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01/14/06

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Patriots fall to Broncos 27-13 to end the season and the hopes of a three-peat.  Thanks for a great season, boys... See you next year!

1/14/06

Hard to believe, but it's over, 27-13 Fred Kirsch


All good things must come to an end, the story of the night for the New England Patriots as their season came to close along with its attempt to make history with three straight championships. It was Denver 27, New England, 13, the first postseason loss for the the Patriots in 11 games.

New England doesn't beat itself in the postseason -- except on this night. Four Patriot turnovers spelled doom as the Denver Broncos scored 24 of their 27 points as a result of those miscues.

Two Patriots turnovers and an awful pass interference call on Asante Samuel led to a 10-3 Broncos lead after the first 30 minutes.

Both teams began conservatively on offense, punting after their first possessions. It was on the Patriots second try that they drove into Broncos territory but on fourth and 1 from the Denver 36, Brady took a shotgun snap and threw behind a wide open Christian Fauria allowing Denver to take over on downs.


Although Denver managed to only get to the Patriot 45, Todd Sauerbrun's punt dropped inside the 10 and was downed at the 4-yard line by Curome Cox.

It was a key play in the field position battle. With the Denver faithful deafening, Brady had to work with little room for error. His first pass was nearly intercepted by Al Wilson. After Dillon ran for 5 yards, Brady had to call timeout on third and 5. Even with the time to talk with the sideline, the ensuing play wound up clearly miscommunicated as Brady turned and fired to his left with no one there. New England punted again.

Josh Miller got off a 50-yard punt and the Broncos began at their own 37. Plummer quickly got them over midfield with a 15 yard pass to Ashley Lelie. Two runs by Mike Anderson netted 4 yards and the first quarter ended with Denver third and 6 from the Patriots 44.

Plummer opened the second quarter with another 15-yard completion, this one to Rod Smith. A holding call on Tatum Bell brought up a third and 17 and it looked like the Patriots would keep Denver out of the red zone but Plummer found Jeb Putzier in the right flat for 24 yards to the 12. Bell then ran for 8 yards to the 4 and again for 1 yard, only inches away from a first down. That brought up third and 1 and a Plummer sneak that was thwarted by Ty Warren.

Denver elected to go for it being so close to the first down. Plummer floated a fade pass to Lelie heading toward the left corner of the end zone but the ball was overthrown and amazingly New England escaped.

Once again Brady had to start with his heels virtually on the goal line and once again New England was forced to punt after three plays.

Denver continued to apply the pressure not only on defense but also when it had the ball, and it wasn't with its vaunted running game. Plummer was connecting with his receivers and he began this drive with a 15-yarder to Anderson and 11 more to Smith. After a 1-yard run by Anderson, Plummer looked a little deeper down the left sideline to Lelie. Samuel came across and made the catch with the ruling on field being Samuel out of bounds.

The play was close and the Patriots challenged the call. Replay showed both of Samuel's feet in bounds with possession and the Patriots took over at the Denver 11. It was the best field position New England had in its last three drives.

Brady took immediate advantage. On first down he looked long to Andre Davis with Champ Bailey in coverage. The pass was caught 51 yards downfield to the Broncos 38. Two plays later Branch was good for a 13 yard catch but New England would get no further than the Broncos 22 where Adam Vinatieri booted a 39-yard field goal to put his team on top, 3-0.

The Broncos answered after Kevin Faulk fumbled later in the quarter. After the turnover, Plummer looked long to Lelie on first down with Samuel in coverage. A completely ridiculous pass interference call was made on Samuel as both players were looking at the ball and no contact came until the ball sailed over both players' heads. The penalty moved the ball to the 1 where Anderson pounded it in for a gift-wrapped touchdown.

Denver added three more to its lead after Ellis Hobbs fumbled the ensuing kickoff. Jason Elam nailed a 50-yard field goal to make the halftime score 10-3, Denver.

