Taking to the practice fields on only two occasions in as many weeks will certainly have an effect on a football team. More often than not, that effect will be a negative one.
On Sunday, the New England Patriots learned that lesson, all too well.
After two postponements, and several closures of their team facilities, the Patriots finally got the chance to square off against the Denver Broncos in Week Six of the 2020 NFL season. However, instead of praising the triumphant return of quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, it was Denver kicker Brandon McManus who stole the show. McManus was the lone Bronco to light the Gillette Stadium scoreboard, en route to an 18-12 win over New England in a game twice delayed following positive tests for COVID-19.
Despite mustering a mere three points though three quarters, the Patriots rallied from an 18-3 deficit and nearly pulled off the comeback. However, New England’s three turnovers proved to be too costly. Denver’s defense entered the game with two takeaways on the season. It forced three on Sunday, coming up with two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Sporting an offensive line that had most of its key components playing out of position, New England’s offense was held to 288 cumulative yards. It was the first game back for Newton, who returned after missing New England’s Week 4 loss at Kansas City. He finished 17 of 25 for 157 yards and two interceptions. He also rushed 10 times for 76 yards and the game’s only touchdown.
Newton’s first pass attempt of the game was a short throw intended for running back James White. The pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and subsequently intercepted by Denver defensive lineman DeShawn Williams. Save for a Nick Folk 41-yard field goal in the second quarter, the Patriots offense routinely failed to provide points to assist its defense throughout the first half. Having connected on field goals from 45, 44 and 27 yards respectively, McManus nailed a 52-yarder to give Denver a 12-3 lead at the half.
Yet another McManus field goal would give the Broncos a 15-3 lead early in the third quarter. Shortly thereafter, the Denver defense forced their second turnover when tight end Ryan Izzo caught a pass over the middle. Unfortunately for the Patriots, a would-be 17-point gain was negated when Izzo was stripped by Denver cornerback Michael Ojemudia. Justin Simmons recovered the fumble, giving the ball to Denver on the New England 42. McManus subsequently connected on a 54-yard field goal four plays later to stretch the Broncos lead to 18-3.
Still, the Patriots refused to go quietly into that Foxboro evening. New England closed the gap to 18-9 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Newton with 8:31 left in the fourth. Despite adequate time remaining, the Pats decided to attempt the two-point conversion. This time, Newton would be stopped short of the goal line.
New England would further chip away at Denver’s lead when quarterback Drew Lock’s pass intended for receiver Tim Patrick was intercepted by J.C. Jackson and returned 30 yards to the Denver 25. Nick Folk connected on a 38-yard field goal four plays later to make it 18-12 with 3:23 remaining.
Denver’s ensuing drive lasted just one play when another long pass attempt from Lock to Patrick was intercepted by Jonathan Jones. This time, the Patriots would twice dip into their bag of trickery. The first coming on a double pass from Julian Edelman to James White for a 22-yard gain. The second would find Newton playing the role of receiver when Edelman found him on a 16-yard gain to get inside the Denver 25.
Broncos’ defender Malik Reed sacked Newton for a 6-yard loss. However, the Patriots signal-caller immediately regained that yardage by completing a 6-yard pass to James White setting up a fourth-and-10 on the Denver 24.
On the final Patriots pass attempt of the game, receiver N’Keal Harry seemingly got separation from his defender. Yet, Newton’s pass was well wide, turning the ball over on downs. At first glance, it had appeared that Newton had missed a chance to connect with his open target. However, upon further review it appeared that Harry failed to break outside, away from the defender. Instead, he seemed to break inside, and tried to adjust as he saw the ball going outside. Whether it was Harry who ran the incorrect route, or Newton who put the ball in the incorrect place, the incompletion allowed the Broncos to snap their four-game losing streak in New England. More significantly for the home team, it dropped New England to 2-3 on the season.
Patriots right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor needed assistance getting off the field after an ankle injury late in the first quarter and did not return.
Defensive lineman Adam Butler left in the second quarter with an elbow injury.
The Patriots play host to old friend Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, October 25 at 4:25pm ET at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
-Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and Columnist for Full Press Coverage. He covers the New England Patriots and provides NFL editorial content. He is also the host of the Locked On Patriots podcast. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC