By: Bob George/BosSports.net
November 03, 2003

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DENVER -- What this Patriot team is capable of is beginning to stagger the imagination.

Fourteen penalties for 85 yards. Two turnovers. An opposing running back shreds the defense for over 100 yards. A third string quarterback is made to look like the second coming of Clint Longley in the first half. A cut-rate defensive back runs a punt back for a touchdown. All of this at an impossible venue to win in, and on a national stage where the Patriots usually do poorly in anyway.

Oh, and though nobody knew this until game time, Richard Seymour was a scratch.

And the Patriots still won.

Woody Paige of the Denver Post, he of "Jagwad" fame (ask a Jacksonville fan what a Jagwad is), called this game a lock for Denver. Credit the Patriots for doing everything possible to make this clown of a football scribe a prophet. The Patriots seemed to do everything possible to hand a win over to Denver, but either the Patriots were too good to lose or Denver was too depleted to win.

Thanks to a genius call to take a safety, as well as a late touchdown pass from Tom Brady to David Givens from 18 yards out, the Patriots pulled out an exciting 30-26 win over the Broncos at Invesco Field At Mile High on Monday night. The Patriots improved to 7-2, lead the division by a game and a half heading into a bye week, and continued to amaze the NFL by winning tough games every week with most every player on the roster in some state of disrepair. When you see that this was a Monday night win at Denver, given all the above maladies the Patriots suffered during the game, this game might be the most amazing of all.

Bill Belichick was openly disgusted at his team at halftime, and his team responded by putting the clamps on the Bronco offense in the second half. All that the Broncos were able to muster was a 55-yard punt return by Deltha O'Neal, who also ran a punt back for a score in 2000 against the Patriots, and a safety in the fourth quarter when Lonie Paxton hiked the ball off the uprights on fourth and ten at the one. This was enough for the Patriots to take advantage of their upper hand in offense, as Brady fired two touchdown passes in the second half and Adam Vinatieri kicked his second field goal of the night.

Most people might think that Givens is the story of the game, with his game-winning grab being both a terrific fade route by Givens and a perfect throw by Brady. But the real story of this game is the Patriots being able to win this game despite all the mistakes they made. Their 14 penalties matches the most in a game for the Patriots since Belichick became head coach four seasons ago.

The game had disaster written all over it from the outset for the Patriots. On their second play from scrimmage, Brady took a bad snap from Dan Koppen and dropped it. It appeared that he recovered his own fumble, but in the ensuing scrum, Bert Berry wrestled the ball away from Brady and the Broncos had the ball at the Patriot 28. Four plays later, Clinton Portis blistered up the middle and into the end zone from 15 yards out, thanks to a great block by Tom Nalen on Roman Phifer.

Three plays into their next possession, Brady heaved the ball deep on third and ten from the Patriot 24. Kenoy Kennedy made the interception at the Denver 35. Fortunately for the Patriots, this play worked like a punt and the drive ended with Jason Elam pushing a 44-yard field goal attempt wide left.

The Patriots fixed the turnover problem from this point on, but not the penalty problem. In the first quarter, Dan Klecko and Ty Warren were both flagged for encroachment, and Givens was called for laying a resounding pick on Sam Brandon. The second quarter saw Matt Light and Tom Ashworth kill drives with false starts, then saw Denver march on a 14-play, 72-yard scoring drive aided by three killer penalties. Denver overcame third and 13 at their own 25 thanks to an offside call on Anthony Pleasant and a holding call on Rodney Harrison as he tried to defend Rod Smith. Later in the drive, Ty Law interfered with Smith in the end zone, and Danny Kanell hit Mike Anderson from one yard out on the next play to put Denver up 17-10.

O'Neal would never have run his punt back for a touchdown were it not for a holding call on the previous play on Paxton, forcing a re-kick. Joe Andruzzi helped kill a fourth quarter drive by holding Darius Holland, and the Patriots had to settle for a chip shot field goal from Vinatieri to make it 24-23 Denver.

All that said, here is what won the game for the Patriots:

The Patriots were getting killed on bootleg fakes by Kanell in the first half. By staying at home in the second half, the Patriots contained Kanell better, they contained Portis long enough so that his good runs late in the fourth quarter didn't turn out to be fatal, and they put Denver in a position where Kanell had to make hay by throwing the football. That had its predicted result: Kanell finished 16 of 35 for the game, and only 3 of 13 in the second half.

Down 24-23 with 3:06 left, the Patriots were pinned back at their one-yard line. Brady threw three incompletions (though Daniel Graham should have caught the ball on second down), and the Patriots were forced to punt. Only 17 seconds had ticked off the clock, so Belichick made the momentous decision to take the safety, and Paxton hiked the ball off the upright. The Patriots trailed, 26-23, but had all three of their timeouts and put themselves in a position to at least think overtime if they could come up with a defensive stop.

Ken Walter, the much maligned punter, boomed a beauty of a punt which took a wicked New England bounce, and Denver was pinned back at their 15. The Patriots got their much needed three-and-out, and the price they paid was only two timeouts and 34 seconds of game clock, thanks to a false start penalty on Matt Lepsis and two incompletions by Kanell. The Patriots got the ball back on their 42 with one timeout and the two-minute warning.

Without J.R. Redmond to turn to on game-winning drives, Brady turned to another running back for help. Brady hit Kevin Faulk on passes of 5, 19 and 16 yards to move the Patriots to the Denver 18. On the next play, Brady found Givens near the left front pylon of the end zone on a perfectly executed fade route for the ball game. Once again, with the game on the line, Brady had exactly the right stuff to pull out the win.

It was a hallmark night for Brady, who threw three touchdown passes in all, finished 20 of 35 for 350 yards and a passer rating of 108, and pulled off his tenth come-from-behind victory of his career. One of his passes was a 66-yard first quarter bomb to Deion Branch which got the Patriots even at 7-7. Brady also found Givens on a 48-yard sideline pass in the second quarter.

Despite Portis finishing with 111 yards rushing, he was unable to deliver the knockout punch. The Patriot defense, despite being without Seymour, contained Portis enough to cause him to not be a big factor in the game. Portis did most of his damage when he wasn't carrying the ball, as Kanell was play-faking to him and running bootleg plays with great success in the first half.

Once again, let the mistakes be hanged, the Patriots still found a way to win. This team is definitely looking like the champs of two years ago. The Patriots continue to amaze and confound at the same time. And for Patriot Nation, it is nothing short of nirvana to watch.

And so, as Paige wonders how he will take this abomination of a defeat, as Shannon Sharpe mumbles to himself after losing to the Patriots for the first time in his career, as the Mile High crowd drives home stunned after seeing their faves practically give the division title to Kansas City, the Patriots fly home considerably higher than one measly mile.

Of all the highs in 2003, this may be the highest of them all.


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