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How It Happened: Patriots 34, Broncos 31

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Broncos had seen this before.

A primetime game. One team owns the first half to the tune of a 24-0 lead. The other team comes roaring back to take a second-half lead.

Denver had been on the other side of that equation just last season, toppling San Diego 35-24 on Monday Night Football to start an 11-game winning streak.

Sunday night in Foxborough, Mass., however, it was the Broncos who fell victim to the New England Patriots' second-half surge. But the team didn't quit -- in fact, it battled back to tie the game and send it to overtime, driving close to field-goal range in the extra frame.

But a miscue on a punt return gave New England the ball and cost Denver the game.

With Wes Welker deep to field the kick late in the overtime period, the wind that had been gusting all game caused a short kick. Welker motioned his teammates away, but the ball bounced into cornerback Tony Carter and the Patriots pounced on it at the 13-yard line.

"It's one of those freakish things that happen in football," Carter said. "The ball took a bad bounce. Obviously we're all trying to get out of the way. It just so happened to hit me and they recovered it and it set them up for a field goal. It was a big play in the game and just one of those things you wish you could take back."

Three plays later, Stephen Gostkowski kicked the 31-yard, game-winning field goal through the uprights.

The 34-31 overtime loss at Gillette Stadium dropped the Broncos to 9-2.

"It was really a tale of two halves for us," Interim Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "We forced turnovers and jumped on them early and then they forced turnovers and jumped on us in the second half."

At halftime, Peyton Manning had just 61 passing yards. No Broncos receiver had more than two catches.

But Knowshon Moreno had more than 100 yards on the ground, the Patriots had fumbled six times -- three of which were recovered by the Broncos -- and the defense had a touchdown of its own en route to a 24-0 lead.

"Knowshon, he brought his A-game," Welker said. "You saw it tonight and he's a guy that you love having on your team because that's what he does – he brings it every night and every day in practice. You've got to respect that."

The defense spurred on two other scores, as well.

On the Patriots' first drive of the game, linebacker Wesley Woodyard streaked into the backfield and laid a big hit on running back Stevan Ridley, jarring the ball loose. Fellow linebacker Von Miller scooped up the fumble and ran it back 60 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.

When New England got the ball back, it took just two plays for Miller to make his presence felt once again. He strip-sacked Brady and this time it was defensive tackle Terrance Knighton's turn to recover the fumble -- though he didn't get all the way into the end zone.

Moreno did the rest, picking up the necessary 10 yards on two carries to find the end zone for a 14-0 Broncos lead.

Safety Duke Ihenacho caused New England's third fumble in as many possessions on the ensuing drive when he knocked the ball out of running back LeGarrette Blount's hands. Linebacker Danny Trevathan's fumble recovery gave the ball back to Denver's offense, which drove down the field to tack on a Matt Prater field goal.

The Denver defense forced a Patriots punt and a turnover on downs on New England's next two drives, and midway through the second quarter, Manning's 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Tamme gave Denver a 24-0 lead.

The club held that lead for one more quarter. Less than two minutes into the fourth frame, Tom Brady found Julian Edelman for a 14-yard score and the Patriots' first lead of the game -- a 28-24 advantage.

Gostkowski's first field goal of the game extended New England's lead to seven midway through the fourth quarter. But the Broncos had an answer.

Manning and the offense put together a 10-play, 80-yard drive that Demaryius Thomas capped with an 11-yard touchdown grab to tie the game.

"We showed some fight in the fourth quarter – I mean, a team comes back on you like that and takes the lead on you at their place, and then we came back and tied the game again," Tamme said. "Proud to be a Bronco, proud of the way we fought, we just didn't make enough plays down the stretch."

In overtime, the Patriots won the coin toss but gave the Broncos the ball, instead electing to choose the side of the field that would make the Broncos go against the wind.

Denver had two possessions in the final frame, driving as close as the New England 37-yard line before its second drive stalled.

"We're right there in the end with a chance to win the game. We were just probably 5 yards short of where we needed to get to to have a realistic shot of making a field goal," Del Rio said.

New England's ensuing drive stalled as well, but the resulting punt hit Carter and was recovered by the Patriots.

The job now will be to move on from such a disappointing loss.

"I think that's the test of good football teams," Manning said. "I think it would be wrong if guys weren't disappointed and bothered by this loss. So, I think you're allowed a night and maybe half a day tomorrow to still be ticked off about it and disappointed. That is part of being a professional, to learn from it, study the film and learn from the coaches."

Moreno finished the game with 224 rushing yards and a touchdown. Manning threw for 150 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Tamme was his leading receiver with five catches for 47 yards and a score.

On the defensive side of the ball, Woodyard led the way with 15 tackles while Miller added eight tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Next week, the Broncos face another stiff road test when they travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs for the second time in a three-week span.

"It was a tough game, we lost to a tough team," Miller said. "We'll get back to the lab, get back in the film room and find out exactly what we did wrong, look at the good stuff that we did good and get ready for a good KC team." 

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