By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — Many of us expected this Broncos-Patriots matchup to be a little bit boring. But we didn’t quite see it going like this.
The Patriots — despite their injuries and their COVID-19 issues — were still expected to take care of business against the inferior Broncos on Sunday afternoon. But, as we needed to be reminded from time to time, there’s a reason they play the games.
The Patriots’ offense was nonexistent for three quarters, the defense was just OK, and the end result was a fourth quarter deficit that proved too steep to overcome. The Broncos won, 18-12, and the Patriots are now sitting below .500 in the middle of October.
Not much has gone the way the Patriots envisioned this season, and this gut punch of a loss is the latest evidence.
Here are the Four Ups and Four Downs from the game. As is tradition after Patriots losses, we of course will begin with the Downs.
Cam Newton And The Offense
We all understand that practicing is an essential part of playing football. Without practice, it’s hard to really thrive in a game.
Still … the Patriots’ passing game was an extra level of bad on Sunday. A lot of that had to do with Newton, who surely had plenty of rest after his long absence due to COVID-19. He didn’t put enough loft on an early screen pass, leading to an interception. He had no pocket awareness on a vicious Anthony Chicikillo sack in the first half, too. He skipped a bounce pass to Julian Edelman on a third down, ending one drive, and he never quite seemed comfortable in the pocket. He also fumbled on one of his four sacks taken.
Newton finished the game with 17 completions on 25 passes for 157 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, both of which came off deflected passes at the line. The Patriots’ leading receiver was running back James White (eight receptions, 65 yards), with Damiere Byrd and Ryan Izzo each catching three passes for 38 yards apiece.
For that matter, the running game (outside of Newton) wasn’t great, either. In some regard, a poor offensive showing was to be expected after almost no practice time over two weeks. Still, it could have been better than that.
Trailing by 12 points late in the third quarter, the Patriots’ offense was finally mounting a worthwhile drive. Or so it seemed.
Newton connected with Izzo over the middle for an easy chunk play, gaining 17 yards and getting the Patriots to the Denver side of the field. Yet Izzo coughed up the football while getting tackled by Michael Ojemudia. Justin Simmons scooped up the dirty laundry, and a rare scoring opportunity for the Patriots disappeared in the flash.
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) October 18, 2020
On a day when Izzo was the only Patriots tight end to be targeted at all, that was a killer.
The right tackle was unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time, as a mess of big bodies rolled onto his ankle after Anthony Chickillo sacked Cam Newton in the first quarter. The O-line was already without David Andrews (thumb), Shaq Mason (COVID-19 list), and James Ferentz (COVID-19 list), so the further damage obviously made things a bit tougher for the offense as a whole.
Not long after exiting, the Patriots announced that Eluemunor’s return was questionable, and in the third quarter he was downgraded to out.
Lack Of Urgency
While we can all understand the effect that a lack of practice time has on the team, there’s still no excuse for being out-competed the way the Patriots were on Sunday. That showed itself across the board, from players to coaches. The Denver defense got in eight hits on the quarterback and forced three takeaways, including a diving, finger-tip catch by a 290-pound defensive lineman. The Denver offense wasn’t spectacular but mounted six straight scoring drives that averaged 46 yards each.
Bill Belichick didn’t even give any thought to challenging the spot of a third-down play when it looked like James White might have picked up the line to gain, instead punting the ball back to the Denver while trailing by 15.
Again, not practicing is a challenge. But the Patriots — much like the Titans did last week — could have used their hurdles as a rallying point to come out and play an inspired game. They simply did not.
It will likely get forgotten, given the larger outcome, but Jonathan Jones had a marvelous football game for New England. He broke up three passes in the end zone, all of which had been intended for Albert Okwuegbunam. Then he came up with a tremendously athletic interception late in the fourth quarter to give the team a chance to mount the game-winning drive.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 18, 2020
On a day when there wasn’t a whole lot to celebrate, Jones was excellent.
Red Zone D
For that matter, the Patriots’ defense — for all of its bending — did not quite break on Sunday. The unit prevented the Broncos from reaching the end zone, including two red zone stops and two more stops after Denver had driven inside the 30.
Generally, keeping the opponent out of the end zone for 60 minutes will be enough to win. The D just didn’t get the complementary push from the offense in this one.
In the “Things That Were Taken For Granted For Decades” department, the kicker nailed a big one late in the game to keep the Patriots alive. It wasn’t a bomb by any means, but Folk’s successful field goal from 38 with 3:27 left in the game was money, and it cut Denver’s lead to just six points.
Folk was 2-for-2 on field goals, hitting his other kick from 41 yards in the second quarter.
Nobody else was worth an entire “Up” to himself, so:
–J.C. Jackson made a huge interception in the fourth quarter, peeking in at Drew Lock, who had some sort of miscommunication with receiver Tim Patrick.
J.C. Jackson comes through with the interception!
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 18, 2020
That pick led to the field goal drive, which made it a one-score game.
—John Simon delivered one of the Patriots’ two sacks on the day, and it was a big one. Simon sacked Lock for a 13-yard loss, helping to kill Denver’s hopes for a touchdown and forcing Brandon McManus to kick a long 54-yard field goal.
—Mike Onwenu and Cam Newton worked hard to recover a fumble after the QB was stripped deep in New England territory.
You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.