Flubs by Most Reliable Patriots End Season
Jan. 15, 2006
DENVER (AP) _ Tom Brady threw a costly interception. Adam Vinatieri missed a big kick. Troy Brown muffed a fourth-quarter punt.
With the Patriots unable to rely on their most reliable players, New England's two-year reign as NFL champions ended Saturday night with a 27-13 loss to the opportunistic Denver Broncos.
The Patriots lost three fumbles, two interceptions and a pivotal replay challenge. All that proved to be more than clever coach Bill Belichick and his staff could overcome.
Now, New England won't get the NFL record it wanted _ three consecutive Super Bowl titles.
``It's hard to win when you give the ball away,'' Belichick said.
One week after the Patriots set a league mark with their 10th consecutive postseason win, they bore little resemblance to the teams that put the streak together.
``It's disappointing when you look back at the game and you realize how many points we just laid up on a silver platter,'' Brady said. ``You're never going to win when you do that, especially on the road.''
An early sign that this would not be their night came when Kevin Faulk fumbled the ball away at the New England 40-yard line. On the next play, Jake Plummer lofted a pass to the left side of the end zone.
Cornerback Asante Samuel had inside position and made contact with Ashley Lelie. The wide receiver had his right hand on Samuel's left shoulder and the ball sailed over both. But a late flag was thrown for defensive pass interference.
Mike Anderson scored on a 1-yard run on the next play.
Denver led 10-6 when the Patriots appealed in vain to the officials.
Brady, MVP of the Patriots' first two Super Bowl victories, had led them from their 22 to the Broncos 5 late in the third quarter with a chance to go ahead. But on third down with strong safety Nick Ferguson charging at him, Brady passed toward Brown in the right front corner of the end zone.
Champ Bailey intercepted and raced down the sideline. Tight end Benjamin Watson chased him and finally knocked him out of bounds at the Patriots 1. The ball flew out of bounds.
The Patriots challenged, contending the ball crossed the goal line before it sailed over the sideline. That would have made it a touchback, giving the Patriots the ball at their 20, but the original call was upheld.
On the next play, Anderson scored on another 1-yard run for a 17-6 lead.
But Brady, who has led the Patriots to 21 victories after they trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter, rekindled their hopes. He took them from their 38 to a third-and-4 at the Broncos 25.
On the next play, Brown got behind his defender on the left side near the goal line, but Brady overthrew him. Then Vinatieri, whose last-minute field goals were the difference in two of three Super Bowl wins over the past four years, missed from 43 yards.
There were more mistakes to come.
Brown, one of the Patriots' most reliable veterans, muffed a punt and Denver's Mike Leach recovered at the New England 15 with 10:10 left. Three plays later, Plummer hit Rod Smith for a 4-yard scoring pass and a 24-6 lead.
The final blow came when Brady heaved the ball downfield. He was knocked to the ground by Al Wilson, John Lynch intercepted and the Broncos ran out the remaining 2:56.
So they will move on to next weekend's AFC championship game against Indianapolis or Pittsburgh.
Brady, now 10-1 in the playoffs, and the Patriots are heading into their longest offseason in three years.