The New England Patriots finally took on the Denver Broncos in Week 6, a week after the game was originally scheduled to take place. This was the first time the Broncos faced the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. since Nov. 2, 2014, when Peyton Manning was the quarterback of the Broncos. The Patriots won that game 43-21. The previous four meetings between the two teams took place in Denver.
It was a disappointing result for the Patriots. Despite the return of QB Cam Newton after he missed the game at Kansas City due to a positive COVID-19 test, the Patriots fell to the injury-riddled Broncos 18-12, dropping to 2-3. It is now the first time the Patriots are below .500 after week four since the 2002 season. Here is a breakdown of the game for the Patriots.
Even during the height of the Brady/Belichick dynasty, the Broncos were a team the Patriots struggled against, as Brady had a 8-9 record against them, including a 1-3 record in the postseason. The Broncos fielded defenses that frustrated Brady. Newton also has struggled against the Broncos with an 0-3 record, including Super Bowl 50 where he was dominated by the Broncos’ defense in a 24-10 loss. His career with the Panthers was never the same as he failed to recapture his 2015 MVP form with the team after that.
On Sunday, Newton was, again, tormented by the Broncos defense. He was sacked four times, threw two interceptions, and only gained 157 yards through the air. He was pressured all game long and never really looked comfortable in the pocket. The Broncos got pressure on him on the edges and up the middle, disrupting the rhythm of the offense. The offensive line struggled, not giving their QB much time to throw. The two picks stalled the progress of the comeback and the constant sacks killed drives, including the final drive as a sack by Malik Reed killed the momentum, forcing a 3rd and 16. The Patriots are not built to overcome long down-and-distance, so the sacks were major factors in their offensive struggles.
Also, Newton’s shoulder needs to get looked at. In the first three games of the season, Newton looked comfortable and showed flashes of his MVP self, especially at Seattle. Against the Broncos, his throwing motion looked clunky and it seemed more force was used than normal. This was highlighted as he badly underthrew Damiere Byrd on the final drive. However, the passing game got a boost on their final drive as former college QB Julian Edelman threw two passes for 38 yards, including a pass in which Newton caught it and picked up yards after contact. They need to do this more often.
The running game struggled to get going outside of a few nice runs by Newton. Newton finished with 76 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries. After 100 yards at Kansas City two weeks ago, Damien Harris struggled to get going, only gaining 19 yards. Rex Burkhead only had 15 yards.
Running back James White had a solid day catching out of the backfield, gaining 65 yards on eight receptions. However, no other pass catcher had more than three receptions or 38 receiving yards with Byrd and tight end Ryan Izzo having those stat lines. Edelman was held to two catches for eight yards. Izzo had several good catches but his biggest impact on the game was his fumble in the third quarter.
The Patriots faced a Broncos offense without running back Melvin Gordon but got back QB Drew Lock and running back Phillip Lindsay. The pass rush saw some signs of life as John Simon picked up his first sack of the season. Ja’Whaun Bentley and Shilique Calhoun combined for another but the front seven, overall, struggled to stop the run as they allowed Lindsay to run for 101 yards, allowing the Broncos to win the time of possession battle.
The secondary was very hit and miss. J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones made crucial interceptions in the fourth quarter, allowing the Patriots to come back into the game. However, the unit struggled to cover Tim Patrick, who gained 101 yards on four catches, including a 41-yard reception on the Broncos’ first drive.
The defense implemented the bend-but-don’t-break strategy, holding the Broncos to six field goals and keeping the offense within striking distance the entire game.
Nick Folk made both of his field goals, including his longest kick of 41 yards. Josh Bailey was effective, pinning the Broncos twice inside the 20, including a 60-yard punt. Kick returner Gunner Olszewski had 77 return yards, including a 33-yard kickoff return in the first quarter to give the team good starting field position.
The Patriots look to bounce back and get back to .500 as they welcome the battered San Francisco 49ers to Foxborough on Sunday.