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The Lane Breakdown: Patriots play their worst game of the season against the Broncos

Related: Instant analysis from Patriots’ 18-12 loss to Broncos

NFL: OCT 18 Broncos at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots played their worst game of the season against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, by a pretty wide margin. The offense was simply terrible, and the defense played fine but not great. Bottom line is that New England lost to a very beatable team, and no one can be happy about that, especially with them now trailing by a few games in the division.

We have to start with the offense, because that was the side of the ball that really killed New England

Cam Newton: Newton hit 17 of his 25 pass attempts, but only six of those completions were to wide receivers. He also had two very tough interceptions. Both of them were deflected first, but they were still huge turning points in the game.

It seems that there is a blueprint for beating this Patriots offense, and that is to simply blitz on every play. Whether it’s the scheme or not, Newton has been holding onto the ball for a significant amount of time before making his throws or taking off to run. And, if the Patriots can’t run the ball effectively, they are going to struggle. They have rushed for over 200 yards in both their wins this year — they have averaged 123 in their three losses.

Let’s not overreact about Newton, though. I know he’s been away from the team, and they haven’t been able to practice, but he needs to play better. The concern is that he struggled throwing the football against the Las Vegas Raiders and they were able to win because of the rushing attack, and now, he struggled throwing the ball again this week, but, without a rushing attack, they lost. I’m not throwing him onto the trash heap just yet, but it bears watching. We know what he can do with his legs, but you can’t win just running the ball, so he’s going to find success throwing as well.

N’Keal Harry: One player we can talk about is N’Keal Harry. I’m a Harry fan, and I believe in him, but he was held without a catch on Sunday, and who knows what happened on that final fourth down play when Newton missed him wide. Looking around the league and seeing so many receivers from last year‘s and this year’s draft class dominate is simply devastating for Patriots fans.

If Harry isn’t able to make some strides this season, he might end up as one of the worst drafting jobs by Bill Belichick ever. The simple talent on the field all over the league at the position is reason enough to be upset about the pick. Let’s hope that Harry can turn things around moving forward — he showed in glimpses that he can be a contributor, but has yet to string it all together.

The tight end position: Another offensive player that fans want to see more of is Devin Asiasi. The third-round rookie has been on the field, but strictly as a blocker so far, and he has yet to see a target in the passing game. Fans were very excited about his potential as a receiver and blocker, and thought he could be the future of the Patriots’ tight end group. Not having him even see a pass thrown his way this year has been incredibly frustrating.

A so-and-so defensive performance: For the defense, it played decent, but still allowed the Broncos to score on each of their first six drives. Granted, they were all field goals, with two coming off of turnovers, but you’re still looking for more from a unit as talented as this one. Denver had drives of 12, 13, and 15 plays.

So, while the Patriots eventually kept them out of the end zone, the Broncos dominated the pace of the game. Had the offense been able to put anything resembling an effective performance together, New England probably has the lead at the half behind the defensive performance, but the offense couldn’t deliver. When you’re facing an offense missing three of its biggest weapons, you’re looking for a little more out of your defense.

The bright side: Ja’Whaun Bentley and Adrian Phillips both had stellar games on the front, and Jonathan Jones played extremely well in the secondary.

Injury issues: Injuries have been piling up for the Patriots, as, between Covid-19 and physical ailments, the Patriots are down three starters on the offensive line, and have players playing out of position. David Andrews is eligible to come off injured reserve this week, so hopefully he will back soon, and let’s see if Shaq Mason can get cleared before this week’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Adam Butler went down on a defensive line that really needs him to stay healthy — especially with Byron Cowart still out. It also may not be injury related, but Julian Edelman looks like a shell of himself, and his reps were being limited again Sunday, which makes it seem like it could certainly be injury related. The Patriots honesty might be better off having him sit a few weeks, because they are getting basically nothing from him out there right now.

The Patriots are now third in the AFC East, and are under .500 in October for the first time since 2002. They have a tough road ahead, and they need to get back on track if they’re going to make a push for the playoffs, and the division.

Pat is a host of the Patriot Nation Podcast

Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats