For Josh McDaniels, it was just another football game.
Sure. Like “The Godfather” is just another movie, Picasso just another artist and Jay-Z just another rapper.
McDaniels had said in the days leading up to the game that playing the Patriots would not be different.
“I lied,” McDaniels said with a grin after his Broncos beat the Patriots in overtime 20-17 Sunday in Denver (check out the game recap here).
“It was a little bit more special because I knew how hard it would be to beat them,” said the former New England assistant, who worked for the Patriots from 2001-08. “They don’t beat themselves. I knew that we would have to be incredibly prepared as a staff. We would have to have a great week of practice. Our players would have to be really in tune with the game plan and play extremely hard for 60 minutes.”
At the end of one of the best, most intense games on the first five weeks of the NFL calendar, McDaniels exulted. As Invesco Field erupted, he pointed to the luxury box where his family sat and blew them a kiss. He pumped his fist as he ran off the field, and liberally handed out bear hugs to anyone in a hideous mustard-brown uniform and vertically-striped socks.
He wasn’t able to shake hands after the game with Patriots coach Bill Belichick (they hugged before the game, and both said afterward they would catch up later), and while he confessed to a little white lie after the game, there was no doubt where he stood when he was asked what made the win special.
“It was a great challenge to coach against Bill and his staff, with all those great players. That’s why it’s special,” New England’s former offensive coordinator told reporters after the game. “It’s not special just because I was in New England. It’s special because our team put in the time, and the effort, and the work that it required for us to have a chance to compete with them at the end. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
For the Patriots, it was the second bitter defeat of the season, a loss that had all the earmarks of their Week 2 loss to the Jets — missed opportunities, poor execution and a sluggish second half on the offensive side of the football that cost them the game.
“We just have to get on the same page and get back to work,” quarterback Tom Brady said after his team dropped to 3-2. “Denver played a good game. They deserved to win — they did the things they needed to do to win. And we didn’t. That’s the outcome.”
Here are nine other things we learned Sunday in Denver:
THERE’S JUST SOMETHING ABOUT TOM BRADY AND THAT COLORADO AIR
Sunday marked the third time in four games Brady suffered a loss in Denver, and the sixth time in his seven games against the Broncos that he came away on the losing end. Remarkably, Denver is the only team in the NFL with a winning record against Brady.
The quarterback played very well in the first half, going 14-for-19 for 152 yards and two touchdowns. But even before left tackle Matt Light went down with a right knee injury in the second half, Brady and the rest of the offense did not appear to be in a good rhythm throughout much of the second half. The Patriots were inside the Denver 45-yard line just once in the second half and came away with a big goose egg over the course of the final two quarters.
Brady ended the day 19-of-33 for 215 yards and two touchdowns, and suffered the first overtime loss of his career.
“I don't think we’re playing well enough here,” Brady said of his poor record in Denver. “We wait for things to bounce our way, but you have to go out and make things happen. In the first half, there were plays to be made, and not scoring points in the second half is a tough way to go. Everyone is disappointed by the loss, but no one is going to bail us out. Got to go back to work.”
JEROD MAYO IS NO LIAR
The second-year linebacker, who suffered an MCL sprain in his right knee in the season-opener against the Bills and missed the last three games, told reporters this week he would return “soon.” Turns out, “soon” is a couple of days. Mayo was inserted into the game with just over 11 minutes left in the first quarter, and spent most of the rest of the game on the field, finishing with six tackles.
When he’s healthy, Mayo usually wears the green dot on the helmet. On Sunday afternoon, that went to Gary Guyton, a concession, perhaps, that Mayo is not back to 100 percent. At least, not yet.
“We didn’t think Jerod was really ready to go a whole game,” Belichick said. “He practiced this week and got some snaps in the game and seemed OK.”
Mayo made his presence felt midway through the first quarter when he forced a fumble on a tackle of Denver running back Knowshon Moreno, hitting Moreno head on and knocking out the ball, which was eventually recovered by safety Brandon McGowan at the Denver 45-yard line. The play helped set up New England's first touchdown.
