by Mike Dyer, Sports Producer:
You could see it in their eyes, and you could hear it in their voices. The Patriots were upset with themselves, unable to shake the feeling that they were on the precipice of history, but fell just short against the Broncos on Sunday night.
"We just spotted them 28 points," said quarterback Tom Brady "We fought hard, but you can't play poorly against a good team and expect to win. We can't miss plays that we have opportunities with."
It was an incredible turn of events at Gillette, as the Patriots fell behind 31-3 with just over ten minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter. Fans were not so much upset, as they were in shock. San Francisco's sideline was jubilant, as it seemed like the 49ers were about to do to the Patriots, what the Patriots had done to the Texans a week before.
But then it all changed.
Suddenly the Pats offense, which had been dormant all night, came alive. Four possessions, four touchdowns, 15 minutes. That's all it took. New England erased the 31-3 lead in what seemed like the blink of an eye, and sent the formerly silent Gillette stadium into a frenzy. Only one team in regular season history had ever overcome a 28 point deficit, yet with 6 minutes to go, the Patriots were in position to do just that. A chance to enter the history books while maintaining their position as the #2 seed in the AFC.
But then it all changed.
Just as quickly as the stadium had been filled with energy, it was gone. In a span of two plays, the 49ers went the length of the field to re-take the lead. First it was LaMichael James 62 yard kickoff return to put San Francisco in great field position. And then it was Colin Kaepernick finding Michael Crabtree on a simple hook route, and Crabtree outracing the Patriot defense for the score.
"We called that play throughout the game, we just didn't execute (there)" said head coach Bill Belichick.
Lack of execution was something that nearly every Patriots player spoke of after the game. After a twelve season long run of dominance, the team does not celebrate moral victories. Despite their thrilling comeback, there was a bad taste in just about everyone's mouth after a mistake filled contest that saw the team turn the ball over four times.
"We were turning the ball over," Brady said. "To turn the ball over and give them a chance to score, which is pretty much what we did the entire first half, we just didn't give ourselves a chance."
The Pats inability to hold onto the ball not only cost them the game, it could very well have cost them a first round bye. Entering the game the team had control over their destiny in that, with three wins, they were assured no worse than the #2 seed and a spot on the couch on Wild Card Weekend. Now? Well now all of New England is going to become fans of the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts, the four teams that take on the Broncos and Texans the next two weeks. If those teams don't help the Pats out by taking down Denver and Houston, the Patriots can do no better than the #3 seed, and a first round meeting with whoever claims the final playoff spot in the conference.
Just one week ago the Pats were flying high off of their evisceration of Houston, and it seemed like things were lining up perfectly for the playoffs. Now? Things are a bit more cloudy. However it's important to remember that this is the NFL, and much like the weather in New England, if you don't like your team's fortunes - just wait a minute.
Two weeks ago the Houston Texans were the media's darling. 11-1 and flying high as they entered Foxboro. They lost 42-14.
One week ago fans and media alike were crowning the Patriots as the 'prohibitive favorites'. Now they're licking their wounds after a tough loss at home.
This week it's the Niners and Broncos turn to be the Bell of the Ball. By next week it could be Atlanta or Seattle. That's the beauty of the NFL, we just don't know.
But what we do seem to know is that the Patriots will focus all of their attention on the Jaguars this week, as they look to get back on the right track before the playoffs.
Said defensive tackle Vince Wilfork,
"We don't have time to cry over things and missed opportunities. You have to learn from them, you have to coach from them, you have to play better from them and you have to move forward. So it's going to be critical for us to move forward -- put one foot in front of the other and just keep grinding."
- Wes Welker had 5 catches on the night, giving him 100 for the season. This is Welker's 5th 100+ grab season, he's the first player in NFL history to reach that milestone 5 times.
- Tom Brady went over 4,000 yards on the season, his 5th time passing that milestone.
- Brandon Lloyd had season highs with both 10 catches and 190 yards.
- The Patriots entered the game with a +24 turnover ratio, best in the NFL. They were -2 tonight.
- Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard left the game with a knee injury. He was replaced by Kyle Arrington, who gave up the go ahead touchdown pass.
- Tight end Rob Gronkowski missed his 4th consecutive game recovering from forearm surgery.
- The only team to overcome a 28 point deficit in regular season history was San Francisco in 1980. They trailed the Saints 35-7 at halftime, but came back to win.