- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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DENVER -- It was a game that had all the Tom Brady hallmarks: a game-winning drive in overtime, accurate, clutch passing, clock-eating scoring marches, and a quarterback, exuding confidence, telling jokes in the huddle to keep his team loose.
Only it wasn't the Patriots quarterback delivering the punch lines. Surprisingly, it was Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton.
Trips to Denver haven't left Brady feeling a Rocky Mountain high over his career, and this one, which ended with a 20-17 overtime loss to the Broncos, was no different. Faced with two chances to engineer a game-winning drive at the end of the fourth quarter, the situation that has helped define his great career, Brady couldn't deliver.
The way those drives ended -- an incomplete pass to Wes Welker and a strip-sack -- was reflective of the day for both Brady and the New England offense.
Brady didn't have his trademark accuracy when it counted, finishing 5-of-14 for 63 yards in the second half, and those around him didn't help the cause as the Patriots went scoreless in the final 30 minutes.
"There were plays to be made all day and we didn't make them," Brady said. "To blow a 10-point lead going into the second half, that's typically not the way we play."
Surely, the Broncos' second-half adjustments were a factor. Excitable coach Josh McDaniels said his team turned to some creative presnap wrinkles in an attempt to generate more heat on Brady by making it harder on him to determine where the pressure was coming from.
The combination of those changes, in addition to Denver consistently rolling safety help over the top of receiver Randy Moss, stymied the Patriots' offense after halftime. "They really tightened down in the second half," Brady said.
But more than anything, Brady pointed the finger at himself, thinking back to a first-quarter overthrow of Moss that should have been a touchdown and given the Patriots a 14-0 lead that would have changed the complexion of the game.
It wasn't the only throw he missed, yet despite the on-again, off-again performance, Brady was in position to capture his 30th career victory from a fourth-quarter deficit or tie.
The game was tied at 17. The Patriots had the ball at their 28-yard line. Third down. The clock showed 4:03.
Looking to his left, Brady saw his security blanket, Welker, and figured that if the game was on the line, there weren't many better places to go with the football. Yet the throw, like too many of Brady's deliveries on the day, was off the mark.
Brady was expecting Welker to be in one spot. Welker saw a safety bite down and shifted his route up the seam. The pass fell incomplete behind Welker, the would-be comeback drive ending after just three plays, Brady unsnapping his chin strap in frustration on the way back to the sideline.
Welker took the blame.
"I just saw the safety kind of come down on that, so there was nobody back there," he said. "That was my thought, and I can't really go out there and freelance like that. [Brady's] expecting me to take so many steps and it's a spot throw. That's something, in a situation like that, I can't put him in a spot like that, I have to make sure I'm doing it exactly the way he wants it done. A critical play like that, I have to make sure we get the first down and go from there."
While Brady and Welker weren't operating off the same script on that play, the strip-sack on the second potential winning drive appeared to be a different story. As Brady moved off the spot to his right around midfield, left guard Logan Mankins simply lost his one-on-one battle against Vonnie Holliday, and Holliday plowed ahead and separated Brady from the ball.
So on the two critical plays, the Patriots had breakdowns from Welker, their dependable chain-mover, and Mankins, their best offensive lineman.
No, it wasn't Brady's best day. But he didn't have much help.
On the flip side, Orton did it all, brilliantly making all the correct reads, delivering the ball accurately, even cracking a joke in the huddle to keep his teammates loose in a critical situation. His teammates rose to his Brady-like level.
"I certainly don't put myself in his class -- he's probably the best quarterback to play this game and he has the rings to show it," Orton said of Brady. "I've spent a lot of time watching Tom on film since I've been here, and if I can just get my game to where he's at, I'll be a pretty good player."
On this day, Orton was better. So, too, were the Broncos.
4hTristan H. Cockcroft