Despite the fact that I am incredibly dissatisfied with the method in which we executed and, I suppose, the lack of execution that we shown in this game, I am proud of the squad and the way that we battled to get to this point.
In spite of the fact that it had fought back from a 1-5 start to be in the middle of the AFC wild-card race with three games still to play, Denver had once again prevented a loss that was almost certain. Even though they were behind by 16 points going into the fourth quarter, the Broncos were able to produce touchdown drives of 83 and 78 yards and successfully complete both of their tries to convert two-point pass attempts.
The Broncos then forced a three-and-out in the closing hours of Christmas Eve in order to give themselves a shot at a victory that was very improbable to occur.
Based on the data provided by ESPN Analytics, the Broncos had a mere 1.6 percent probability of winning the game in the immediate aftermath of a fumble committed by Marvin Mims Jr. on a kickoff return, which was then recovered by the Patriots for a score. This touchdown came after a touchdown scored by Mike Gesicki, which extended New England’s lead to 16-7 and gave the Patriots 14 points in a matter of six seconds. The fumble-return touchdown came after the touchdown. At that very moment, the Broncos’ prospects of making the playoffs were on the edge of being completely eradicated.
“From a personal standpoint, I just felt like I blew it,” Mims added. It ended up being expensive for us. “I am aware that I need to improve,” I have said. At the end of the day, I mean, things do happen, but I just know that I have to keep working to improve myself. Despite this, the Broncos had a 70.4 percent chance of winning after the three-and-out, and they gained control of the ball at their own 39-yard line. It was the closest they would ever get to achieving one of the most impressive comebacks in the history of the franchise in the fourth quarter. “We thought that we were going to be able to win that game,” stated quarterback Russell Wilson referring to the game in question. I had the impression that everyone fought. For all of us, this meant a great deal. Our expectations were not met.
After the Patriots had attempted to run the ball on their first two plays of the drive, Denver went on to go three-and-out. On third down, DeVante Parker made a reception for 27 yards, which helped set up a field goal from 56 yards out that ultimately won the game for the Patriots. In a moment, the Broncos’ two late touchdown drives — which featured a 47-yard diving catch by Mims, a 3-yard jump-ball catch by Lucas Krull, clutch completions to Jerry Jeudy and a 21-yard touchdown throw to Brandon Johnson — were rendered moot. There were also two two-point conversions that were ruled invalid. These two conversions were accomplished by a screen pass to Johnson and a fast toss to Javonte Williams. By kicking the ball 56 yards, Chad Ryland of the Patriots made up for a field goal and extra point that he had missed from 47 yards out. As a result, the Broncos’ prospects of making the playoffs were reduced to only four percent.
“Obviously, it was a disappointing finish, and it was a really frustrating game,” said Sean Payton, the head coach of the team. I got the impression that we had a lot of chances, particularly in the first half of the game. Offensively, we had a lot of trouble. Let us give New England our due respect. During it, we put up a fight. I informed the squad that there were six or seven distinct scenarios that occurred during that game, and that if any one of those scenarios had played out a little differently, it would have resulted in a different conclusion. Unfortunately, however, none of those scenarios occurred. The margin of error that we have right now is not what it should be, and as a result, we end up finding ourselves on the losing end of the game. Without a doubt, the closing sequence was not the only factor that contributed to Denver’s defeat.
Bailey Zappe, the quarterback for the Patriots, was brought down by D.J. Jones to the ground on the first play from scrimmage, and Jones recovered the fumble. Denver took over at the 6-yard line, but the team would come away without points as Javonte Williams was stuffed on a fourth-and-goal attempt from the 2-yard line.
Following the induction of a punt, Denver once again failed to capitalize on an opportunity to score points after beginning a drive within New England territory. On third-and-6 from the New England 42-yard line, Russell Wilson threw a deep pass down the left sideline to Courtland Sutton, who could not hang on to the ball. It was verified by Payton after the game that Sutton was participating in the concussion protocol of the league. Sutton left the game during the first half of the contest.
“It is tough any time you lose a good player like that,” Payton told reporters. “The [concussion] procedure has been opened for him. I think it happened early in the game and there were a couple of adjustments that we made and then you go play. … You adjust on the fly.” Denver would get on the board on its final first-quarter drive, as Mims’ longest punt return of the season — a 52-yarder that allowed Denver to start at New England’s 25-yard line — helped set up a Javonte Williams touchdown run. The Broncos, though, would make too many mistakes on their ensuing offensive possessions. Williams fumbled on Denver’s ensuing series after the Patriots cut the lead to 7-3, and the Patriots were awarded possession despite guard Ben Powers initially appearing to gain control of the loose ball. Denver would also have a chance at a two-minute drive to end the first half, but Wil Lutz’s 57-yard attempt at the horn drifted just left of the goal post.
Denver then started the second half with four punts and Mims’ fumble as the Patriots scored 20 third-quarter points. “Overall, it was not good enough offensively,” Payton said. “That needs to be better.” And still, the Broncos nearly put together a Christmas miracle. A come-from-behind win — however unlikely it seemed entering the fourth quarter — would have kept the Broncos in the thick of the playoff race. Instead, the Broncos were left with only disappointment about the missed opportunity. “You want to play in games like this, but you give credit to New England,” safety Justin Simmons said. “We didn’t play nearly well enough in order for us to win this game. I am proud of the team and the way that we fought to get to this point, but extremely disappointed in how we executed and, I guess, lack of execution in this game.