Latimer's special play shifts momentum
With under 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Cody Latimer barrelled down on punt returner Patrick Chung. A solid hit on this snowy night could dislodge the ball from his grasp and give the Broncos, if not a turnover, good defensive field position and momentum with Denver down just a touchdown.
Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis had substituted Latimer in at right gunner with safety Omar Bolden being withheld to preserve his stamina for defensive snaps with T.J. Ward out, and Latimer wanted to show his mettle.
Latimer leapt for Chung, but he missed. Chung didn't get far, but Latimer vowed he wouldn't let him off the hook on the next return.
"The first time when I went down at gunner, I said 'I ain't gonna do this again,'" Latimer said. "I just made the effort."
On the next punt, the Broncos were in even more dire straits after going three-and-out following a Patriots touchdown to increase their lead to 14 points.
But Latimer's focus paid off. He got past Patriots cornerback Rashaan Melvin, and defensive back Nate Ebner was a step too slow to impede Latimer. The second-year receiver jarred the ball loose from rookie returner Chris Harper as he bobbled the catch, and Broncos outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett dove on the loose ball, giving Denver the short field it needed to score quickly.
Latimer's hit proved to be the momentum shift the team needed, and the offense would put up 17 points in the fourth quarter before winning the game in overtime.
"It was a big play, got us the ball down where we wanted it at, [we] made a score off of that and it was a turning point," Latimer said. "The tone was set and we never looked back."
Defense adjusts for Ward, Williams injuries**
On a single play, the Broncos lost two key starters in safety T.J. Ward and nose tackle Sylvester Williams to ankle injuries.
As Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount rushed behind the left guard late in the first quarter, Ward and Williams were part of the group of defensive players that converged on Blount, but they emerged from the mass hobbled.
Initially, the pair was ruled as questionable to return, but they were each downgraded to out after further consideration at halftime.
Broncos rally to top the New England Patriots 30-24 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"T.J. and Sly are huge players for our defense," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "They're huge. T.J.'s that enforcer back there for us, and Sly's been so consistent stuffing the run. So to lose those guys, I mean, that definitely hurt us a bit but I feel like everybody picked up the slack."
In Ward's absence, the Broncos turned to David Bruton Jr., who already had filled in for Ward when he was suspended for the season opener. In Williams' stead, defensive end Vance Walker stepped in to shoulder more snaps at nose tackle, rookie NT Darius Kilgo played six snaps and rest of the defensive line rotated in, as well.
"Vance has been strong; he's started the first half of the season when Wolfe was out at end, so we knew what he had," DE Malik Jackson said. "He's real resilient, he's tough. There's no misstep when Sly went down, but we just hope Sly can get healthy and get back fast, because we need him."
Defense limits Gronkowski after initial score**
With injuries to starting wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, the Broncos defense knew Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's top target would be tight end Rob Gronkowski. But even that knowledge couldn't prevent the two from connecting on a 23-yard touchdown reception on New England's first drive.
But after that, the defense did its best to keep the ball out of Gronkowski's very capable hands. From that point until he left the game late in the fourth quarter with a knee injury, Gronkowski totaled 56 yards on four receptions.
The sights of the elated scene as the Broncos eclipsed the Patriots in overtime, and the celebration in the locker room. (Photos by Eric Bakke, unless otherwise noted)
Stopping Gronk, as he's called, is no easy task. There had been talk of double-teaming the dynamic tight end, and the Bills even triple-teamed him once in the previous week.
"I'll tell you what, they make it hard for you to do that [double or triple cover Gronkowski]," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said Monday. "You can go into the game and say we're going to get help on him, do this or do that, but they make it really hard because their formations -- all those tight-end sets -- they spread those guys out and you get caught in certain man-coverage situations."
Ultimately, the defense stayed with its one-on-one matchups and made the Patriots work to get the ball to Gronkowski without giving up anything on other matchups.
"You've got to deal with it," Kubiak said. "You've got to find a way to make it work. He's a great player. I think everybody got a chance to cover him a little bit. He's tough to deal with, but it still boils down to stopping their offense. I think our guys battled really well. I think we had six three-and-outs, which when you play those guys, you've got to feel really good about that."
- Papa John's is offering the "If the Broncos win, you win!" promotion, which gives fans in Colorado 50 percent off all orders the day after a Broncos win (home or away).
- McDonald's is offering fans in Colorado one-dollar Big Mac sandwiches or one-dollar sausage egg McMuffins on Monday and 30 percent off any jersey in the Broncos team store.
- With three touchdowns, Arby's is offering one-dollar roast beef sandwiches.