They faced so many injuries and nearly overcame them all. But an Aqib Talib injury in a second straight AFC Championship was the straw that broke the Camel’s back.
We’ll have more here on NESN.com about the tough loss.
Fourth quarter, 2:00, Broncos 26-16: The Broncos are facing 3rd and 2 well within field goal range. It would take a miracle to end all miracles at this point for the Patriots to win.
No one can say they went down without a fight. This team just didn’t have enough in the end.
Fourth quarter, 3:07, Broncos 26-16: The Patriots took way too long to score — nearly four minutes.
The entire idea was to convert the two-point conversion, and they failed. The Patriots scored on a Tom Brady run. They failed to convert on a Shane Vereen run.
Fourth quarter, 7:05, Broncos 26-10: The Patriots bent but didn’t completely break. It’s still a two-possession game, but New England would need to convert two two-point conversions.
The Patriots still need a big play, perhaps a turnover as time is running out.
Fourth quarter, 9:26, Broncos 23-10: Well, the Patriots made a statement, though it might have been whispered.
New England drove down the field in less than three minutes. The drive culminated with a touchdown pass to Julian Edelman.
This one is not completely over yet.
Fourth quarter, 12:10, Broncos 23-3: Moral victory for the Patriots on that Broncos drive. Denver had to settle for a field goal after the Broncos made a ton of mistakes inside the red zone.
With 12:10 left, there’s still life left in this game, though not much. The Patriots need to make a statement on this drive.
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End third quarter, Broncos 20-3: The Broncos are driving down the field with ease again. If this game wasn’t already over, it will be with a Broncos touchdown.
Third quarter, 2:25, Broncos 20-3: The Patriots could have gone for the 47-yard field goal to cut the Broncos’ lead to two scores, but they went for it on 4th and 2 instead. It did not work out. Tom Brady got sacked by Terrance Knighton and this one appears to be over.
It was a helluva season for the Patriots.
Third quarter, 7:52, Broncos 20-3: This one might be over. The Broncos just went on a seven-minute scoring drive with ease. The Patriots have no answer on defense right now.
It might not matter how hot the offense comes out if the defense can’t make any stops.
At this point, the Patriots need to score on this drive and get a big turnover on the Broncos’ ensuing drive to make this a ball game. If that doesn’t happen, it’s been a exceptional season for the Patriots and they got further than they should have.
End half, Broncos 13-3: The Patriots have been a second-half team all season and they’re going to need to be one here, too.
The Broncos lead 13-3 and there’s not much going well for the Patriots on offense. Tom Brady is missing deep balls, and the running game hasn’t been able to get anywhere up.
The defense is going to need to start making big plays, but they haven’t generated any pressure on Peyton Manning to force mistakes. The Patriots need to make some major adjustments at halftime in the locker room.
This team has said all year that no one has to say anything at halftime to know that things need to change. For now, the Patriots are lucky the score is as close as it is.
Aqib Talib remains out with an injury. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Shaun Phillips went down for the Broncos, but both were able to return.
Second quarter, 0:25, Broncos 13-3: It’s a two-score game yet again in Denver.
Demaryius Thomas was burning Alfonzo Dennard with Talib out of the game. Devin McCourty and Logan Ryan made key plays to hold the Broncos to three points, however.
The Patriots have two timeouts.
Second quarter, 2:00, Broncos 10-3: The Patriots are giving Chandler Jones some rest. Andre Carter is in playing right defensive end. He drew a holding penalty on 2nd and 11. Welker picked up a first down on the play that was negated.
Second quarter, 2:54, Broncos 10-3: The Patriots got on the board before the half, which is better than they could say in these two teams’ first matchup.
Brady found Aaron Dobson on a 27-yard gain on the first play of the drive. Brady also hit tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and running back Shane Vereen for first downs.
The Patriots are still having trouble running the ball and they’re not holding the ball long enough to wear out the Broncos’ defense. Stephen Gostkowski hit the 47-yard field goal to cut Denver’s lead to 10-3.
Second quarter, 7:50, Broncos 10-0: The Patriots’ defense appears to be feeling the effects of the altitude in Denver.
They were gassed by the end of a seven-minute drive by the Broncos. The Patriots got gashed on a long run by Knowshon Moreno and a screen by Montee Ball.
Aqib Talib got injured early in the drive. He took a hard pick from Wes Welker. Talib headed to the locker room. He’s questionable to return with a “rib” injury, though he appeared to be limping.
End first quarter, Broncos 3-0: We’re through one quarter in Denver. The Patriots are driving down the field, but face 4th and 16. They’re not in field-goal range.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie got injured when Julian Edelman laid out the Broncos cornerback on a screen block.
Brady missed Edelman deep down the middle of the field early in the drive. The Broncos bit on play action, but the Patriots quarterback chucked it 2 yards too deep.
UPDATE: The Patriots punted after showing that they might go for it. The Broncos have the ball at their own 7-yard line.
First quarter, 3:45, Broncos 3-0: The Patriots’ defense bent again but didn’t break.
