The Patriots loss in the 2005 AFC Divisional game was one of the seminal moments of my Patriots fandom/obsession. It was at that moment we finally saw Bill Belichick and Tom Brady lose a playoff football game together, and it suddenly dawned on me that there would be a finite end to their dominance. There would be limited opportunities for Super Bowl trophies and the clock was ticking.
Did I think that 12 years later they’d still be going strong? No way. Did I think that their successful run would spawn an entire side career of blogging fun for me? Never. All I knew was that the Patriots should’ve beaten the stupid Broncos that night and I was going to hinge on every Patriots game from there on out like it was life or death.
Little did I know but some of the most disappointing moments of the Belichick and Brady reign would continue to come in Denver. For whatever reason, things have just never been easy there but the history is rich with interesting storylines that have spanned a decade-and-a-half.
Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting moments from Tom Brady’s house of horrors in Denver.
Brady’s first game in Denver was a loss to fellow Michigan teammate Brian Griese, whom Brady had backed up for his first two seasons in Ann Arbor. Brady threw four interceptions that day and it would be his lowest passer rating of his first starting season, but would lose just one more game that season en route to his first Super Bowl title. It was an interesting start that traced its roots to Brady’s college days, history that very much formed how he became the greatest quarterback in NFL history. It was just a small reminder of where he had come from and losing to Griese certainly must’ve driven Brady nuts.
Their second trip to Denver came in 2003 and is one of the more famous wins with Belichick choosing to take an intentional safety. That gave Brady the ball back with 2:15 to play and he drove for the game winning touchdown to David Givens.
The Patriots would return to Denver in Week 6 of the 2005 season and it was one of Brady’s worst performances of the season. He completed just 52 percent of his passes. Strangely, the Pats were down 28-3 mid-way through the third quarter and tried to mount a comeback with 17-straight points but they would fall short. Brady and the offense were forced to punt with under four minutes left and the defense couldn’t get the ball back. Denver won 28-20.
The Pats would return to Denver in the 2005 season for the AFC Divisional game which I mentioned initially. Brady had another un-Brady-like day, with one touchdown, two interceptions and completing just 56 percent of his passes. It was a game of missed opportunities, one of which is the most infamous play in Patriots history, when Brady threw a goal-line interception that Champ Bailey took back 100 yards. The controversy on the play was when Ben Watson chased Bailey down and tackled him right at the goal line. Did the ball go out of the end zone, which should’ve resulted in a Patriots touchback instead of setting the Broncos up on the one-yard line? We’ll never know for sure.
It would be four years in 2009 before the Pats returned to Denver, and this time it was to face their old (and current) offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. It was another loss for the Pats, one that Belichick lamented with disgust in his episode of A Football Life. The Broncos uniforms weren’t the ugliest thing on the field that day, it was the Patriots’ performance, which included fumbling the ball twice on the final drive with the game tied. The Broncos needed just one possession in overtime to kick the game winner.
Two years later in 2011, the Pats were back in Denver, taking on Tim Tebow at the height of his hype. After a slow start the Patriots finally got an easy victory in Denver, with Brady throwing for 320 yards and completing 67 percent of his passes. The final was 41-23, and the rematch in the Divisional Round of the playoffs in Foxboro was even less close, 45-10.
The Broncos would next host the Patriots in the 2013 AFC Championship game, where the undermanned Pats were outmatched but played hard. When in-season pickup Austin Collie is your second-best receiving target and you’re playing the last great Peyton Manning offense, you’ve got problems. The biggest thing to come out of this loss was Belichick whining about Wes Welker‘s block on Aqib Talib that put him out of the game and gave Denver’s already potent offense the greenlight.
2015’s regular season loss was the turning point of the Patriots season.The Pats were 10-0 entering that game, and were even up 21-7 in the fourth quarter. Then came Chris Harper‘s muffed punt, along with injuries to Dont’a Hightower and Rob Gronkowski, and the Broncos scored 14-straight points behind Brock Osweiler and C.J. Anderson to send it to overtime before Anderson won the game with a 48-yard touchdown scamper.
The 2015 Pats never quite recovered from that loss and were a one-dimensional injury-plagued team by the time they arrived back in Denver that season for the AFC Championship. Without any running game, the Pats still fought hard down to the end, with a miracle last touchdown drive that should’ve sent the game to overtime had Stephen Gostkowski not missed his first extra point of the season. Instead Brady didn’t see a wide-open Rob Gronkowksi and the Pats lost by two points. Despite the Pats’ weaknesses they still had a very real chance to win that game, it was just another one of those games in Denver where things were weird and they got no breaks.
The Patriots finally broke the three-game skid in Denver last season. Brady completed just 50 percent of his passes and threw no touchdowns, but the Pats did enough to earn the 16-3 on the strength of a stellar defensive performance. That included five-straight three-and-outs to start the second half. It had been a long time coming for a Patriots defense to totally shutdown an inferior Bronco offense in Denver.
It’s almost never easy in Denver, even when the scoreboard makes it look that way. Even 2011 and 2016’s victories were hard fought, with the Denver defense always making things hard on Brady. Expect the same tomorrow.