AS FAR AS THE PATRIOTS ARE CONCERNED, KYLE ORTON IS MUCH MORE THAN JUST A GAME MANAGER
Fair or not, at 4 p.m. on Sunday, this was the image that most Patriots fans had of Orton. By 8 o'clock on Sunday night, he had become the only quarterback this year to throw for more than 300 yards against a New England pass defense that had no answer for him in the second half. He ended up with 330 yards and 35 completions, both tops among opposing quarterbacks who have faced the Patriots in 2009.
Orton was at his best when he put together scoring drives of 90 and 98 yards, the second of which tied the game at 17 midway through the fourth quarter. They were steady, even-handed drives to help lead Denver back into the game. While Brandon Marshall didn’t put up crazy numbers as he had through the first four weeks of the season, the easy chemistry between the quarterback and receiver on Sunday was in sharp contrast to the Tom Brady-Randy Moss relationship, which yielded just one catch for 36 yards.
His connection with Marshall was evident on the game-tying touchdown, and Marshall showed his ability to break tackles when he busted free from New England cornerback Leigh Bodden after the catch.
“We knew that he had one-on-one coverage on the backside, and we figured that [Bodden] had to respect his vertical, the fade,” Orton told reporters after the game. “We thought that he could get off, so I was going to come back and get the ball to him as quick as possible. The corner didn’t really have a lot of help at all for the tackle, and we thought that we would have a good chance to catch and run. That is exactly what we got, and he made a great move after the catch and scored.”
SOMEONE OWES BRANDON MERIWEATHER AN EXPLANATION
On a key fourth-quarter sequence, Meriweather helped break up an Orton pass intended for Eddie Royal. When the play was done, Meriweather got up and gestured in Royal’s direction, a move that could have been interpreted as taunting. The only problem was that Meriweather was flagged for an infraction before he got up and made his move on Royal. The call gave the Broncos a first-and-10 on the New England 11-yard line. On the next play, Orton found Marshall for the tying score. Had no penalty been called, the Broncos would have faced third-and-3 at the 22, making for a different ballgame.
But bad call or no, it was not a good afternoon for the New England secondary, which was unable to contain the Denver passing attack. After two good weeks when the Pats collectively made some very nice plays in stopping two good offenses in Baltimore and Atlanta, the defensive backs appeared to take a collective step backward yesterday. Bodden was overmatched on occasion, while Shawn Springs got turned inside-out while allowing Marshall’s first touchdown catch.
Yes, good cornerbacks will struggle to contain Marshall, who had eight catches for 64 yards. (In fact, when you consider what Marshall has done to the rest of the league, that’s a respectable effort.) The secondary's real crime was allowing average receivers such as Royal (10 catches for 90 yards) and Jabar Gaffney (6 catches for 61 yards) to have season-best days like they did on Sunday.
“There were a lot of plays out there we felt we could have made, but we didn’t make them for one reason or another,” Belichick said.
RANDY MOSS HAS MORE INTERCEPTIONS THAN SHAWN SPRINGS, JONATHAN WILHITE AND TERRENCE WHEATLEY. COMBINED.
Yes, it’s a strange season when Moss is tied for the team lead in interceptions. Playing his usual end-of-the-half safety role — something he’s been doing since he arrived in 2007 — he picked off an Orton pass at the end of the first half, a Hail Mary lofted toward the end zone. (Dating back to last year, Orton had gone 173 passes without throwing an interception.)
It remained his only catch until midway through the third quarter when Brady hit Moss on a 36-yard connection over the middle that came about after a great play-action fake to Laurence Maroney that left the middle of the field wide open. Moss streaked over the middle for the big gain, which tied the team’s longest play from scrimmage on the season.
But that was all between the two. The three other occasions Moss was targeted by Brady, the quarterback overthrew him, including once in the end zone in the first half on a ball that would have been a touchdown had it been on target. (The Patriots settled for a 53-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski on the drive.)
WITH FRED TAYLOR OUT, DON’T EXPECT THE PATRIOTS TO CHANGE THEIR BACKFIELD-BY-COMMITTEE APPROACH
On a day some believed to be Maroney’s time to shine, the Patriots continued their share-the-wealth approach to the running game. New England leaned heavily on Sammy Morris for much of the afternoon and the veteran responded, finishing with 68 rushing yards on 17 carries. He also had two catches for 39 yards, including a 35-yarder on a screen play that was perfectly executed by the offense and set up the Patriots’ first touchdown of the day.
