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Patriots 43, Broncos 21: Three Keys, Unlocked

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. --The Broncos' 43-21 loss could not be pinned on one player, one play, or one phase. It was thorough, comprehensive and complete.

And given recent Broncos history, it felt numbingly familiar.

Including the postseason, this was the Broncos' fifth consecutive defeat at Gillette Stadium. And aside from last year's 34-31 overtime loss, decisive defeats have been the norm.

"Man, this is four years in a row that we haven't played [well] here at all," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr.

Even players who were not around for the previous defeats were spitting fire after Sunday's loss.

Check out the best snapshots captured from Sunday's game between the Broncos and Patriots.

"It's frustrating, man. That's why everybody here is mad," said cornerback Aqib Talib. "It's quiet in here."

And the reasons were clear, upon looking back at the three keys identified before the game.


Two interceptions -- one of which careened off Wes Welker's hands and chest and into the hands of Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner -- ensured the Broncos would fail at this task.

Denver came into the game after four consecutive games without a turnover, but that went by the wayside when Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich read Manning's intent on a pass to Demaryius Thomas down the seam. The Patriots converted that giveaway into their first touchdown four plays later, taking a lead they would never relinquish.

"It was a zone blitz," said quarterback Peyton Manning. "He was in the right place at the right time. I give him credit, I give them credit. I can't make that throw."

The interception that skipped out of the grasp of Welker effectively ended any realistic hopes of a comeback. Denver had momentum, having shaved four points off the Patriots' halftime lead, but as soon as Browner got the football, it evaporated. Brady found wide receiver Brandon LaFell for a 10-yard touchdown on the next play, and the Broncos never ran another offensive play with less than a three-score deficit.


A failure to get off the field on third downs with any consistency kept the Broncos from knocking Brady and the Patriots off-kilter. New England pushed the pace when it felt the need, at times snapping the football with 20 to 25 seconds remaining on the play clock.

At one point in the third quarter, after the Patriots converted five of six third downs, Harris showed palpable frustration after Brady found Danny Amendola for a 14-yard gain on third-and-11. The defense was not set before the snap, and the play moved New England into field goal range when the Broncos trailed by 16 and could not afford any kind of score.

"They just did a lot of hurry-up. Our communication wasn't on point like it usually was," said Harris. "They just outplayed us. You can't make many mistakes, and (Brady) makes you pay when you do."


The Broncos attempted to find balance early. Manning handed off to running back Ronnie Hillman on three of Denver's first six plays from scrimmage, and also threw a pass to him in the left flat during the first two possessions. Those plays netted just two yards.

From there, the emphasis moved to finding balance on passing routes. For the most part, this worked, and the Broncos moved the football by often taking what the Patriots yielded. This set up the Broncos' first touchdown drive; after Manning exposed the Patriots on short routes to Hillman and Emmanuel Sanders, he found Sanders down the left sideline for a 21-yard gain to move Denver into New England territory for the first time.

The Broncos racked up 472 yards from scrimmage, and they were not "garbage yards," as more than half came in the first 35 minutes of the game, at which point the Broncos trailed 27-14 and were still in the game. But without any explosion in the run game -- the longest carry was just eight yards -- two turnovers and special-teams breakdowns, the Broncos did not have balance, and lost with at least 450 yards of offense for the first time since 2010.

"I thought we were just pretty dead average on offense," said Manning. "I thought I was very below average. Didn't play well."

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