New England opened the second half by stopping Denver three and out and then starting a drive from its own 27 that quickly went into Denver territory thanks to an 18-yard pass to Daniel Graham thrown over heavy Bronco pressure. Givens caught a 14-yarder to the 37. He later caught another pass for 6 yards to the 14 but that was as far as his team would get on this drive, settling for a 32-yard Vinatieri field goal to make the score 10-6.

At this point the Patriots seemed to have an extra hop in their step. After Mike Vrabel sacked Plummer to bring up the Broncos second consecutive punt, Brady went right to work and hit Troy Brown for 33 yards to the 45. A little trickery followed with a give to Dillon who turned and sent the ball back to Brady for the flea flicker. He then found Branch all alone for a pick up of 26 yards to the 19. From there, Givens snared a 9-yard pass to the 10.

On third and goal from the 5, things got wild. Brady looked to Brown at the edge of the goal line but Bailey snatched the ball away and headed down the sideline. It was clear sailing for the cornerback but just as he was about to cross the goal line, Benjamin Watson came out of nowhere, sending Bailey flying out of bounds and ball out of his hands. The ref called the play down at the 1-yard line but New England challenged the call, thinking the ball may have been fumbled out of the end zone. If it did, it would be the Patriots ball first and 10 at the 20.

There just wasn't enough evidence to overturn the call and the Broncos were in prime position to add to its lead, first and goal at the 1.

Anderson took it in around the left side on the next play and just like that the momentum New England was feeling went right to the Broncos. Instead of the game being at least 10-9 or 13-10, Patriots, it was now 17-6 Denver with play moving into the final frame.

Undaunted, Brady drove his team down to the Broncos 25 with Dillon running for 17 and Faulk catching two passes for 20 yards total. On third and 4 from the Denver 25, however, he overthrew Brown who had beaten his man toward the end zone. Vinatieri then missed a 43-yard field goal attempt and New England was unable to cut into the lead with 12:48 remaining in the game.

The game was sealed for Denver after the Patriots defense forced the Broncos to punt on their next series and the usually dependable Brown muffed his catch. Denver's Mike Leach pounced on the loose ball and the Broncos were poised to put the game away. After two Anderson runs, Plummer hit Smith in the end zone, making the score 24-6 and thus making New England's amazing reign of dominance over the NFL looking like it might come to an end.

Like the champions they are, New England never gave up. Brady hit Branch for a 73-yard play down to the Broncos 4 as soon as he got the ball back. On the next play it was Givens along the back of the end zone for the score.

Denver managed to kill a good chunk of the remaining clock on its way to adding three to the scoreboard, making it a 27-13 game. Elam was good on a 34-yarder, the only Denver points of the night that did not come as a result of a Patriot turnover.

Brady ended his night on a last ditch bomb intended for Davis that was picked off by John Lynch.

It's been an amazing ride and like the old cliche goes, wait 'til next year, Patriots fans.

Notes
Patriots inactives: Bam Childress; Patrick Pass; Gene Mruczkowski; Nick Kaczur; Dan Klecko; Bethel Johnson; Santonio Thomas; Matt Cassel (3rd QB).
Broncos inactives: David Terrell; Darius Watts; Hamza Abdullah; Roc Alexander; Taylor Whitley; John Engelberger; Monsanto Pope; Nate Jackson.

Official Website of the New England Patriots

TheBostonChannel.com
Pats' Season Starts With Injuries, Ends With Mistakes
Offseason Will Involve Soul Searching


POSTED: 6:44 am EST January 16, 2006

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There were no crutches in sight, only ex-champs in a somber locker room.

The Patriots were just about the healthiest they'd been the whole season. In the locker room, they didn't blame their mistake-filled flop on questionable calls by officials.

There was befuddlement, though, at how a disciplined group that thrived under the pressure of three Super Bowls victories could come unglued with a chance for a fourth. Five turnovers plus an opportunistic opponent equaled a 27-13 divisional playoff win for the Denver Broncos on Saturday night.

