DENVER (The Sports Xchange) – Quarterback Tom Brady led four scoring drives — two after turnovers — and New England’s defense kept the Denver Broncos out of the end zone Sunday in a 16-3 victory that clinched the Patriots’ eighth straight AFC East title and the playoff berth that goes with it.
Stephen Gostkowski finished three of those drives with field goals, the last a 21-yarder with 8:16 remaining. LeGarrette Blount capped the other with a 1-yard touchdown run in a game that was largely a defensive struggle.
Brady finished 16 of 32 for 188 yards and it was enough for New England (12-2) to retain its hold on the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed with two games left in the regular season. It was a rare win in Denver for Brady, who improved to 3-7 lifetime in the Mile High City.
New England set an NFL record with the eighth consecutive division title.
The mistake-prone Broncos (8-6) lost their hold on the sixth and final wild-card berth. They need help and in all likelihood wins in their final two games, against AFC West rivals Kansas City and Oakland, to reclaim a postseason berth and the chance to defend last season’s Super Bowl title.
Siemian finished 25 of 40 for 282 yards, hamstrung by an ineffective rushing attack and failing to get his offense untracked against the Patriots. He also had a costly interception.
Denver’s final possession in the final moments ended when wide receiver Jordan Norwood, who muffed a punt earlier in the game, fumbled at the end of a pass reception. Safety Devin McCourty recovered for New England and Brady came onto the field to take a knee, running out the last few seconds to secure the victory.
Struggling to move the ball consistently against the Broncos’ stout defense, the Patriots added a second field goal by Gostkowski with 5:28 left in the third quarter to take a 13-3 lead after Brady’s third-down pass fell incomplete.
The Patriots led 10-3 at halftime, with both scores coming after Denver turnovers.
Siemian drove the Broncos to the Patriots’ 14-yard line but his third-down pass in the flat was behind the intended target, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, and cornerback Logan Ryan swooped in to pick it off, returning it 46 yards to Denver’s 44-yard line.
Brady, who misfired on his first six passes, went 4-for-4 for 57 yards on the drive to help set up Blount’s short scoring run. It came early in the second quarter, one play after running back Dion Lewis recovered his own fumble just outside the goal line.
Gostkowski’s 45-yard field goal was set up when Norwood muffed the first punt of the game. Defensive back Jonathan Jones recovered at the Denver 31, but New England settled for the field goal after Lewis’ third-down run was stopped short of the first down.
NOTES: Linebacker Brandon Marshall (hamstring) was among Denver’s inactive players. … The Patriots were without wide receiver Danny Amendola, who missed practice time this past week because of an ankle injury. … Denver lost tight end Virgil Green in the first quarter, when he suffered a concussion. … Denver defensive end Derek Wolfe left in the second quarter with a neck injury and did not return. … RB LeGarrette Blount’s second-quarter touchdown run was his NFL-high 15th rushing touchdown of the season. It is also is a single-season team record for the Patriots.