FOXBORO — During the week, the Patriots needed time.
To practice, to heal, to gather themselves as COVID-19 picked off player after player. So the NFL obliged, postponing their game against the Broncos one day and then a full week. The Pats held a single padded practice last Thursday and continued to prepare. They felt ready.
When kickoff came Sunday, they still needed more time. To stop turning the ball over, to force Denver to punt and lastly, to come back. Somehow, one more minute might’ve done it.
Instead, Cam Newton’s pass on fourth-and-10 from the Broncos’ 24-yard line fell well wide of N’Keal Harry and sealed an ugly 18-12 defeat in the final seconds at Gillette Stadium. The Pats scored nine points in the fourth quarter around two interceptions by Denver quarterback Drew Lock, who seemed insistent on giving the game away. The Broncos led 18-3 entering the fourth, having ended every prior possession with a made field goal.
Sunday marked the first time a Bill Belichick-led Patriots team has lost without allowing a touchdown. The Pats (2-3) now sit below .500 in mid-October for the first time since 2002.
Around 233 total yards, Newton also threw a pair of picks and took four long-developing sacks. He had little help, though it was no fault of a patchwork offensive line comprised almost entirely of players out of position.
No Pats running back rushed for 20 yards. Julian Edelman threw as many passes as he caught (two), as the Patriots reached late into their bag of tricks hoping to pull out a win. Tight end Ryan Izzo lost a fumble in the third quarter.
Collectively, the offense reached the Broncos’ 20-yard line once before the fourth quarter. On that trip, they immediately went backward 15 yards because of a bad snap. On their next trip, Newton marched on to the 1-yard line, where he eventually broke the plane on a quarterback sneak to slice Denver’s lead to 18-9.
Prior to Lock’s picks and two preceding punts, Denver sapped significant clock on every drive, churning out steady gains on the ground against a thin Pats defensive front. The Broncos surpassed more than 100 rushing yards early in the third quarter. Lock also drilled completions of 41, 35 and 27 yards, all on separate drives, to set up three field goals.