Coach Bill Belichick said Sunday there were "very questionable calls" and that he was "surprised that was the playoff crew" of officials, but didn't blame the loss on those calls.

"They played better than we did," Belichick said on a conference call.

Now comes a long offseason of soul-searching about how a budding dynasty ended with a dud.

"When you lose, you want to go down fighting, you want to go down playing your best," New England quarterback Tom Brady said, "and we didn't do that."

The Patriots didn't do that for most of the regular season.

Still, they had a chance to become the first team to win three consecutive Super Bowls, something seven other teams who won two straight -- including Joe Montana's 49ers and Terry Bradshaw's Steelers -- failed to do. And, like the Patriots, none of those seven made it back to the title game the next year, either.

"You can't win 'em all," said linebacker Willie McGinest, although Brady had done just that in his other 10 playoff games. "It's not going to stop us from doing what we normally do, fighting hard in the offseason, getting guys back to the way we used to be and make another run."

The runs the Patriots made in the first 10 games of the season looked more like limps.

Rodney Harrison was the strong safety, the emotional and tactical heart of the defense. Matt Light was the veteran left tackle who protected Brady. Both had their seasons ended by injuries -- Harrison's knee and Light's broken leg - in the third game.

The Patriots played two games without both of their top two running backs, Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk. Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour missed four games and linebacker Tedy Bruschi missed the first six before returning from a mild stroke.

At midseason, the Patriots were 4-4. Belichick's father Steve died after the 10th game. After the 11th, the Patriots were 6-5 with four losses by at least 10 points.

"We're sitting at 4-4, not a very good football team and losing a ton of guys to injuries and Coach losing his father," Brady said. "In a lot of ways it's been a very rewarding year just because we overcame things."

They went 4-1 in their last five games but two of those wins were over the New York Jets and one was over Buffalo - the weakest teams in the AFC East where New England's 10-6 record was enough to win the division.

Then they won the wild-card playoff game 28-3 against Jacksonville, the team that last beat the Patriots seven years ago before their 10-game playoff winning streak began. The Jaguars were 12-4 this season but their schedule was weaker than the one the Patriots played.

Denver was different - a 13-3 team unbeaten at home in the challenging AFC West.

"I think the last few weeks you're just going on vapors. Your tank's on empty," Brady said, "but you just keep finding a way because you realize it's all worth it if you make it to the Super Bowl."

But the coordinators for their three championships - Charlie Weis on offense and Romeo Crennel on defense - left for head coaching jobs. Players insisted those departures didn't hurt the team.

Now Eric Mangini, who succeeded Crennel, is considered a top candidate for the New York Jets top job.

"For selfish reasons we always want a guy like Mangini back," Seymour said, but "you have to move on."

The Patriots did that well in the secondary when rookie cornerback Ellis Hobbs and free agent safety Artrell Hawkins took over for sidelined players.

The offensive line also protected Brady with two rookies on the left side and Russ Hochstein filling in when starter Dan Koppen was lost for the season in the ninth game. But did that harm the inconsistent running game, or has Dillon, a nine-year veteran, lost a step one year after setting a single-season team rushing record?

And although McGinest said, "we don't make any excuses," did Asante Samuel really interfere with Ashley Lelie in the end zone, a questionable penalty that led to Denver's first touchdown?

There will be a longer offseason than usual to ponder those questions.

Belichick said he's already planning for next season, but acknowledged Sunday that, "it's been a long year."

Brady did lead the NFL with a career-high 4,110 yards passing and played a bigger role with so many players hurt. And Adam Vinatieri joined Denver's Jason Elam as the only two kickers in NFL history to score at least 100 points in each of his first 10 seasons.

But how did such clutch players fail in such a big game?

