Steven Jackson scored his first career playoff touchdown, but the New England Patriots’ championship hopes came to an end on Sunday in the AFC Championship game.
The Patriots fell to the Denver Broncos by a final score of 20-18, as the tenacious Denver pass rush kept Top Brady and the Patriots attack in check for most of the afternoon.
“It was a tough day,” Brady said. “We never could play with the lead. We never could play on our terms. It was an uphill battle all day.”
S-Jax broke through for a rushing touchdown in the first quarter, but the run-game for the Pats combined for only 44 yards in the contest, as New England trailed from wire to wire. SJ39’s first playoff score came at a very opportune time for the Patriots. Peyton Manning and the Broncos stormed their way downfield on their opening possession to take an early 7-0 lead.
Then late in the first quarter, the New England defense came up big, when Jonathan Freeny recovered an incomplete pass from Manning to running back Ronnie Hillman. The play was originally ruled an incompletion but was reviewed and ruled a backwards pass, and the Pats took over.
Brady found Brandon Bolden for a 20-yard reception to open the drive, and an unnecessary roughness penalty by T.J. Ward moved the Patriots to the one-yard line. On the next play, Brady handed up the middle to No. 39. SJ was originally halted right at the goal line, but in a second effort, he bounced off the defender and lunged into the end zone for six.
Unfortunately, New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed his first extra point attempt in nine years, which ultimately forced the Pats to have to go for two at the end of the contest. He had made an NFL-record 523 consecutive PATs, and he had never missed one in the postseason. The normally automatic kicker was devastated after the defeat.
“I feel like I lost the game for the team,” Gostkowski said. “It’s a sickening feeling. I can’t put it into words.”
In a 7-6 game going into the second quarter, the Patriots offense got the ball back at the 14:46 mark. On the second play of the drive for the Pats, Brady’s pass intended for Rob Gronkowski was intercepted by Denver’s Von Miller and returned to the New England 16-yard line. A few plays later, Manning found Owen Daniels for the 12-yard score to give Denver 14-6 lead.
On the Pats’ ensuing drive, Brady drove the team 13 plays and 48 yards, but the Broncos D held strong and forced New England to settle for a field goal attempt. Gostkowski’s 46-yard boot made it a 14-9 game with 7:07 left in the half.
After New England forced a Denver punt, Brady’s second pick of the day on New England’s ensuing offensive possession killed the momentum. The Broncos didn’t get any points immediately off the turnover, but were able to get the ball back and come away with a field goal to make it an eight-point game in the waning seconds of the first half.
Denver was forced to punt in the opening possession of the second half, and New England responded with another field goal drive to make it a 17-12 game with 10:31 to go in the quarter. The 38-yard kick by Gostkowski were the only points scored in the quarter and the teams would exchange punts until early in the fourth.
The Broncos capped off the first possession of the fourth quarter with a 31-yard field goal to extend the lead back to eight. On the Pats next drive, they were deep in Bronco territory all the way at Denver’s 16-yard line, but a failed fourth down conversion put the ball back in Manning’s hands.
New England forced a three-and-out and had another shot to tie the game when they got the ball back with 4:35 left in the game. The Pats drove downfield, making it to the Denver 14-yard line this time, but back-to-back incompletions intended for Julian Edelman and Gronk on third and fourth down led to New England turning the ball over on downs for the second straight possession.
The Patriots were able to force another quick three-and-out and got the ball back with 1:52 in what was the last chance to try and tie the game with a trip to Super Bowl 50 on the line. Early in the series, Brady connected with Gronkowski on an amazing 40-yard reception on fourth down to extend the drive with 1:34 to go.
With 17 seconds to play Brady found Gronk in the back of the end zone for six points on another spectacular play, but the Pats needed to go for two in order to tie. The excitement was short-lived though, as Brady’s conversion attempt was picked off by Bradley Roby as he rolled out of the pocket and tried to squeeze the ball into Edelman at the goal line. New England’s desperation onside kick attempt was unsuccessful, and the Patriots’ run at a second consecutive Super Bowl came to an end.
“They played better,” said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. “I don’t care where we’re at, Denver or New England, anywhere you want to name across the country. They just played better football.”
- Highlight: Steven Jackson 1-yard TD run (New England Patriots, Jan. 24, 2016)
- Watch Steven Jackson’s first career playoff TD (Boston.com, Jan. 24, 2016)
- Another Denver nightmare ends Patriots’ season (Boston Herald, Jan. 25, 2016)
- Gostkowski’s broken extra point streak proves costly (ESPN, Jan. 25, 2016)