Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots
2005 AFC Divisional Game
Saturday, January 14, 2006
INVESCO Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
The Broncos closed out the 2005 regular season with a record of 13-3 and the number two seed in the AFC. Led by All-Pro defenders Al Wilson and Champ Bailey, Denver surrendered the third-fewest points per game in the league and was able to lock up the AFC West Division for the first time since 1998.
Fresh off a first-round bye, the Broncos hosted the two-time defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots in the Divisional round of the AFC Playoffs. This marked the first home playoff game for the Broncos since 1998 and the first ever postseason contest at INVESCO Field at Mile High. The two teams had already faced off once before in Week 6 of the regular season when the Broncos defeated the Patriots 28-20.
AFC Divisional Game
The game turned out to be a slugfest early on, with neither team’s offense able to get anything started. The game remained scoreless for the first quarter-and-a-half before kicker Adam Vinatieri broke the silence with a 40-yard field goal to put the Patriots in front 3-0. On the following drive, a 40-yard pass interference penalty drawn by Broncos receiver Ashley Lelie in the end zone led to a one-yard scoring run by Mike Anderson to give Denver a 7-3 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Patriots returner Ellis Hobbs was eager to make a big play. He weaved his way through the Broncos kick coverage and was one juke away from breaking loose. Punter Todd Sauerbrun was Denver’s last line of defense and was able to force a fumble, which Denver then recovered. Kicker Jason Elam quickly added a 50-yard field goal, extending the Broncos lead to 10-3 at halftime.
The Patriots offense quickly grabbed the second-half momentum. After scoring a field goal on their first second-half drive, Brady and company took their second drive deep in Denver territory trailing only by four. The Broncos defense had only surrendered two field goals, but the Patriots offense inched closer and closer to the Broncos goal-line. With third and goal from the five yard line, the Broncos needed a big time play.
1:03 REMAINING IN THE THIRD QUARTER: Patriots Third-and-goal from Broncos 5-yard line
The Patriots came out with three receivers, one tight end and a running back next to Brady who was standing in shotgun. With his defense struggling, Broncos Defensive Coordinator Larry Coyer dialed up a blitz to pressure Brady with hopes of forcing an errant throw.
The complexity of Denver’s defensive front confused the Patriots offensive line. This freed up strong safety Nick Ferguson, who shot through the line untouched and forced Brady to roll out to his right to avoid the rush. There was no avoiding Ferguson’s pressure and Brady was forced to get rid of the ball before he was ready.
Brady looked to his most reliable target, receiver Troy Brown, who was breaking towards the corner pylon. In the moment, Brown was open, but Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey was in the area waiting to make a huge play. Bailey snagged the ball 4 yards deep in his own end zone and took off down the west sideline with nothing but the open field in front of him. He ran all the way down to the Patriots 1-yard line, where Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson caught him from behind and knocked him out of bounds just before he crossed the goal line. The 103-yard interception return was the longest non-scoring play in NFL playoff history.
“I definitely thought I was there, but I really didn’t have anything left… I never thought that Mile-High air would jump on me like that,” said Bailey when recounting the play. When asked about Benjamin Watson’s touchdown-saving tackle near the goal line, he responded, “I never even saw him. Even if I did, I wouldn’t have had enough gas to get in there anyway.”
The play was incremental in shifting the momentum. Anderson later punched in his second touchdown run from the 1-yard line and the Broncos never looked back, defeating the Patriots 27-13. The victory, which was Denver’s first in the postseason since defeating Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIII, ended the Patriots NFL-record 10-game postseason winning streak.
“Plays like that definitely can [change a game], if you can get a pick in the red zone, it’s the point swing that people don’t even think about,” said Bailey. "They can get three or seven, but we turn around, get seven, that’s the point swing that you’re hoping for.”