MOST ANTICLIMACTIC START
Surprising to no one, the Patriots looked to their go-to guys to get the offense going. But Denver, unlike other opponents in recent weeks, didn't suffer much in stopping them. Julian Edelman only got 5 yards on Brady's first throw of the game. LeGarrette Blount got stuffed on his first effort. Austin Collie couldn't get separation on his route and that pass fell incomplete. New England went three-and-out.
SCARIEST PASS RUSHER
Defensive end Chandler Jones. Or so it seemed on Peyton Manning's first drive. Denver converted one third-down on the way to New England's 48-yard line. But on a second, third-and-9, Jones ran around to pressure the quarterback. He didn't even have to sack Manning -- the threat forced him into throwing a ball high and outside of Eric Decker's reach. Out came the punt team.
New England gained some serious yardage on its final drive of the first quarter thanks to some great work by the offensive line. The line protected Brady well enough he had time to complete some big throws, like an 18-yard dart to Edelman on third-and-5. Consequently, the Patriots sniffed Broncos territory for the first time in the game. The only reason they didn't score on the drive was because Michael Hoomanawanui was flagged for offensive pass interference to push them out of field goal range.
Bill Belichick looked like he was going to blow a gasket when Aqib Talib went down after a collision in the second quarter. New England's cornerback collided with Wes Welker after Welker illegally initiated contact when the ball was in the air. It wasn't the first time he committed offensive pass interference that wasn't flagged, and the fact his second infraction sent Talib to the bench made Belichick furious. Hard to blame him when watching Talib head to the locker room with New England's team doctor.
WORST TIME FOR AN O-LINE BREAKDOWN
Denver really only had a successful pass rush once in the first half, it just happened to come at a really bad time for the Patriots. New England was working on its best drive of the day and Brady got into shotgun on third-and-8 at the Broncos' 18-yard line. Then Nate Solder got beat. That's it. He and Robert Ayers went 1-on-1 and Ayers won, using a sweet move to sack Brady for a loss of 11 yards. New England at least hit the 47-yard field goal to cut Denver's lead to 10-3.
STRANGEST INJURY DESIGNATION
After Talib came out of the game the Patriots announced he sustained an injury to his ribs. It was a strange announcement, as the CB was very clearly grabbing onto his left leg. He stayed on the sideline as New England came out of the break and was seen motioning toward the leg when talking with Vince Wilfork. Legs, as you know, are not ribs. Eventually the team announced, "after further evaluation," that Talib's injury was to his knee. You'd think it would be tough to confuse those two body parts. Either way, his absence was huge for the Patriots.
LEAST OBVIOUS WEAPON FOR DENVER
There's been talk all season about how potent the Broncos offense is. They averaged more points than any other team in the league thanks to a variety of weapons: Tight end Julius Thomas, receiver Demaryius Thomas, and running back Knowshon Moreno are only a few. But Denver's use of the clock was just as deadly in the early going. The Broncos fourth scoring drive was a 13-play, seven minute series that put them up 20-3. Time of possession comparison? Denver - 25:48, New England - 12:20.
BIGGEST NON-FACTOR IN THE OFFENSE
Well into the third quarter, it was Danny Amendola. He didn't get targeted once by Brady until there were 20 minutes left in regulation. But once he did get a look, on second-and-5, he dropped the ball. Amendola was wide open in the middle of the field but the ball bounced off his chest. Not long after, Matt Slater came in the game as a receiver. Want a clue as to what that means? Slater has just one catch in his six-year career.
WORST CASE FOURTH-DOWN SCENARIO
You can't blame New England for going for it. Down 20-3 with little over two minutes left in the third quarter, Brady and the offense stayed on the field for fourth-and-3. What happened should not have happened. Denver sent just four rushers and still managed to take the quarterback down. The Patriots were gutted. Terrance Knighton got credit for the takedown. New England had to punt… again.
BIGGEST OPPORTUNITIES WASTED
The Patriots got the ball, down 16, with less than four minutes left in regulation. It seemed they had a shot when Tom Brady scrambled up the middle on second-and-3 to score a touchdown. But the two-point conversion attempted by Shane Vereen got stuffed. New England then had to try an onside kick. The team did recover one earlier this year, so it was not outside the realm of possibility. Stephen Gostkowski sent the ball 16-yards… and right into Decker's hands. Those moments are not where the game was lost -- New England doing nothing on offense for three quarters is -- but they drove the final nails into the coffin.
BIGGEST OPPORTUNITIES WASTED