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Ex-Patriot AJ Derby pretty much lost the Broncos the game this week

A crucial mistake by a former Patriot iced the game for the Tennessee Titans and handed the Denver Broncos a loss they couldn't afford.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The scene: AJ Derby walks into Gillette Stadium on Monday morning in a jet-black tuxedo.  Derby strides past all the meeting rooms, film rooms, weight rooms, and training rooms, and walks into the elevator, speaking to no one.  Once the elevator door closes, he double-checks for cameras and then enters a secret 22-digit combination on the hotel's controls that leads him straight to Robert Kraft's office, where Kraft is behind his desk, waiting with Bill Belichick and three rocks glasses of 21-year-scotch.  Both smile as Derby cracks a grin himself and sits down on a fine leather recliner.

The three tap their glasses together, and Kraft finally breaks the silence:

"Well done, Double-O Derby."

And then Belichick narrows his eyes and stares daggers at AJ:

"They never caught on that you were a double agent, did they?"

Derby smiles wickedly.


(fade to black as the James Bond theme plays)

Ok, so, all silliness aside, AJ Derby, who the Patriots traded to the Broncos right before Halloween - a move that looks more than a little regrettable now that Gronk is out for the year and Martellus Bennett is hurt in all kinds of ways - was having himself a pretty slick day against the Titans on Sunday.  By the time the fourth quarter was ticking down to the final minutes, AJ had hauled in 5 receptions on 5 targets for 57 yards and the Broncos were right on the verge of sending the game to overtime.

And then, with 1:01 on the clock, Derby hauled in a bullet pass up the seam on a very Gronk-esque route that would've put the Broncos pretty darn close to field goal range, aaaaaaaaaaand then stuff got real bad real fast.

Right after getting his hands on the ball, Derby took a pair of shots from Titans linebacker Avery Williamson and safety Rashad Johnson that knocked the ball out, Tennessee recovers, and just like that, bingo bango, that's a ballgame.

Not the way you want your Sunday afternoon to go, if you're the Broncos - the loss drops Denver to 8-5 on the season, which, in the wicked competitive AFC West, is only good for 3rd place.  Oh, and their last three games are against the Patriots, against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, and against the Oakland Raiders.  Heck, they could go 0-3 to close out the season, and even if they don't, they're going to need a lot of games to break their way to even make the playoffs.

And spare me everything about how football is a team sport, all three phases of the game need to click for teams to win, one play doesn't decide a game, and all that.  When Derby fumbled on the Titans' side of the field with a minute on the clock and his team down 3 points, that's one guy losing the game.

What makes this particularly interesting is that Derby fumbling a crucial catch at the worst possible time neatly coincides with Bill Belichick being one of the toughest coaches around when it comes to ball security - and that's exactly what lost Denver the game.

This is the coach, after all, who tries as hard as he can to make practice footballs "wet, sticky, cold, and slippery", and if players complain about them, Bill actually makes the balls worse.  Belichick said a couple winters ago that he makes it as hard as possible for the players on purpose, so game day seems like a piece of cake by comparison.  Heck, it's the coach that just this offseason said that ball security is something even defensive linemen need to have down pat.

(It's also the coach who prepares to play against JJ Watt by having quarterbacks throw over guys with racquetball racquets, which isn't really related to this discussion, but that visual will never get old.)

The point here isn't to laugh at AJ Derby (although, you can go ahead and laugh at the Broncos a little bit), but to point out that a mistake on something Belichick preaches every day may give us a little bit of a peek into why Bill considered Derby a trade-able asset even with the knowledge that Gronk tends to get hurt a lot at the worst possible times.

And, well, Denver losing to the Titans, who won three games last year, and potentially borking their chances at the playoffs is just the bacon on your cheeseburger this Monday.