The Patriots did not lose to the Broncos Sunday because kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a point after attempt in the first quarter.
Allow me to repeat.
THE PATRIOTS DID NOT LOSE TO THE BRONCOS SUNDAY BECAUSE KICKER STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI MISSED A POINT AFTER ATTEMPT IN THE FIRST QUARTER.
Gostkowski’s miss, his first after 523 consecutive makes since the end of his rookie season in 2006, hurt, for sure. Had he made it,he would have had a chance to tie the score at 20-20 with 15 seconds to play. Still, had the Patriots capitalized on their scoring opportunities in the fourth quarter, they, not the Broncos, would be heading to Super Bowl 50 against the Carolina Panthers in two weeks.
No, the Patriots lost, 20-18, because Denver’s top-rated defense outplayed New England’s banged up offense, interior linemen and edge rushers pressuring Tom Brady the entire game – 24 hits, 4 sacks -- linebackers and defensive backs in seven-man coverage blanketing Pats receivers as no one has all season.
The Patriots lost because Brady threw two interceptions in the first half and, under another fierce pass rush, on New England’s last offensive play of the season, a two-point conversion attempt.
They lost because they settled for field goals instead of driving for touchdowns, and when they should have kicked a field goal with about six minutes to play, they went for the first down instead and failed.
They lost because they converted only 2 of 15 third downs.
They lost because receiver James White caught only two of 10 passes to him in the fourth quarter.
They lost because Peyton Manning, Denver’s 39-year-old ancient warrior, threw two touchdown passes without an interception.
Most of all, the Patriots lost because coach Bill Belichick twice in the fourth quarter went for the first down instead of kicking a field goal. Trailing 20-12 with a fourth-and-one at the Denver 16 and 6:03 to play – a chip shot for the super-reliable Gostkowski, who had already nailed two field goals – Brady, under pressure, tossed a short pass to Julian Edelman. The play lost a yard.
With 2:25 left the Pats faced a third and one at the Denver 9 and were pushed back to the 14 for a false start. Danny Amendola could not hang on to a short pass, and instead of attempting what should have been an all-but guaranteed field goal, the Pats went for the touchdown. Brady lobbed a pass deep in the end zone to Rob Gronkowski, who was covered by three Broncos. They broke up the play.
Had Gostkowski made one field goal, the Pats would have trailed 20-15 and gone ahead, 21-20, when Gronkowski caught Brady’s TD pass with 17 seconds to play. Had he made two, it would have been a 20-18 game and then 24-20 after Gronk’s touchdown.
Had Gostkowski made one field goal and kicked the extra point after Gronk’s score, he most likely would have launched the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone, which would have put the Broncos on their 20 with 17 seconds to play. They would have had to drive to within field goal for a shot at the game winner. Had Gostkowski kicked two field goals in the fourth and the PAT after Gronk’s score, the Broncos would have had 15 seconds to drive 80 yards for the winning touchdown.
I recognize that those situations would have relied on the Pats defense still holding the Broncos to only a field goal and forcing four three-and-outs in the second half.
Denver deserved this victory. The Broncos defense frustrated the Patriots all game and stopped them cold when they had to. Denver’s offense did just enough to book a Super Bowl trip to California. The Patriots did not deserve to win because they played more like they did in the last six weeks of the regular season, when they lost four games and the home field advantage through the AFC Championship, than they did in the first 10 weeks, or in their playoff victory over red-hot Kansas City, when they were healthy and appeared invincible.
So regardless of what you read and hear over the next few days and weeks, the Patriots lost for many reasons in addition to Stephen Gostkowski’s missed PAT in the first quarter.