FOXBOROUGH -- That was a weird game.
The Patriots struggled for three-plus quarters before getting back in the game thanks to some Cam Newton runs, trick plays and two Denver turnovers.
Trailing 18-12 with three minutes to play, the Patriots got into Denver territory, but were stopped on fourth down and turned the ball over, ending any chance of a comeback bid. The 18-12 defeat dropped the Patriots to 2-3 on the year.
Cam Newton finished 17-for-25 passing with 157 yards and two picks. He had 76 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Here are 10 quick thoughts from the game.
1. Certainly the last few weeks haven’t been ideal due to COVID, and injuries didn’t help matters, but this was a tough performance by the Patriots, who took until the fourth quarter to really get going and were brutal until that point. It’s not like they faced the Ravens or Chiefs, they faced the 1-3 Broncos. Making matters worse, the Titans, who were in a similar situation earlier in the week, blew out the Bills.
2. The Patriots need to get some offensive linemen back, and back quickly. They were able to get away with patch work to this point in the year, but it reached a breaking point on Sunday. Isaiah Wynn, who started at left guard, was a major weak link on a few plays. The unit was without David Andrews, Shaq Mason, James Ferentz and then lost Jermaine Eluemunor in the first quarter, which led to more reshuffling and Newton being pressured all game long. Fortunately, Andrews is eligible to come off IR this coming week and then time will tell with the COVID players.
3. The Patriots can thank the Broncos and Drew Lock for allowing them to get back in the game late, as two poor throws/decisions led to interceptions and the Patriots to get the ball back quickly on defense. With the lead and how well they were running the ball, it was very surprising to see passing plays called.
4. As expected, the Patriots got off to a very slow start, which could certainly be attributed to their lack of practice the past few weeks, but it’s becoming a trend. It was the third straight game they didn’t score in the opening quarter and they only have seven first quarter points all year, which came on a Devin McCourty pick-6 against the Seahawks.
5. The defense deserves a ton of credit for holding strong in their own end and forcing field goals all game long, but also coming up with turnovers late. A lot of this was due to the play of the Patriots cornerbacks, who were challenged for much of the afternoon. Still, while they held Denver to field goals, they allowed a lot of big plays, which is something they have been so good at defending over the years.
6. Like the offensive line, the defensive line had no depth going into the game and got worse with Adam Butler getting hurt in the first half, although he did return in the second half. The team needs to get some players back in that grouping as well because they are a liability in defending the run.
7. After a strong first game of the year performance against Kansas City, Damien Harris was non-existent on Sunday. He finished with six carries for 19 yards. Some of this could be attributed to the poor play of the offensive line and also trailing in the game. It should not reflect poorly on Harris, as several factors were working against him.
8. The Patriots need to get more from the wide receiver position. Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry combined for two catches for eight yards on eight targets, and that was all Edelman. Harry had just two targets. While Denver did a good job defensively, these players are good enough to get open on their own.
9. John Simon had a huge 13-yard sack of Lock at the end of the first half. It came on second down and Denver was moving the ball to that point. It settled for a long field goal, which was big as the Patriots only trailed 12-3 at the half when it could have been a lot worse.
10. One random COVID note, several Patriots players, including McCourty, wore masks on the sideline when their helmets were off. New England certainly has taken a number of extra precautions to prevent the spread of the virus any more than it already has with the team.
This is the first time the Patriots have had a losing record in October or later since Nov. 10, 2002.