Injuries have Patriots, Broncos headed in opposite directions

Updated: November 3, 2003, 11:46 PM ET

DENVER -- Deltha O'Neal returned a punt 57 yards for a touchdown, giving the Denver Broncos a 24-20 lead over the New England Patriots after three quarters Monday night.

Tom Brady's second touchdown pass of the game, a 6-yarder to Daniel Graham, had given New England a 20-17 lead moments earlier.

After pinning Denver deep in its own territory early in the quarter, New England took possession at its 44 following a punt and promptly drove 56 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.

Brady completed a 14-yard pass to Antowain Smith and an 11-yarder to Deion Branch, then hit a diving Graham with 5:57 left in the period.

A minute later, Denver thought it got a timely turnover when Branch appeared to fumble on a punt return. New England challenged the ruling, and it was reversed because the ground caused the fumble.

The Patriots couldn't get a first down, however, and punted, and O'Neal ran it back for a touchdown and a 24-20 lead with 3:13 left in the period.

It was the first punt return for a touchdown allowed by New England since Sept. 5, 1993.

The Broncos led 17-13 at halftime after Danny Kanell threw a 1-yard TD pass to Mike Anderson with 24 seconds left in the half.

The Broncos may have lost placekicker Jason Elam with a strained groin.

Elam apparently hurt himself while missing a 44-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter, though he later made a 43-yarder.

After a first quarter that ended in a 7-7 tie, the teams exchanged field goals early in the second quarter.

Following a short punt by New England, Kanell completed a 13-yard pass to Rod Smith, and Elam kicked a 43-yard field goal.

Kanell, Denver's third-string quarterback, was making his second straight start because of injuries to Jake Plummer and Steve Beuerlein.

New England then marched 58 yards -- the bulk of it on Brady's 48-yard pass to David Givens -- and Adam Vinatieri kicked a 40-yard field goal for a 10-all tie with 7:57 left in the half.

Denver responded with a 14-play, 72-yard touchdown drive. The drive included Kanell's 18-yard pass to Chris Cole on third-and-10 and concluded on Kanell's pass to Anderson in the right flat. Punter Micah Knorr kicked the extra point in Elam's absence.

New England got a quick score in the waning seconds. Bethel Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff 63 yards to the Denver 36, and Vinatieri kicked a 46-yard field goal with one second remaining.

Denver safety Kenoy Kennedy had a fumble recovery and an interception barely five minutes in, helping Denver take a 7-0 lead.

On New England's second play from scrimmage, Brady fumbled the snap and Kennedy recovered at the Patriots 28. Four plays later, Clinton Portis ran 15 yards up the middle for a touchdown with 10:51 left.

A minute later, Brady's long pass to Givens was tipped by the receiver and Kennedy intercepted at the Denver 35.

Kanell completed a 26-yard pass to Rod Smith as Denver moved to the New England 26, but Elam missed his 44-yard try.

On the next play, Brady connected with Branch, who had beaten cornerback Kelly Herndon deep.

The Patriots (6-2) entered with a four-game winning streak and had won six of their last seven. The Broncos (5-3) had lost two in a row, and three of their last four.

The teams met for the ninth straight season -- the longest active streak among non-division foes.

This story is from's automated news wire. Wire index