In what has to be one of the most painful losses in franchise history, the Denver Broncos fell to the New England Patriots Sunday night in a 34-31 overtime loss.
The game started out as well as possible for the Broncos. Off of three fumbles in the first quarter by the Patriots, Denver raced out to a 17-0 lead, and an eventual 24-0 lead by the end of the first half.
And that was when everything went downhill.
Beginning with a Trindon Holliday fumble near the end of the first half—which resulted in a Patriots recovery in Denver territory—the wheels began to fall off.
The Pats would then go on a 31-0 run before the Broncos would finally score again to tie the game at 31 late in the fourth quarter.
After being deadlocked for the first 12 minutes of overtime, a mishap on a punt return by the Broncos in Patriots territory led to a fumble recovery by New England which led to the game-winning field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.
The 24-point comeback by the Patriots is the largest deficit overcome in franchise history.
What are eight takeaways from the Broncos' collapse versus the Patriots?
The Broncos blew a 24-0 lead in a game that they had complete control of.
Worst of all, it happened versus their biggest threat within the conference, versus the quarterback/head coach combo that has made Peyton Manning miserable over his career.
The loss is easily one of the most painful losses in Broncos history.
And you know what? It's not the end of the world.
The Broncos still have control over the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They have control of their own destiny, and unlike last season's double-overtime playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Broncos have a chance to redeem themselves—next week when they play in Arrowhead vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.
There were many worrisome signs from this collapse, but the good news is, it's not the end of the world.
It's only Week 12, people.
What many people may forget, due to Peyton Manning's amazing start to the 2013 season, is that he is a 37-year-old quarterback who had several neck surgeries over the last few years.
How does this relate to the Broncos' loss to the Patriots?
It relates due to his struggles and the repercussions of his neck surgery during his one-year hiatus from the NFL.
Following the Broncos' loss to the Baltimore Ravens in last season's divisional-round playoff, much was made of Manning's struggles to throw the deep ball, along with his decision to wear a glove on his throwing hand for the first time in his career during the 2012 season.
Via Jeff Legwold of The Denver Post, Manning remarked:
I certainly don't think I would have had to wear the glove had I not been injured last year. It's part of my injury, some things that I've had to adjust. I've been pretty consistent in kind of letting you guys know that all year long, that I'm in a different body, some things are different for me. So I've had to adjust. That's the reason for that as much as anything. That's really kind of what it is.
Legwold goes into detail about Manning's neck surgeries in that same article, stating the following: "Manning had multiple surgeries to repair a disc issue in his neck that caused damage to the nerve grouping that affects his right triceps, which then impacted his ability to grip and throw the ball. He began wearing a glove on his throwing hand first in practice, then later in games as the season wore on."
In Denver's 38-35 loss in the playoffs last season, Peyton struggled in throwing two interceptions—including an interception on his last throw, which led to the game-winning field goal—and, along with his refusal to attempt the deep ball all game long, raised questions about his effectiveness in cold weather during his post-neck surgery career.
In Sunday night's 34-31 loss to the Patriots, Peyton didn't just look different—he looked completely ineffective.
The temperature for the game in Foxboro was under 25 degrees all night, and there wasn't a single drive all game long where the four-time NFL MVP looked like the four-time NFL MVP we've become accustomed to seeing.
Peyton rarely attempted the deep ball all game long, and when he did, the passes were vastly under-thrown.
Although most have indicated Peyton is 100 percent following his neck surgeries of a couple of years ago, the truth is, Manning's struggles in cold-weather games have become obvious—in terms of his ability to grip the football and his ability to throw accurate passes more than 15 yards downfield.
Whether it's due to Manning's history of neck surgeries, or Bill Belichick's ability to make Manning a non-factor, Peyton's issues in cold-weather games are a huge issue for the Broncos.
Knowshon Moreno ran for 224 yards on 37 carries in the Broncos' loss.
And once again, Moreno demonstrated one thing—he is Denver's most reliable asset on offense not named Peyton Manning.
During the Broncos' 24-0 lead, it was Moreno and the Broncos' defense—not Peyton—who helped the Broncos dominate the Patriots for the first 30 minutes of the game.
