- Tedy Bruschi, Columnist, ESPN.com
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Observations from the Patriots' 20-17 overtime loss to the Broncos at Invesco Field:
1. Hold your "Wild Horses": Josh McDaniels' knowledge of the Patriots' defense was clearly the difference in this game. His plan to take away the aggressiveness of defenders by making them think and adjust to multiple offensive formations was brilliantly executed. The "Wild Horses" formation used by the Broncos put the Patriots' defense in the same audible they would call versus the Wildcat formation used by the Miami Dolphins. Whatever defense is called in the huddle is trumped by the audible that is called by the signal-callers of the defense once the Wild Horses formation is recognized. The problem with this adjustment occurred when Kyle Orton motioned back to the quarterback position from the receiver position and ran traditional plays. Once it recognizes that the offense is in a traditional set, the defense must go back to the original defense called. Recognizing and adjusting to those gadget offensive formations is one thing, but getting back to the original defense called is one of the most difficult checks a defensive signal-caller has to make. So difficult, in fact, that the Patriots burned three timeouts during the game to settle themselves down -- two in the first quarter and one in overtime. The result was that the Patriots played on their heels most of the game in vanilla zone coverages that the Broncos' offense had no problems recognizing and executing against.
2. Quarterback management: Orton is becoming one of the best game managers in the NFL. His ability to stay poised and play within his ability is one of the main reasons the Broncos are 5-0 right now. His longest pass in the air traveled 20 yards, and that's the way McDaniels wanted it. Orton is very accurate on his short throws. The longer the throw, the less accurate he becomes. He did an outstanding job of completing passes to wide receivers Eddie Royal (10 catches for 90 yards) and Jabar Gaffney (6 for 61). When Orton felt that he needed to get the ball into the end zone, he looked for his big-play receiver, Brandon Marshall (two touchdowns). He played mistake-free and did a flawless job of running the Wild Horses offense. The one interception he threw was an end-of-the-half Hail Mary that was picked by Randy Moss (his first career interception).
3. Mayo's back: Jerod Mayo returned to the lineup after missing the last month because of a knee sprain and made his presence felt early by forcing a first-quarter fumble when he hit rookie running back Knowshon Moreno. Safety Brandon McGowan recovered, and the Patriots went on to score on a 53-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. Mayo finished with six tackles. Playing with a brace on his left knee, Mayo looked better as the game went on. As he gets more reps in practice and games, look for him to return to the starting lineup, moving Gary Guyton back to his outside linebacker position in the 4-3 scheme.
4. Take that: A few former Patriots stuck it to their old team. Gaffney had a good day moving the chains with key catches on third down. Tight end Daniel Graham not only caught three balls for 34 yards, but also did a great job setting the edge in the running game against the Patriots outside linebackers. Lastly, long snapper Lonie Paxton was his usual invisible self, firing accurate strikes to the Denver specialists. Didn't notice? You're not supposed to. The best long snappers are the ones you never hear about because they never make a bad snap.
5. Just missed: This was a game of missed opportunities for the Patriots. In the first quarter, Tom Brady missed a wide-open Moss in the end zone from the Denver 35. With 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, an Orton pass was tipped in the air by McGowan and in the middle of McGowan, Jonathan Wilhite and Darius Butler, Gaffney was able to catch the ball and extend the Denver drive. Gostkowski missed a 40-yard field goal in the third quarter and Brady missed a wide-open Wes Welker down the seam with four minutes left to go in the fourth quarter. These plays must be made, especially on the road. In the end, the Broncos made the plays that won the game, whether it was Vonnie Holliday strip-sacking Brady or Moreno running through arm tackles by the Patriot defenders. The Broncos looked every bit a 5-0 team.
Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th Anniversary team.
Sunday's loss to the Broncos was a game of missed oppotunities for the Patriots.