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Dismal game exposes out-coached, out-played Denver Broncos

What was supposed to be a showdown turned out to be a meltdown as the Denver Broncos left Foxboro with their tails between their legs again. But take heart, Broncos Country, this Broncos team was not the one we planned for and built this year. The real Broncos will be back next week.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Well, THAT did not go as expected. But it did go as planned.

Not that the Broncos planned to lose; they just obviously did not plan to win. Not like the Patriots did.

Losing a game is one thing. It happens - a few breaks for the other team, a few mistakes by your team ... you come out the loser and it's easy to make adjustments for a win next game.

Being out-matched and out-coached? Well, that is another thing entirely.

You need to do some soul-searching and figure out not just why you couldn't execute, but why you weren't ready to execute in conditions and scenarios you knew were likely and you know you can handle.

"They did a good job, they played well and they played better than we did," Coach John Fox offered as an explanation for the 43-21 loss. "They coached better than we did. We just didn't play as well as they did."

Yes, a 22-point deficit would indicate one team played a whole lot better than the other.

The question is why weren't the Broncos the ones playing a whole lot better than the other? We know all too well what the Patriots are capable of doing. And we can beat that.

"[Tom] Brady, man, on third and long he killed us," acknowledged Chris Harris Jr. "They just did a lot of hurry up, and our communication wasn't like it usually is. They just outplayed us. You can't make any mistakes out here, and he makes you pay when you do."

Yes. Yes, he does.

This game felt all-too familiar to February in the way that we unraveled and could never get rhythm going long enough to get over the hump.

Except this time, we have the team that's supposed to avoid that kind of meltdown.

We have the strong guys, the tough guys, the guys who aren't going to let mental mistakes ruin the game.

We have our starters back and a tougher D.

We have The Sheriff, who is getting better with age.

We have the best receiving corps on the planet coupled with one of the best tight ends in the NFL.

And we are supposed to have the team that is focused on one goal and prepared to handle whatever happens in order to get back to the Super Bowl.

There should have been no surprises in this game. This isn't a Seattle team whom we hadn't faced dozens of times. This is the Patriots, who we play just about every year once, if not twice, and do it in New England.

It's a conference rivalry that almost assuredly has implications for home field advantage in the playoffs.

It's Tom Brady, not just one of the best quarterbacks in the league but one of the best ever to play.

It's Rob Gronkowski, clearly a steamroller who is one of the toughest all-around tight ends out there.

It's Bill "Hoodie" Belichick, known for strategy, trickery and lookery (OK, that's not a word, but it sounded better in my list than "spying").

We know they are coming to play.

But we are not just the Broncos. We were supposed to be the new-and-improved Broncos.

The Broncos with the No. 1 run defense in the league.

The Broncos with the best sack duo on one team this year in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

The Broncos with so many secret weapons on offense surely one could find some open space, right?

And the Broncos with a running game that was beginning to hit its stride.

But that was not the team that showed up in Foxborough.

The Broncos team that showed up yesterday looked like the one who either underestimated an opponent with overconfidence, or the one who bought into the aura of dominance that surrounds New England every year.

Whatever the reason, it was a rather pathetic showing from coaches on down to players. Peyton Manning knows it, and like the consummate pro he is, he said it - and he owned it.

"We were just pretty dead average on offense, I thought," said a rather contrite Peyton Manning, who noted that one sports broadcaster told the quarterback he couldn't believe he heard Manning say his own performance stunk. "I don't usually stink, but I stunk today. I don't make excuses and say it happens every now and then. You don't need to let it happen."

Belichick credited his team for executing their game plan, which is partly about adjusting to Manning and the Broncos' line.

"You have to change up what you do against Peyton Manning. We tried to keep them off-balance a little bit," Belichick said. "I thought our players did a good job of that, of communicating those changeups and adjustments. Obviously we had a few problems out there, but I think we got a few of them right and caused them some problems somewhere along the line too. At least I hope we did."

Um, yeah. Like two interceptions and a bunch of third-down stops.

For Manning's interception by Rob Ninkovich at the beginning of the second quarter - just after the Broncos defense had held Patriots to their second field goal - Manning said plain and simple that was just "bad, bad football."

But if Manning doesn't deserve credit all by himself for winning games, he doesn't deserve all the blame for losing them either. After all, the quarterback did throw for 438 yards and two touchdowns in addition to those two interceptions. Brady threw for 333 yards but had four touchdowns and zero interceptions.

We knew were were going to have to be on our 'A' game, and we didn't bring it tonight.   -Ronnie Hillman, running back

Unfortunately, there was plenty of blame go around this game. Players on offense, defense and special teams were all offering their version of "we got out-played" after the game.

Ronnie Hillman, who had two touchdowns, 47 yards receiving but a meager 16 yards rushing, noted the Patriots are a team that will capitalize on their opponents' mistakes.

"We knew we were going to have to be on our ‘A' game, and we didn't bring it tonight," Hillman said.

Malik Jackson said one of the biggest problems for the defense was communication.

"Yeah, it was a problem. I'm not going to lie to you guys," he said after the game. "There was just a lot of things we could have done better."

Aqib Talib, the former Patriot cornerback who came to the Broncos as a free agent this year, got seven tackles on the night but struggled to make plays that could keep his former teammates from marching down the field.

"It is bad, and we didn't like the performance," Talib said. "We have to watch the tape and get better. It is frustrating. Any time we lose, it is frustrating."

It's bad and we didn't like the performance. Anytime we lose, it is frustrating.  -Aqib Talib, cornerback

Von Miller, with just one tackle and one QB hit all night, was frustrated with his performance too.

"They played really well. We have to get that laser focus back and continue to grind. They are a good team," said Miller, noting that now the focus has to be on the next team - the Oakland Raiders. "We have to play better on defense, and I have to play better."

Ironically, the Broncos had a chance to make a game out of it even while down 43-21 just after the fourth quarter began. With a first and goal from New England's 9-yard line, the Broncos squandered four downs and only made a yard, giving the ball back to New England with no points to show for it.

After holding the Patriots offense again to no score on the next drive, the Broncos failed on a mid-field fourth-down attempt. Had those drives been productive, Broncos could have been back in the game at 43-35 with time on the clock.

The silver lining in all this, of course, is that a little adversity and a knock upside the head to recalibrate is not always a bad thing.

DeMarcus Ware, who logged the only sack of on Brady and upped his season total to eight, just behind Miller's nine, thought guys were in position to make plays but just weren't doing it.

"I didn't think [Tom Brady] had us tonight. I just know he was converting on third down," Ware said. "Guys were where they needed to be, but you have to make those plays, knocking the ball down, getting more pressure on him on third down and rattle him in the pocket. We've got to get better from this situation."

If this loss motivates the Broncos to not get embarrassed again and earnestly pursue a 14-2 regular season record, then it will have been worth the reality check.

This was definitely embarrassing. We got to get better and bounce back.   -Emmanuel Sanders, wide receiver

Emmanuel Sanders, who was actually the rare consistent playmaker out there for the Broncos, pulling down 151 yards in catches, put the positive spin on the dismal day.

"This was definitely embarrassing, and the expectation for this team is to go all the way and win it all," Sanders said. "Tonight, we were not at our best. If we want to get where we want to get, which is the Super Bowl, we got to get better and bounce back. I think we have a great nucleus of guys in this locker room that are more than capable of doing that."

I'm with Sanders. We will be better than this.

Go Broncos!