Due to his steady, hard-nosed running and his ability to hold onto the football, the Broncos offense was able to finish drives on three separate occasions with points, while New England's offense struggled to move the chains.
The fifth-year running back will be overshadowed once again—this time by the Broncos' collapse and loss—but Moreno was Denver's offensive MVP Sunday night and nearly carried the offense to victory.
Kudos to a tough effort by a running back who has faced nonstop adversity throughout his professional career in Denver.
In a story of two halves, Denver's defense could do no wrong in the first half.
The defense forced three turnovers, pressured Patriots quarterback Tom Brady relentlessly and shut out the Patriots' offense during the first 30 minutes of the game.
And then the second half happened.
Suddenly, the dominant defense that had made Brady and the Patriots' offense look ordinary fell apart in the second half when cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was sidelined due to injury on the last play of the first half.
Through the first two quarters, Brady was just 10-of-17 for 81 yards passing, including two fumbles and three sacks.
During the second half, Brady threw for 263 yards while completing 24-of-33 passes, with zero fumbles and zero sacks.
Denver’s offense didn’t help its defense with its inability to move the chains, but Rodgers-Cromartie’s injury transformed the Broncos defense from a dominant one into a lackluster one.
That is simply not a good sign.
Since Von Miller's return in Week 7 at Indianapolis, Von hasn't had the impact most expected.
Since entering the NFL in 2011, Miller has made a name for himself by being a playmaker. Whether that's through sacking the quarterback, forcing turnovers or making game-changing plays, it has felt like Von has lacked in that department since his return.
Well, it seems Von has finally made his "return."
The third-year linebacker had two sacks on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, including a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a touchdown that aided the Broncos in leaping out to a 24-0 lead.
The problem is, he was a non-factor in the second half.
Let's hope the Broncos playmaker is able to maintain more consistency in the following weeks, but Sunday night's game was a step in the right direction.
Overall, both teams had problems with holding onto the football.
The Patriots fumbled six times—including three lost fumbles—while the Broncos fumbled five times with three lost fumbles.
Simply put, this is a major problem for the Broncos, and it doesn't seem to be going away—it looks to be getting worse.
Entering Week 12, the Broncos had suffered 13 fumbles lost—the worst mark in the league. The offense has turned the ball over 19 times, ranking as one of the bottom nine teams in taking care of the football.
The MVP-caliber play of Peyton Manning, combined with the excellent play of his supporting cast, may have masked the offense's problem with taking care of the football through the first 10 games of the season, but after this game, the issue is now a well-known problem.
A lot will be made out of Peyton Manning's lackluster performance in his 14th meeting with rival quarterback Tom Brady—a series that Brady now leads by a score of 10-4—but the loss was a team effort.
Manning struggled, and questions will once again be raised by pundits of his ability to perform in big games. There will be a whole lot of "ammunition" for Brady supporters in the never-ending Brady vs. Manning debate, after the Patriots quarterback led his team from a 24-0 deficit versus the Manning-led Broncos.
Peyton played a big role in the loss—but he wasn't alone.
Montee Ball fumbled—again. The defense was a no-show in the second half. The recipe for success versus Denver's receivers with bump-and-run coverage was further proven by New England's physical defense. Tight end Julius Thomas' absence was a huge loss in the passing game.
And the game was cemented as a loss after a special teams gaffe in overtime by Wes Welker and Tony Carter.
The attention will be on Peyton yet again.
But the team as a whole lost the game Sunday night.
The Broncos stand at 9-2 with the best record in the conference still intact.
They control their own destiny, despite this painful loss in New England.
Better now than in the postseason.
The Broncos are off of their high horses. They're no longer seen as immortal. That much is clear after losing in Indianapolis in Week 7 to go along with this collapse of a loss versus the Patriots in Foxboro.
Peyton Manning has issues versus physical defenses, as does his receivers. The team has major problems turning the football over, mainly in the fumbling department. And lastly, the defense is too inconsistent at times.
Now that the "shine" is off of Denver's start, it's time for the Broncos to go back to the drawing board—it's time to fix the kinks and get ready for a run in the postseason.