FOXBOROUGH, Mass. --The Broncos' first possession of the game ended with a fumble inside the New England 20-yard line.
Their last possession of the game ended in exactly the same way. It didn't bode well for the outcome of the game.
"Any time you turn the ball over, it hurts you," Head Coach John Fox said. "That's just a proven fact. We were minus-two tonight. You go on the road against a very good football team, in particular offensively in their tempo and their skill set, it makes it tough sledding. The guys hung in there, we fought back, but at the end of the day we were still minus two, and that usually relates in point differential."
Denver won the toss and chose to receive, as the offense was looking to do what the players talked about all week – start off quick and put points on the board.
After a deep pass from quarterback Peyton Manning landed in the hands of wideout Demaryius Thomas down the sideline, it looked as though the Broncos were going to do just that. But Patriots defensive back Sterling Moore stripped the receiver from behind, recovered the football and returned it to the New England 17-yard line, turning a 35-yard gain into a momentum swing in the opposite direction.
It was Thomas' second lost fumble in as many games, both occurring with him running ahead of the defense following a long reception.
"I put it on myself," Thomas said. "That's the second time and I have to put the ball away. It was a good ball, I had time to put it away and I just didn't."
The second fumble that came inside the red zone was in the fourth quarter with Denver looking to cut what used to be a 24-point lead down to three with a touchdown.
With less than four minutes remaining in the game, running back Willis McGahee carried the ball up the middle from the New England 14-yard line and had it poked out from behind. The Patriots recovered the ball and ran the rest of the clock out to end the game.
"I have to be better than that," McGahee said. "I think that changed the game for us, so I'll take all the (blame) for that -- just changing the game (by) not getting down there."
Though those turnovers hurt the Broncos' chances of beating the defending AFC champions on the road, the players responsible for them won't lose any confidence from their teammates. Their role will continue to be significant moving forward.
"We're going to need those guys all season," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Those guys have made key plays in our two wins and they made some big plays tonight."
While McGahee didn't get a chance to redeem himself after his fumble, Thomas followed up his first-quarter turnover with a career night, catching nine passes for a regular-season career-high 180 yards.
On the possession following Thomas' turnover, Manning went right back to him on a crucial third down, as the two connected on a 15-yard pickup over the middle of the field.
Later in the first quarter, Manning found Thomas for a bigger gain. That one was en route to the Broncos' first touchdown.
Streaking down the far sideline with a cornerback trailing and a safety closing in, the third-year wideout made a one-handed catch to pick up 30 yards and set Denver up inside New England territory. A few plays later, the game was tied at seven.
On another touchdown drive in the third quarter, Manning threw to Thomas on the only two third-down plays of the possession. The receiver hauled in both passes, picking up a total of 58 yards on the two grabs.
Manning showed throughout the game that the early turnover did nothing to diminish his confidence in the young receiver, and he said the same is true for McGahee in the future.
"You don't see me not throwing to Demaryius or not calling Willis' number," Manning said. "They're out there and they're going to get the ball. They're going to make more plays than they're going to miss. I assure you of that."
The most resounding display of trust between the quarterback and receiver came on a fourth down late in the game. Needing just 1 yard to maintain possession, Manning threw it deep to Thomas, who hauled in the reception for a 28-yard gain.
"He just gave me a route, gave me a chance to make a play and I did," Thomas said. "I feel like we're getting on the same page. He trusts me more. I guess he's just seeing what I'm able to do and what I'm not."
While both Thomas and McGahee attempted to shoulder blame for their turnovers, their quarterback would have none of it.
"It's part of football," Manning said. "As a teammate and a quarterback, I'm with them."