Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 12/20/11
What difference can 15 minutes make? In the world of NFL football the answer for the Denver Broncos is, a lot. That is especially true when your opponent is the vaunted New England Patriots.  
 
In the second quarter of Sunday’s game, the Broncos turned the ball over three times, executed only seven offensive plays for 42 yards, surrendered 151 yards to the Patriots’ Tom Brady-led offense and allowed New England to hang 20 points on the scoreboard.
 
Denver (8-6) fell to New England (11-3) by a final score of 41-23.
 
The Broncos’ repeated second quarter mistakes ultimately proved their undoing. Call it a learning experience for the young Broncos.  
 
Playing a team whose offense operates with the precision of a Swiss watch allows no room for such ineptitude, even if for only 15 minutes.
 
“The turnovers were really the big difference. You're not going to be minus-three against the New England Patriots and win very many ball games,” said Denver Head Coach John Fox after the game.
 
After running back Lance Ball fumbled on the Broncos’ 23-yard line and New England recovered, the home team’s defense was able to stiffen and hold the Pats to only a field goal and a slim 17-16 lead.
 
On the Broncos’ next possession, it was quarterback Tim Tebow’s turn to fumble. After recovering the loose ball and taking possession at the Denver 40, it took Brady only 6 plays to add another seven points to New England’s lead.
 
Finally, with only a few seconds remaining on the clock, Denver return man Quan Cosby muffed a New England punt and the Patriots to recover the ball at the Denver 16 yard line. Rather than the Broncos simply taking a knee and going into the locker room down only one score, 24-16, the Patriots turned Denver’s third turnover of the period into three more points and a 27-16 halftime lead.
 
The giveaways and subsequent New England scores took the Broncos out of their game-plan, which in the first quarter, was working quite well. Denver led 16-7 at one point with the only blemish being a bad snap on an extra point try.
 
Denver’s offense was able to put points on the board on each of their first three possessions. The Broncos had scoring drives of 80 (touchdown), 82 (touchdown) and 63 (field goal) yards. 194 of the 225 yards on those three drives came on the ground; Denver was able to run the ball at will against the New England defense.
 
Yet a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive and an additional 13 quick, easy points off of the Denver turnovers put the initiative in New England’s hands, allowing them to dictate the flow of the game.
 
Down two scores entering the second half, Denver could not afford to lean on the run and control the game on the ground, chewing up and yards and taking time off the clock while Brady and New England offense watched from the sideline.
 
Instead, the Broncos were forced to play catch-up and pass far more than they wanted to. Denver rushed for only 66 yards in the second half, a far cry from the 194 they racked up on the ground on their opening three drives.
 
Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey summed things up well saying, "(Brady) is still the best out there, when you make mistakes against a guy like that he is going to make you pay and that's pretty much what happened all day."
 
The Denver defense, so strong throughout the recent 7-game winning streak, was virtually non-existent against the colossus that is the Patriots’ offense. New England accumulated 451 total net yards as they ran 72 plays and held the ball for 7:22 longer than Denver.
 
Credit New England Head Coach Bill Belichick and his staff with designing and implementing an offensive game-plan which negated Denver’s pass rush. The Pats spread the field with a lot four wide receiver looks and Brady got rid of the ball quickly, especially on drag routes across the middle, allowing his receivers to run after the catch.  
 
“They went a lot of empty, they got the ball out pretty quick and from a timing standpoint that makes it tough to get there,” was how Fox described the quick passing attack of New England that prevented Denver from making effective use of their pass rush.
 
The loss will bring the Broncos back down to Earth a little bit but at the same time provide a valuable learning experience for a very young team.
 
“This was a set-back no doubt about that but sometimes setbacks are setups for bigger things to come,” was some positive spin that Fox put on the loss. 
 
The Broncos will try to get back to winning ways on Saturday morning as they travel to Buffalo for a match-up with the reeling Bills.
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