Aqib Talib got torched by Demaryius Thomas on a deep completion, and Devin McCourty let up a big completion to Eric Decker, but once the Broncos got in the red zone, they couldn’t get the touchdown. Matt Prater knocked it through for a short field goal.
Jamie Collins and Devin McCourty had nice plays in the passing game. Collins also made a nice run stop.
Alfonzo Dennard returned from his shoulder injury. It kept him our just four plays.
First quarter, 7:50: The Patriots went three and out again.
Brady hit a wide-open Matthew Mulligan for 6 yards on first down, then LeGarrette Blount ran for 1 yard.
On 3rd and 3, Brady targeted receiver/special teamer Matthew Slater deep down the right sideline. It went incomplete.
First quarter, 9:30: The Patriots’ defense certainly didn’t hold the Broncos to a three and out, but they stopped Denver at midfield.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower made a huge stop on Knowshon Moreno for a 5-yard loss. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard came up with his shoulder hanging on the third play of the drive. Rookie Logan Ryan replaced him. Dennard was still recovering from a shoulder injury suffered earlier in the season.
First quarter, 13:39: The Patriots went three and out to start the game.
Brady completed a pass to Julian Edelman on the first play of the game. Then LeGarrette Blount ran for no gain and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie knocked away a passing attempt to Austin Collie.
First quarter, 15:00: Touchback. The Patriots have the ball at the 20.
First quarter, 15:00: The Broncos won the toss and chose to defer. The Patriots still start the game with the football.
2:55 p.m.: We’re 10 minutes away from kickoff, and this matchup could not come sooner.
The weather is perfect in Denver, which means this will likely be a high-scoring affair. It’s 63 degrees and sunny with minimal winds at Mile High.
I picked the Patriots 34-31, but anything could happen.
2:00 p.m.: From looking at Tom Brady’s hand earlier in the season, it was obvious there was something wrong. We now know what was causing the signal-caller’s hand to swell.
Brady suffered ligament damage to his throwing hand, according to Albert Breer of NFL Network. It’s now healed.
Breer reports that the injury would not have required surgery. Brady struggled early in the season, though it appeared some of those struggles were related to his rookie receivers adapting to the offense.
1:43 p.m.: Getting Aaron Dobson back should be big for the Patriots. As the season progressed, Dobson appeared to be ahead of fellow rookie wideout Kenbrell Thompkins.
Dobson’s return should open up the middle of the field for Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman.
Over on the Broncos side of the field, Champ Bailey will start opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback, according to Mike Klis of The Denver Post. Bailey will play left cornerback in the base defense and slide over to the slot in nickel. Former Patriots practice-squader Tony Carter will play left cornerback in nickel.
That means Amendola will likely be matched up with Bailey for most of the game. Julian Edelman should see most of his snaps against Rodgers-Cromartie and Dobson will get to exploit Carter.
1:36 p.m.: Wide receiver Aaron Dobson is active for the Patriots.
Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, defensive end Jake Bequette, linebacker Steve Beauharnais, defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, guard Chris Barker, cornerback Justin Green and tight end D.J. Williams are inactive for the Patriots.
Broncos cornerback Marquice Cole, who was cut by the Patriots on Dec. 26, is inactive.
1:20 p.m.: The Patriots only listed three players as questionable this week: rookie wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins and punter Ryan Allen. All three players have taken the field now, according to reports from Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver.
Dobson injured his foot in Week 17. He was still in a walking boot as recently as last week. If he can suit up, it could help open up the middle of the field for Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman.
12:35 p.m.: Patriots punter Ryan Allen is on the field warming up. He’s listed as questionable after injuring his shoulder in the divisional-round playoff game against the Colts.
Allen failed to finish that game, but if there was any question that the rookie could play, New England likely would have signed a punter. If Allen can’t go or if he gets reinjured, kicker Stephen Gostkowski would take over punting duties. Gostkowski was effective in that role last Saturday.
8 a.m. ET: If the New England Patriots are going to beat the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, it won’t be on talent alone.
That hope ran out long ago when All Pro after All Pro went down with season-ending injuries. No, if the Patriots are going to make the Super Bowl, they’re going to have to steal this matchup from the Broncos.
The Patriots need big plays, key turnovers and they need to run the ball down the Broncos’ collective throat. They need to pick off quarterback Peyton Manning, and they need to discourage the Broncos from running the football.
Running back LeGarrette Blount needs to be the running back the Patriots had in Week 17 against the Buffalo Bills and in the divisional-round playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. If the Blount well runs dry, the Patriots are in trouble.
And Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has to be able to able to spread the football around. He can’t rely on wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. He has to find running back Shane Vereen and one of his rookie wide receivers, either Aaron Dobson or Kenbrell Thompkins.
It won’t be easy for the Patriots to win the AFC title game, but everything seems to be clicking for them at the perfect time — from Blount’s running to rookie defenders like Jamie Collins and Logan Ryan coming into their own.
The AFC Championship Game kicks off at 3 p.m., but we’ll have all the updates leading up to matchup here on NESN.com.