Brady, now 1-4 against Denver, threw a game-changing interception that Champ Bailey returned 100 yards. Vinatieri missed a 43-yard field goal, breaking a string of 25 successful fourth-quarter kicks.

Deion Branch, last year's Super Bowl MVP said before the game that Belichick had drummed into his players that the Patriots weren't champs this season because the title came last season.

The coach turned out to be right.

"In a lot of ways this kind of invigorates you," Brady said. "You hate to end the season this way. Hopefully, we'll come back stronger next year. I know it's a long ways away. It's just disappointing."

TheBostonChannel.com - Sports - Pats' Season Starts With Injuries, Ends With Mistakes

 

 Imperfect Patriots a surprising sight
By Eric McHugh, the Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.) and Andrea Adelson, The Associated Press


Now the Patriots get to see how the NFL's other half lives.
For the first time since 2002, when they missed the playoffs after winning the first of three Super Bowls in four years, the Patriots are on the postseason sideline. Ultimately, they couldn't clear a bar set impossibly high.

"You can't win 'em all," linebacker Willie McGinest said. "It's not going to stop us from doing what we normally do, fighting hard in the offseason, getting guys back to the way we used to be and make another run."

The Patriots' two-year reign as Super Bowl champions ended in head-scratching fashion Saturday in Denver.

Yes, that was quarterback Tom Brady throwing an end-zone interception in the third quarter.

Yes, that was return man Troy Brown muffing a punt in the fourth quarter.

Yes, that was McGinest shoving teammate Larry Izzo on the sideline.

"When you lose, you want to go down fighting, you want to go down playing your best, and we didn't do that," said Brady, who is now 1-4 against Denver. "I think the last few weeks you're just going on vapors. Your tank's on empty, but you just keep finding a way because you realize it's all worth it if you make it to the Super Bowl."

Just as seven teams before it did, New England failed to win its third consecutive Super Bowl. Like the Patriots, Bob Griese's Dolphins, Terry Bradshaw's Steelers, Joe Montana's 49ers and Troy Aikman's Cowboys were each eliminated before the title game the year after winning two in a row.

They showed themselves to be fallible despite 21 consecutive wins, 21 consecutive home wins, 10 consecutive playoff wins and a 34-4 record over a two-year period.

But one playoff loss doesn't mean the Patriots are destined to slide into 8-8 mediocrity or 4-12 oblivion.

They might prove to be like the Steelers in the 1970s, when Pittsburgh won two consecutive Super Bowls then lost in the playoffs two consecutive years before winning two more consecutive Super Bowls.

First, the Patriots have some tweaking ó and healing ó to do after playing 91 games in the regular and postseason since 2001.

Corey Dillon rushed for a franchise-record 1,635 yards in 2004, but calf and ankle injuries limited him to essentially 11 games and 733 yards in the 2005 regular season. He was not a factor in the either playoff game (30 carries for 97 yards).

There's the question of who besides Deion Branch plays receiver next year if No. 2 man David Givens leaves in free agency. Kicker Adam Vinatieri's contract is also expiring, and defensive coordinator Eric Mangini accepted an offer to become the next coach of the New York Jets, the Associated Press reported Monday night, citing a source close to the situation.

Mangini, 35, who spent nearly his entire career working for Patriots coach Bill Belichick, is regarded as one of the brightest defensive minds in the game.

He also has close ties to assistant general manager Mike Tannenbaum and was an assistant with the Jets from 1997-99, working with Belichick in the secondary.

Belichick was the Jets' head coach for one day before changing his mind and bolting for New England in 2000. That connection didn't seem to bother Jets owner Woody Johnson, who is desperate to try and gain on the Patriots in the AFC East.

"For selfish reasons we always want a guy like Mangini back," defensive end Richard Seymour said, "but you have to move on."

