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January 14, 2006
Turnovers Doom Patriots, Interrupt Dynasty
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

DENVER -- All those prognosticators who thought the Patriots would win forgot which city this game was being played in.

Finally coming down to earth and showing their mortality, the now defrocked Super Bowl champion Patriots saw their dream for a third straight Super Bowl championship go up in flames at “Football Hades, Colorado” (thanks, Ron Borges). Thanks to almost all their points coming off Patriot turnovers, the Denver Broncos were able to capitalize on each and every Patriot mistake and walk off their home field with a 27-13 victory in the AFC Divisional round. The Broncos now await Sunday’s Pittsburgh-Indianapolis game to determine who, and where, they will play next week for the AFC Championship and a berth in Super Bowl XL.

Three fumbles, two of them on special teams, and a costly interception by Tom Brady in the end zone doomed the Patriots as they continued their pattern of shoddy play in Denver. The Patriots were also the recipients of some bad breaks from the officials, including a bogus pass interference call which set up one touchdown and a non-call which set up still another. But in the end it was the turnovers which killed the Patriots, and took away their chance at history.

You name it, all the traditional go-to guys for the Patriots failed tonight. Brady had the interception, an end zone toss to Champ Bailey which was returned 100 yards to the Patriot 1. Troy Brown and Ellis Hobbs fumbled on special teams, Brown on a punt and Hobbs on a kickoff. Kevin Faulk killed a second-quarter drive with a fumble where the Patriots were driving. And even Adam Vinatieri missed a 43-yard field goal which would have made it an eight-point game in the third quarter.

Take away the turnovers, and it was a tough and taut defensive battle. The Patriots were indeed able to take away the Denver running attack. But the Patriots were stymied on offense also by the blitzing Bronco defense, which forced Brady into numerous misfires and hurried throws. It wasn’t until late in the contest when the Patriots were finally able to find the end zone, but by then the Broncos were up by 18 points.

It was 3-0 Patriots in the second quarter, and the Patriots had the ball at their own 7. Brady hit David Givens in the right flat for 21 yards, then Corey Dillon ran eight yards off left tackle. On the next play, Faulk ran up the gut and made the first down, but Courtney Brown stripped the ball from Faulk and Ian Gold recovered the ball.

Perched at the Patriot 40, Plummer launched one deep on the first play down the left sideline and into the end zone. Asante Samuel stayed right with Ashley Lelie, and the ball sailed over the two of them. But Samuel was flagged for pass interference, despite the fact that there was at best incidental contact and that Samuel played the ball only and never played the man. One play later from the one, Mike Anderson blasted it in and the Broncos took the lead for good, 7-3.

Hobbs was hit on the ensuing kickoff by punter/kickoff man Todd Sauerbrun, and Cecil Sapp covered the loose ball at the Patriot 39. The Broncos moved seven yards and settled for a 50-yard field goal by Jason Elam. It was 10-3 Broncos at the half, but the Patriots weren’t dead at all. They had done pretty much what they wanted to do on defense, but handed over 10 points to Denver on fumbles.

The third quarter was supposed to be when the Patriots would assert themselves and take the lead back. After stopping the Patriots three and out, Brady drove the Patriots 58 yards in 11 plays, capped off by a Vinatieri field goal from 32 yards out. A sack of Plummer helped get the ball back quick to the Patriots, and Brady drove the Patriots 73 yards to the Bronco 5.

Then disaster struck. On third and goal, Brady tried to force the ball to Brown in the right corner of the end zone. But Bailey stepped in front of Brown and intercepted the ball. Bailey tightroped the left sideline and rumbled almost all the way. Benjamin Watson sped almost 100 yards himself and managed to collar Bailey at the one. Watson knocked the ball out of Bailey’s hands, and it appeared that the ball went out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback for the Patriots. But referee Jeff Triplette ruled that there was not enough video evidence to overturn the call, and Anderson ran it in from the one on the next play to make it 17-6 Broncos.

The Patriots got the ball back and drove 46 yards to the Denver 25 before stalling. Vinatieri came on to try a 43-yard field goal, but pushed his try wide right. After a defensive stop, Brown was in position to field the ensuing Bronco punt at the 10. But he muffed the punt, and Mike Leach recovered at the 15. Three plays later, Plummer found Rod Smith from four yards out to make it 24-6 and pretty much academic.

The Patriots never stopped fighting. A late four-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Givens allowed the Patriot receiver to move within one of John Stallworth’s record for most consecutive postseason games with a touchdown catch. But Plummer put the Patriots away with a 42-yard pass to Smith which set up a 34-yard field goal by Elam. Brady threw one last pick, a deep ball to Andre Davis which was intercepted at the Denver 34 by John Lynch to seal it.

It is useless to discuss numbers in this game. All but three of the Bronco points came off turnovers. Otherwise, the Patriots did what they had to do to win the game. But this is the absolute worst NFL venue to try and win despite five turnovers. It further underscores the Patriots’ inability to win in this city, be it here or at old Mile High Stadium. The Patriots have to play literally perfect football to win here, and except for the turnovers, they pretty much did.

The Patriots suffer their first playoff loss in the Brady-Belichick era. They won’t get the three Super Bowl wins in a row. They can merely resume the “dynasty” discussion by winning next year. But the Patriots tumbled hard at Denver tonight, as many of the Patriot playoff heroes of games and years past looked all too mortal Saturday night.

As for Denver, they can smile, celebrate, and look forward to a likely date with their own Football Hades, if Indianapolis wins Sunday. Don’t be surprised if there is a ton of celebrating in Indiana tonight, as a Colt nemesis is eliminated at the hands of a Colt patsy (as evidenced by the last two postseason performances by Denver at the RCA Dome).

The Patriots are human after all. Perfection is an illusion. What they have done, and continue to do, is still remarkable.

And as former Celtic great John Havlicek said, to paraphrase, “We’re only dead until August!” So can be said for the Patriots, still the greatest organization in the NFL.


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