FOXBOROUGH, Mass. --Since time immemorial, there has been an adage in baseball: "The ball always finds you." And it doesn't matter if you play as often as Cal Ripken, Jr. or as sporadically as the 25th man on the roster.
It's not always true in football, with the ball often concentrated with the quarterback, center and a skill-position player, and the direction of the ball more focused. But it does happen.
When the football found Tony Carter last year, fortune was often kind, and he returned it in the opposite direction for touchdowns at San Diego and Carolina. But in those instances, he could see it coming. With 3:03 left in overtime early Monday morning, he didn't.
"I was kind of blocking my guy, hoping we were going to get a return, but we hadn't been getting returns all night, due to the wind," Carter said. "So, at the last second, I heard the getting-away-from-the-ball call, a 'Peter' call; that's what we call it, where guys get away from the ball.
"I was running to get away from the ball, but it took a bounce, and it bounced right to me."
It bounced off his leg, ultimately into the grasp of New England safety Nate Ebner, and with that, the Broncos' hopes of snapping a three-game losing streak at Gillette Stadium and a one-game AFC West lead over Kansas City were dashed simultaneously.
"It was a freak play," said safety Duke Ihenacho.
And what became a 34-31 overtime loss should never have come down to something as capricious as that.
"It's one of those things where you've got to go out there and make some more plays before a situation like that happens," said defensive lineman Malik Jackson.
Carter said he took "full responsibility." Wes Welker, who handled punt returns in overtime, called Carter and every other Bronco off the ball, but felt he could have done more.
"I didn't want to get into a situation where someone was running into me or something else, and I ended up with the situation I didn't want to happen in the first place," said Welker. "I have to do a better job of getting up there and getting those guys out of the way and making sure it doesn't hit them."
But losing a 24-0 lead is a team effort. It wasn't about the wind, or a punt, or the referees.
"The second half, we had turnovers, and they were able to get the points on the board," said cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. "We gave up 31 straight points, and that's something that is unacceptable."
"They made the plays and we didn't. That's all it comes down to," added defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. "They had some good plays and made some good calls and converted on their plays. We didn't execute well enough to get them off the field. They came out and scored four straight touchdowns in the second half. That's on us."
"Us" means all, because without the largest lost lead in the last quarter-century of Broncos football, the Broncos are on the bus and headed for the airport by the time Ryan Allen's punt dropped from the sky.
After midnight on this frigid evening, the ball found Carter. But it found many other Broncos, too, which is why the regret over an opportunity lost is shared throughout the locker room, not merely at the feet of the man that the ball found last.