After last year's Super Bowl triumph, the Patriots lost both coordinators ó Charlie Weis to Notre Dame and Romeo Crennel to the Browns. They also cast off cornerback Ty Law. Linebacker Tedy Bruschi suffered a stroke. The day before training camp, veteran linebacker Ted Johnson announced his retirement, throwing the defense into further chaos.

While free agent linebackers Monty Beisel and Chad Brown were trying to get their bearings, injuries ravaged the Patriots for the third consecutive season, this time claiming safety Rodney Harrison, left tackle Matt Light and third-down back Kevin Faulk in Week 3.

The Patriots wound up with six defensive backs on injured reserve. Only two offensive linemen who started Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville in February were in the lineup at Invesco Field on Saturday.

Still, they won six of their final eight games to finish 10-6, but the late start proved costly. The Colts and Broncos earned the first-round byes that had been key to the Patriots' Super Bowl runs.

"We're sitting at 4-4, not a very good football team and losing a ton of guys to injuries and Coach losing his father," Brady said. "In a lot of ways it's been a very rewarding year just because we overcame things."

Belichick, who coached with a heavy heart the final eight weeks after the death of his father, Steve, said, "It's been a long year."

A short one, too, by Patriots' standards. Now it's all about the draft, free agency, offseason conditioning programs and minicamps.

"In a lot of ways this kind of invigorates you," Brady said. "You hate to end the season this way. Hopefully, we'll come back stronger next year. I know it's a long ways away. It's just disappointing."

 

USATODAY.com - Imperfect Patriots a surprising sight

 

Top five highs during the Patriot season
By Boston Herald Staff
Tuesday, January 17, 2006 - Updated: 07:00 AM EST


OPENING NIGHT BANNER RAISING

Thoughts of an historic three-peat were very much in place following the ceremonial raising of the championship banner and fireworks display during the Thursday night season opener against Oakland. There were questions about the Patriots, particularly on defense, but the 30-20 victory still sparked promise for another great year. Tom Brady got out of the gate with the ninth 300-yard game of his career while the defense was dominant when needed.

TEDY BRUSCHIíS RETURN

Miraculous, uplifting, inspirational. Those are just some of the words describing the linebackerís triumphant return to the lineup on October 30 against the Buffalo Bills, a mere eight months after suffering a mild stroke. Bruschi, who had trouble walking and difficulty seeing out of one eye after the stroke, initially indicated he would sit out the season, but when his sight returned and he felt steady enough on his feet, he came back sooner. It took him a few games to get back up to speed, but the heart and soul of the defense pretty much resumed his old form by mid-December. He made a huge impact calling the plays and setting the defense.

TOM BRADY SIís SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR

Brady was the first quarterback since Joe Montana in 1990 to receive the prestigious award, which was handed out by Sports Illustrated in December. To that point in the season, Brady, despite losing five starters on offense, helped the team to win seven of 12 games as the SI coverboy rallied the Pats four times to win in the fourth quarter during that span. The two-time Super Bowl MVP went on to lead the Pats to the AFC East title with a 10-6 mark, and led the NFL with a career-high 4,110 passing yards.

SACKING TAMPA BAY IN WEEK 13

Routing teams like the Jets and Bills was one thing, but trouncing Tampa Bay, 28-0, sent a message the Pats were for real, particularly on defense where they struggled much of the season. With the front seven back as a unit now for several games, it all came together in dominating fashion. Bucs quarterback Chris Simms was sacked seven times, while Cadillac Williams was held to 23 yards rushing. This game punctuated a great December charge which saw the Pats go from the worst run defense in the league to one of the best.

BEATING JACKSONVILLE IN WILD CARD GAME

The Pats got off on the right foot, beating the Jaguars, 28-3, in the opening playoff game, extending their consecutive post-season winning streak to 10 games. During the game, there were also several memorable moments. With 4 1/2 sacks, Willie McGinest passed both Reggie White and Bruce Smith to become the NFLís all-time leader in career playoff sacks (16). Tight end Benjamin Watson also gave notice with an electrifying 63-yard touchdown reception, breaking tackles and bowling over Jaguar defenders along the way.