As for the rest of the backfield, Kevin Faulk added 34 yards from scrimmage (8 rushing, 26 receiving), while Maroney was on the field for nine snaps and came away with five carries for 21 yards and a respectable 4.2 yards per carry.
In the end, here’s how the snaps broke down at running back: Morris, 27 snaps; Faulk, 25 snaps; Maroney, nine snaps.
EVEN STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI IS CAPABLE OF MISSING A FIELD GOAL NOW AND THEN
It was a day of ups and downs for the New England special teamers. Gostkowski connected on a career-best 53-yarder. But he went wide left on a 40-yarder, which snapped his streak of 12 straight makes and was his first miss since the season-opener against the Bills.
“He’s a great kicker — everyone misses,” Brady said. “As an offense, I wish we had completed the third-down pass and got the ball in the end zone. As a kicker, you miss kicks. As a receiver, you miss balls. As a quarterback, you throw interceptions.”
“That’s just the way football is.”
But punter Chris Hanson made like a soccer player, flopping to draw a running-into-the-kicker call late in the third quarter. He also dropped a punt on the Denver 2-yard line — one that was masterfully downed by special teams ace Matthew Slater — and put two punts inside the 20. And for the first time in weeks, the Patriots were in double-digits in average punt return yardage — Julian Edelman averaged 11 yards per return.
THERE ARE TIMES WHEN THE PATRIOTS WILL NOT MAKE THE MOST OF THEIR OPPORTUNITIES
Leading 17-10 at the end of the third quarter, the Patriots took control of the football on their own 4-yard line. New England was able to get a little distance from the back of the end zone, moving the ball out to the 10-yard line, but was forced to punt the ball away. Enter Denver linebacker Darrell Reid, who ran into Hanson on the punt, allowing the Patriots to get the ball back.
The Patriots then moved the ball out to their 34-yard-line, but stalled again. The two teams lined up for another New England punt … before the Broncos special teams bailed out the Pats again, drawing a penalty for a neutral zone infraction. New England would get the ball across midfield before Hanson was called on to punt for the third time on the drive. This time, Denver steered clear of Hanson — and of any penalty flags — as the punter gently dropped the ball inside the Broncos 2.
Denver didn’t let the opportunity pass by. Orton engineered a 12-play, 98-yard drive right into the gut of the New England defense that ended up tying the game with just over five minutes remaining.
It’s not often you get that kind of help, especially on the road in the second half. After the game, the Patriots knew they let a colossal opportunity pass them by.
“There were just too many bad plays. Too many plays where 11 guys aren’t on the same page doing the right thing. And I think that’s the key to offensive football,” Brady said. “I think as a team we’ve got to be able to sustain the drives — when you get the second chance, you’ve got to take advantage of [it]. And we didn’t do that.”
MAYBE THE PATRIOTS SHOULD HAVE TRIED A LITTLE HARDER TO SIGN VONNIE HOLLIDAY THIS SUMMER
The veteran defensive lineman was on the open market this offseason and actually came close to signing with the Patriots but decided on Denver instead. On Sunday, he made New England rue the fact that he went with the Broncos.
With 1:45 left in regulation, the game was tied at 17 and New England had the ball on the Denver 49. The Patriots were a bit shaken up, because on the previous play, the usually sure-handed Morris fumbled the ball, but right tackle Nick Kaczur was able to recover. However, one still had to like their chances — another 15-20 yards, and they would almost certainly be in field goal range.
Brady dropped back to pass, and Holliday beat his man, left guard Logan Mankins. He hit Brady when the quarterback had his arm in the air, and knocked the ball loose. Denver defensive lineman Elvis Dumervil scooped up the loose football. The Broncos weren’t able to turn the turnover into points, but the sack — the only time Denver was able to sack Brady all day — and fumble made sure the game went into overtime.
“All game, I was just waiting for that opportunity,” Holliday told reporters after the game. “I knew it was going to come in this game ... so I just waited for the opportunity and it finally came.”