By: Russ Goldman
Before we look forward to the new Patriots season, I wanted to take a look back at a time when the Patriots started to create their Dynasty. There was a game that I attended that I truly believe was a sign of the great things to come. On November 2nd, 2003 the Patriots won an epic game against the Broncos at Invesco Field in Denver, Colorado on Monday Night Football. I truly believe this victory represented the turning point of the Patriots Dynasty.
The Patriots in 2003, were coming off of a bad 9-7 season and missed the play-offs. The season got off to a rocky start, but heading to Denver, the Patriots were 6-2, and this was their last game before their bye week. A loss in Denver would not have been the end the world, but to beat the Broncos at a place where the Patriots had struggled, turned out to be a positive step of what the future would bring.
This was the first road Patriots game I have ever attended, and I have to say that Invesco Field is an extremely loud home field advantage. I was lucky enough to sit ten rows behind the Patriots bench on the 50 yard line. I had prime viewing for this Patriots game that is the most memorable I have seen in person. I have been to play-off games, and other incredible victories, but nothing touches that night in Denver.
The Patriots started slow and got behind early 7-0, but they came back with a 66 yard bomb from Tom Brady to Deion Branch, that was one of the best deep balls I have ever seen him throw in person.
At half-time the Patriots trailed 17-13, and I remember talking to a Broncos fan that brought up comments from Shannon Sharpe several years prior making fun of the Patriots. I can tell you that he wasn’t the only confident Broncos fan I saw that night at half-time. Well, the Broncos fans changed their tune at the end of the game, but I will get to that a little later.
The second half was fascinating, and the craziness really began with 3:40 left in the 3rd quarter. With the Patriots leading 20-17, they were forced to punt, and the Broncos punt returner took it back for a touchdown to take the lead 24-20 at that point. However, the Patriots would edge closer with a field goal by Adam Vinatieri making the score 24-23 with 11:09 left in the game.
With less than three minutes to go in the game, I saw something I have never seen in a football game before. Patriots long snapper Lonnie Paxton snapped the ball back on a punt that hit the upright for a safety. As we found out later, this was intentional, but at the time I really had no idea what just happened.
With the game now being 26-23 Broncos, the Patriots punted it back, and now it was up to the Patriots defense to make a stop on defense, and get the ball back. Well, they accomplished that goal, and this drive eventually led to Brady throwing a 16 yard pass to Kevin Faulk to put the Patriots in field goal range.
I truly believe the Patriots were setting this game up to go into overtime. Well, I was wrong, because on the very next play, Brady found David Givens in the corner of the end-zone for the winning touchdown with just 30 second left in the game.
The Patriots held on for the dramatic 30-26 victory, and I have to tell you, nothing was sweeter than watching Broncos fans leave with their heads down, and just Patriots fans left celebrating. Let me tell you, there were a ton of Patriots fans at this game.
Now, why was this game the turning point for the Patriots Dynasty? There are several reasons I feel this way. First, to win a game on the road in such a hostile environment like Denver shows character. The Patriots won in dramatic fashion in Miami, but you cannot compare the crowds. The atmosphere in Denver was electric, and all I heard was noise for three hours.
Second, the ability to fight through adversity, when you are down, and find a way to win, is a trait of a champion I feel. It would have been easy to pack it in on the road late in the game, but the Patriots never gave up, and found a way to win.
Third, to be able to make a key stop on defense, when you absolutely needed it, showed me again, that the Patriots were building something. After the Safety and the punt back to the Broncos, the Patriots defense needed to come up with a three and out, and that is exactly what they accomplished.
Fourth, to have the ability to make a critical decision during a tough situation showed me that the coaching staff was ready to take their game to the next level. It was a gutsy call by Head Coach Bill Belichick to call for the safety, but he turned out to be right, and he would make other tough decisions just like that one later on in the Dynasty years.
Finally, the ability of Brady to win the game when he had the chance, showed his development as a quarterback and a leader. I thought Brady took his game to the next level against Denver, as he was 20-35 for 350 yards, and threw three touchdown passes. However, it was his decision making, and will to win that shined through in this game, and this trait has continued to show itself throughout the rest of his career.
All of these reasons that I have just mentioned would become building blocks of the Patriots Dynasty. They were all on display at Invesco Field that night, and I truly felt there was something special about this Patriots team.
The next morning I left with my wife to go back to Boston, and as we were getting on the plane to take us home, my wife asked Boston Globe sportswriter Nick Cafardo if the Patriots were going to the Super Bowl, and he answered that it certainly looked that way. On November 2nd in Denver Colorado in 2003, the New England Patriots made the turn towards building the Patriots Dynasty.