 

 

BostonHerald.com - N.E. Patriots: Top five highs during the Patriot season

Top five lows in the Patriots season
By Boston Herald Staff
Tuesday, January 17, 2006 - Updated: 07:04 AM EST


TED JOHNSON ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT

News of the veteran linebackerís retirement was unexpected, coming on the eve of training camp. Coupled with the initial loss of Tedy Bruschi, due to the minor stroke he suffered in February, that left the Pats scrambling to find a way to stop the run. Johnson, who retired because of residual effects from concussions he suffered as a player, was a fixture at inside linebacker, a force at taking on offensive linemen and stuffing the run. For much of the season, the Pats had the worst run-stop defense in the league, or close to it. Both Monty Beisel and Chad Brown were moved inside, but didnít provide the answer.

RODNEY HARRISON TEARS UP KNEE

Patriot fans got to see just how vital the strong safety was to the secondary and the defense as a whole after he shredded his right knee in Week 3 against Pittsburgh, a game which also saw left tackle Matt Light break his leg and go out for the season. The Pats no longer had their most intimidating presence in the secondary. In the weeks following, there were communication breakdowns and opposing teams practically threw the football at will. For much of the season, the Pats were ranked as the worst team against the pass. Harrison was also huge in shutting down the run, an area that took a while to fix.

DUANE STARKS IS LIT UP IN DENVER

This game was a microcosm of Starksí difficulties playing cornerback. Early in the season, the Pats were the victim of big plays and many times Starks was the guy responsible. Against the Broncos, he found himself woefully behind on two huge pass plays that set up scores. Rod Smith blew by Starks for a 72-yard reception before Ashley LeLei took his turn torching the corner, beating him for a 55-yard gain in man-to-man coverage. The free agent, who wound up on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, was a bust.

MANNING, COLTS EMBARRASS PATS IN FOXBORO

The Chargers mauled them at Gillette Stadium, stopping the Pats home win streak at 21. Losses in Carolina, Denver and Kansas City werenít pretty, either, but this 40-21 spanking on Monday Night Football was particularly worrisome. The Pats had won six straight against Indy, including a pair of playoff victories, but the Colts finally made their breakthrough in a big way before a national audience. Manning threw for 321 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Edgerrin James rushed for 104 yards. This loss prompted Troy Brown to call out his teammates for a lack of passion.

CHAMP BAILEY PICKS OFF TOM BRADY IN PLAYOFFS

This was perhaps the worst of the five turnovers in the Patsí season-ending, divisional playoff loss to Denver. Trailing 10-6 in the final minute of the third quarter, the Pats had driven to the Broncosí 5, facing a third-and-goal. With Nick Ferguson blitzing from his left, a rushed Brady threw an ill-advised pass toward Troy Brown in the right corner of the end zone. Bailey stepped in front and returned it 100 yards to the Pats 1 before being knocked out of bounds by Benjamin Watson. The Broncos scored on the next play to go up, 17-6. At the very least with a field goal, the Pats would have trailed by one. It was the turning point in a mistake-riddled game for the two-time defending champs.

 BostonHerald.com - N.E. Patriots: Top five lows in the Patriots season

Tedy's Post Game Photo Gallery

Schedule

All times are US/Eastern
Division Weekend

at
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX

at
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on CBS
 

All times are US/Eastern
Wild Card Weekend


Saturday, January 7
4:30 p.m. on ABC -- Washington (10-6) at Tampa Bay (11-5)
8:00 p.m. on ABC -- Jacksonville (12-4) at New England (10-6)


Sunday, January 8
1:00 p.m. on FOX -- Carolina (11-5) at N.Y. Giants (11-5)
4:30 p.m. on CBS -- Pittsburgh (11-5) at Cincinnati (11-5)

 

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