The Patriots recovered the ball at Denver’s 13-yard line, setting up Stephen Gostkowski’s chip-shot field goal with the wind at his back. Welker didn’t talk to Carter or any teammates on the sideline afterward. The first time he verbalized what happened was to the media, and he still seemed stunned.

“Well, yeah,” Welker said, with a touch of annoyance. “The game just ended.”

Stunned was also the best descriptor for Manning, who sat at his vacant locker stall, fully dressed, thumbing through his phone for several minutes. When he finally stood up and slipped into his overcoat, a security guard pointed him in the direction of the team bus. But Manning just shook his head, lingering instead in the frigid bowels of the stadium while the equipment staff emptied the locker room. At one point, he caught eyes with Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and approached him for a brief conversation—ironic because Patricia had some of the answers Manning was seeking as to why his offense managed only one score after halftime. But rivals aren’t expected to share.

“Good luck,” Manning said.

“I’ll talk to you later,” Patricia said.

No one would believe the ending if it hadn’t actually happened. Peyton Manning was given the ball first in overtime. He had the ball for 7 minutes and 53 seconds in overtime. He had the ball in Patriots territory in overtime—twice. And yet he couldn’t score. Sure, Manning wasn’t the focal point of the offense on this windy night (that was Moreno), and he posted season lows in completion percentage (52.8) and passing yards (150). But the Patriots lined up to punt on 4th-and-four from their own 43, and he was about to get the ball back with more than three minutes left in overtime, needing only a field goal to win. You’d take that bet, right?

Life’s Bounces

Peter King has more on the Patriots’ wild comeback victory over the Broncos in his Monday Morning Quarterback column.

Then the ball bounced and the duel between the two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks was decided by a special teams miscue.

“I hated the way that ended,” Manning said, “and not getting a chance there to get our hands on the ball.”

At 1:17 a.m., Manning finally headed for the team bus. Moreno hobbled through the door a few minutes later, wearing a walking boot on his right foot and flannel pajama pants for the long journey home. They left in the nick of time, just missing a gleeful Rob Gronkowski careening through the corridor in the front seat of a golf cart.

Mooooove it!” the Patriots tight end called out playfully. For the victors, it was full speed ahead.

21 comments
zoeferbie
zoeferbie

It made no sense to me that they chose Welker as the punt returner for that play.  He hardly ever got anywhere in that position as a Patriot.  He didn't even catch the ball and he still messes it up.

DougDavis
DougDavis

This was in New England, Denver lost by a field goal in overtime.  That leads me to believe that if they played on a neutral field in Omaha, Denver would be victorious.

Denver still has home field advantage in the afc so the games will be played in Denver where Denver will win.

MoeLarryAndJesus
MoeLarryAndJesus

Peyton Manning deserves to suffer.   He owns 21 Papa John's "pizza" shops.  Anyone who hates humanity enough to feed people that swill has pain coming.

Smoothkaos
Smoothkaos

I'll say what all Chiefs fans keep hearing from people to spread the wealth of ridiculous logic.  Even though it has no bearing whatsoever I guess the Broncos have been exposed by their weak early schedule because now that they're playing tougher teams they're not blowing them out like the others, blah blah blah.  Their weak defense is being exposed, blah blah blah.  OK, enough of the stupid rhetoric.  This Denver team is GOOD.  We've seen it time and time again where a team (pick a sport, any sport) gets a big lead and just like that the momentum swings and the other team mounts a furious and brutal comeback and wins.  Has no bearing on the Broncos though because they are still a good/great team.  The AFC West is no longer the laughing stock of the NFL is all this means and any team playing them, any of them, is in for a tight dogfight of a game.  BTW, that Julian Edelman cat can freaking play!  

errxn
errxn

"WELLLKAAAAHHHH IS A TRAITAAAAHHHH LIKE BENEDICT AAAAAHNOLD"

- That pretty much sums up the average Patriots fan's knowledge of how the salary cap works.

BenMyers
BenMyers

@DougDavis Maybe on that neutral field in Omaha.  Or a nice Dome in Indy.  But even with home field, guess who doesn't have the advantage?  Manning plays outdoors, in the brutal cold of Mile High, now.  He was never good in the cold in January when he was young and at his prime.  He was not good yesterday, because he is a Southern boy who played most of his career in a the wind free, cold free confines of a dome.  The only time he made noise in the post season was when he never had to play outdoors.  Don't see that changing now.

BillieBob
BillieBob

@MoeLarryAndJesus 

That's the same Papa John who said he couldn't give his employees health insurance because he'd have to raise the price on his large pizzas by 11¢. Screw Papa Johns.

SteveFarce
SteveFarce

@Smoothkaos They are good...sure, but they clearly aren't this juggernaught that Denver was telling us they were. 

ItsBond007
ItsBond007

@errxn Ignorant reply, the accent went extinct years ago. Welker was let go because he brainfarts, drops, makes critical mistakes at critical moments. Just like last night. Makes him a a perfect fit for his new team and QB who have the same traits. 

SteveFarce
SteveFarce

@errxn Explain how the salary cap plays into this, considering the Patriots had about 24 million in space when he left 

jamie11230
jamie11230

@BenMyers @DougDavis Denver has home field if they beak KC next week.  Otherwise, they could finish with a better record than the Pats but still be the #5 seed if they don't win their division.

anon76
anon76

@BenMyers

Actually after the 2006 season Indy was the 3rd seed and had to beat Baltimore in Baltimore to advance to the AFC title game (which ended up being in Indy since the Pats were a 4 seed).

And regardless of Peyton's perceived cold weather difficulty (he did fine last week in the cold in Denver, by the way), it's the Broncos' home stadium, one of the most difficult stadiums for visitors to win in, and one where Brady & Belichick have had a hard time throughout their tenure, beginning with Brady's second loss as a starter in 2001 (a 5 iNT affair), through their first playoff loss together in 2005 (Bailey returned a Brady INT 100 yards for the winning TD), as well as Bellichick's loss to his once and future assistant Josh McDaniels in 2009 (the last pre-Tebow meeting in Denver).

errxn
errxn

@SteveFarce @errxn Y'know, you're right. I should have included "Patriots front office" since they were the ones who put all those ridiculous escalators into their offer.

JordanSchatz
JordanSchatz

@anon76 @BenMyers If Manning is held to six field and goals and the worst passer rating of his career as he was in the 2006 Divisional Round in Baltimore, the Patriots will win... Only reason Baltimore lost that game was because their offense was inept as well. Don't kid yourself. Manning is awful in the cold weather. 

Robert27
Robert27

@anon76 @AnthonyAveyard The Hernandez situation is really gonna hit NE next season, something like $7.75M in dead money. IMO, it's unfair. A team shouldn't be punished in circumstances like this or the Vick - dogfighting scenario.

anon76
anon76

@AnthonyAveyard

The reason that the front office let either of them go is beyond me (as well as Brandon Lloyd).  As a Bronco fan I'm totally happy it happened, but I just can't see the logic of why the front office would mix things up so much for their veteran QB in one of his last few seasons.

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