Today, the 10-0 Patriots visit the 8-2 Denver Broncos in a prime time match-up with potentially serious playoff implications. On the sideline for Denver, head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. At quarterback, Brock Osweiler, who will start only his second game as a Bronco.
12 years ago, the 6-2 Patriots visited the 5-3 Broncos in a prime time match-up with potentially serious playoff implications. On the sideline for Denver, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and offensive line coach Rick Dennison. At quarterback, Danny Kanell, who started only his second game as a Bronco.
As the saying goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The 2003 Patriots entered their week 9 match-up against the Broncos coming off a hard-fought 9-3 victory over the Cleveland Browns. The home team, on the other hand, was trying to avoid a third straight loss in order to keep up in the race for the AFC's top playoff seeds. Early on, it looked as if Denver was able to do just that.
After New England's defense forced a three-and-out to start the game, its offense ran only two plays before giving the ball right back to the Broncos: Tom Brady lost a fumble and Denver's defense recovered at the Patriots' 28-yard line. Four plays later, the Broncos led 7-0.
Things would not get better for the Patriots' offense. This time, the unit ran three plays before the Broncos were back in possession of the football. Kenoy Kennedy, who also recovered Brady's fumble, intercepted the quarterback on a pass intended for wide receiver David Givens. This time, Denver couldn't capitalize on the turnover and ended its drive with a missed 44-yard field goal attempt.
One play later, the game was tied: Brady connected with Deion Branch for a 66-yard touchdown. Patriots 7, Broncos 7.
The teams would exchange field goals early in the second quarter before the Broncos regained the lead after driving 72 yards in 14 plays. The drive lasted seven-and-a-half minutes and when Danny Kanell hit Mike Anderson to put Denver up 17-10, there were only 28 seconds left in the first half. However, the Patriots would be able to narrow the gap thanks to Bethel Johnson's 63-yard kickoff return, which set the team up at the opponent's 36-yard line.
Two plays later, Adam Vinatieri kicked a 46-yard field goal. Patriots 13, Broncos 17.
The second half started better for New England than the first one. On their second offensive possession, the Patriots were able to take their first lead of the day, when Brady found tight end Daniel Graham from six yards out of the endzone. The lead, however, would last only three minutes as Deltha O'Neal returned a Ken Walter-punt 57 yards for the touchdown.
New England answered with a field-goal early in the fourth quarter to bring the team within one point. After the two team's exchanged multiple punts, the Patriots found themselves at their own one-yard line in a 4th and 10 situation with only 2:51 left to play.
Enter Bill Belichick.
Given the field position, score and the fact that the Patriots a) fielded the league's number one defense and b) still had three timeouts up their (usually cut-off) sleeves, New England's head coach did something going against the nature of the game: he gave the other team two points. The Patriots intentionally committed a safety when Lonie Paxton snapped the ball over Ken Walter's head. Patriots 23, Broncos 26.
A bold strategy – but one that made sense because all New England needed for the plan to work was a quick defensive stop. Two short runs, an incomplete pass and two timeouts later, the football was back in the possession of Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense – with 2:15 still on the clock.
Enter Tom Brady.
On the ensuing drive, New England's quarterback led his team to the win. Brady completed all five of his pass attempts and with the last one hit David Givens from 18-yards out to give the Patriots a 30-26 lead. Once again, the "comeback kid" has led his team to a come-from-behind victory because 17 game-time seconds later Asante Samuel intercepted Kanell to end Denver's already small hopes for a near-impossible comeback.
Patriots 30, Broncos 26.
Today, the two teams meet again, in a game that projects to be similar to the one played in 2003: a close battle, which could be decided by one decision or play. If it should come down to this, let's hope that New England is able to make this play and come out on top yet another time.