DENVER -- The Broncos didn't put forth the efficient, mistake-free effort they knew they needed against the New England Patriots.
Three lost fumbles, seven penalties and communication breakdowns spoiled a strong start and put Denver in too deep a hole, as the Patriots ended the Broncos' six-game win streak with a 41-23 victory Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"All in all we hung in there with them physically," Head Coach John Fox said. "The turnovers were really the big difference."
"Against a good team like that, if you give them chances," cornerback
Tom Brady and the potent New England offense did just that, taking advantage of Denver mistakes to overcome an early surge from the Broncos.
Denver struck on the game's opening drive, as quarterback
Five plays later, Brady found Chad Ochocinco all alone behind the secondary for a 33-yard score and Stephen Gostkowski added the extra point to put New England in front.
But the Broncos answered right back.
Then came the turnovers. And 27 unanswered points from the Patriots.
After Brady found tight end Aaron Hernandez -- who consistently found openings in the secondary, totaling 129 yards receiving -- for a 1-yard touchdown to conclude an eight-play, 80-yard drive, Ball lost a fumble on the first play of the Broncos' ensuing possession. The Denver defense held strong and allowed only a field goal, but the Patriots took their first lead, 17-16.
Three plays into their next possession, the Broncos lost another fumble.
This time Tebow was hit as he prepared to pitch the ball to
With 14 seconds left and New England punting, it appeared both teams were poised to enter the half with the Patriots holding a 24-16 advantage.
"We felt like we were moving the ball pretty well but then we put the ball on the ground," quarterback Tim Tebow said, "and that's something you can't do versus a great team."
"If we hold onto the ball in this game, who knows what happens."
Running back Danny Woodhead reached the end zone on a 10-yard run in the final minute of the third quarter to push the Patriots lead to 34-16, but the Broncos weren't done.
Tebow led them 89 yards down the field with four completions and charged into the end zone from two yards out to cut the deficit to 11 with 8:41 to go. Momentum had swung back to the Broncos as the crowd erupted, sensing another second-half rally coming.
"I was thinking we've got a chance. It's just now we've got to go out and get a stop," Bailey said. "We didn't do that."
The Patriots quieted the crowd and extinguished Denver's comeback hopes with a methodical nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown run from BenJarvus Green-Ellis to give New England a 41-23 lead.
It was a challenging day for a Denver defense that tried to limit that the damage of three turnovers from the offense, was without safety
Mental mistakes and communication issues made slowing down Brady and Co. even harder.
"There were a lot of plays where, as a defense, we weren't communicating the right way, and they took advantage of some of the things," cornerback Andre' Goodman said. "We were kind of discombobulated. A team like that … when you start making those mistakes combined with the big plays we were giving up -- it's just tough to overcome those things."