Check out the best snapshots captured from Sunday's game between the Broncos and Patriots.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — **In a prime-time game headlined by who else but Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, you knew little problems could add up quickly to make big ones, not unlike the powder piling up on Gillette Stadium's turf hours before kickoff.
Mistakes plagued the Broncos defense for much of the game, and it all began in the first quarter of Sunday's 43-21 loss. New England fell behind after the Broncos struck on a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, but beginning on the very next drive, they launched a run of 24 consecutive points.
On the first drive of that run, the Patriots got four first downs en route to a field goal. On the second drive, an interception put New England in position for a quick touchdown. And then special teams gave up an 84-yard touchdown on a Julian Edelman punt return. The final touchdown drive of the half for the Patriots began after the Broncos turned the ball over on downs, giving New England a start on its own 43-yard line.
Those little problems -- third-down conversions and first downs -- turned into big problems in a hurry in the second quarter.
At crucial intersections throughout the game, the Broncos made plenty of plays to put the screws on Brady and his crew, but he managed to make reads on scrambles to convert tough third downs.
"Defensively, we couldn't get them off the field on third down, you know, even third and longer," Head Coach John Fox said. "And a lot of our third downs were of some substantial distance."
The Patriots faced 17 third downs at an average distance of 6.4 yards, and though they only converted six of 16 (one was converted via an offsides penalty on Von Miller in the third quarter), the difference that coming through in those situations could have had was frustrating for the Broncos.
"Guys were in place to make plays, but you have to make those plays in key situations—especially on third down, getting off the field," DeMarcus Ware said. "And especially if they get an interception or a forced fumble, those quick changes of possession, we have to stop them, (hold) them to field goals and not let them score points."
Turnovers were a painful spot for the Broncos, with New England taking advantage on both their interceptions of Manning. On the first pick, the Patriots got the ball on Denver's 34-yard line and found the end zone in less than two minutes. After the second pick, it took less than 10 seconds for the Patriots to capitalize as Brady found Brandon LaFell for a touchdown on the first play of the ensuing drive.
With turnovers helping New England a great deal, they also benefited from better field position, averaging a start at their own 34-yard line on average, 14 yards better than the Broncos managed.
It was much of what you could expect from Brady and the Patriots offense. He beat the blitz with quick passes and delivered on difficult moments when plays broke down. On two third downs facing 10 or more yards to move the chains, Brady kept drives alive. And when the defense finally got Brady into trouble more than 20 yards from a new set of downs, he found Edelman for 26 yards on a crucial play in the middle of a scoring drive to put New England up 20 points.
The Patriots went into their hurry-up offense and found some success, and gave the Broncos' defense some communication problems we hadn't seen recently.
"They just did a lot of hurry-up," Chris Harris Jr. said. "Our communication wasn't on point like it usually was. They just outplayed us. You can't make many mistakes, and [Brady] makes you pay when you do."
It wasn't anything the players said the team didn't expect, however.
"They did everything that the coaches told us they were going to do," Malik Jackson said. "The only thing we didn't do was go out there and execute what (Defensive Coordinator Jack) Del Rio wanted. That's all on us and we just have to go back to the drawing board."
Then in the fourth quarter, the game took another bad turn when linebacker Nate Irving was knocked out of the game with a knee injury.
However, the NFL schedule won't wait for the Broncos to lick their wounds at their own pace. The Broncos turn around and face the Raiders in a week, and the focus will shift quickly to preparing for that next game up and turning last week's mistakes into next week's points of improvement.
For Jackson, he said that would be much of what they had been doing previously: "Just doing our own thing and making sure that we're communicating, talking, getting our signals and all on the same page. That's really it. We just have to make sure that nobody's lost, nobody's out there not knowing what they're doing. We just have to work on ourselves."
Going forward, a game like Sunday's against New England could be used as a formative experience for the team, as Ware discussed after the game.
"Sometimes you need that gut check to make sure you stay on track and how you need to be playing," he said. "At the end of the day, you have to take it as that, and take it as a loss.
"It's not a season thing. It's a humble pie thing. It's getting better from it and figuring out where we made mistakes from it."