Big picture: The New England Patriots suffered their first loss – but watching tight end Rob Gronkowski carted off the field late in the fourth quarter likely hurts more than dropping a game in the AFC standings. After all of the other injuries the Patriots offense has suffered this year – season-ending injuries to left tackle Nate Solder, running back Dion Lewis and receiver Aaron Dobson, and an indefinite absence for No. 1 receiver Julian Edelman – it’s now fair to wonder how much more the Patriots can survive.
What we’ll be talking about: As much as the Broncos will try to downplay it, there is a quarterback controversy brewing after Brock Osweiler led the Broncos to 17 fourth-quarter points and a brief 24-21 lead before the game went to overtime. Osweiler had his issues at times against Bill Belichick’s defense – including a first-half interception and three sacks – but he showed the poise and confidence that has inspired his teammates. Peyton Manning will be out for at least another week, but Osweiler is making it very difficult for the Broncos to go back to Manning whenever the veteran signal-caller's left foot heals up.
Key moment: Patriots returner Chris Harper muffed a punt early in the fourth quarter, and it was recovered by Broncos linebacker Shaq Barrett. It was the momentum swing the Broncos needed after an ugly third quarter, and it ignited the Broncos’ rally. The Broncos scored a touchdown several plays later to cut New England’s lead to 21-14.
Key moment II: The Broncos put the final touches on the win when C.J. Anderson scampered down the left sideline for a 48-yard touchdown after denying the Patriots on the first possession of overtime. Anderson finished with 113 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
What you didn’t see: Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. Though he’s on pace for well over 100 catches and 1,000 receiving yards, he was almost invisible against the Patriots – except for several important drops. The Patriots mostly neutralized him with a combination of cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Devin McCourty, and the times Thomas did get free, he couldn’t come down with the ball. He finished the night with one catch on 13 targets, though his biggest play came late in the fourth quarter when he drew a defensive holding call to set up the Broncos’ go-ahead touchdown.
Important injuries: Broncos safety T.J. Ward and defensive tackle Sly Williams injured on same play early in the second quarter, and both were ruled out of the game with ankle injuries after being driven to the locker room. The Broncos also lost starting right guard Louis Vasquez to a groin injury in the first half, forcing a hobbled Evan Mathis, who was active but did not start, back into the lineup.
The Patriots also had to play two and a half quarters without linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who injured his knee.
Up next: The Patriots will try to rebound next week with a home game against the struggling Philadelphia Eagles. For the Broncos, Osweiler is expected to make his third career start against the San Diego Chargers.