- In retrospect, it was a lot to ask of Brock Osweiler to -- in only his second start -- loosen the stiff Patriots' secondary on a frigid snowy night in Denver. But the backup turned the heat on late, leading a feverish fourth-quarter comeback after a slow start and staked his claim for the starting job in Denver. Osweiler didn't light up the stat sheet (23/42, 270 yards, TD, INT), but he moved the ball in the second half, distributed to his key playmakers when necessary and made throws few quarterbacks, especially Peyton Manning, could make in that weather.
Of course, he was aided greatly by his skill players. Emmanuel Sanders was on the receiving end of some big Brock throws and finished with six receptions for 113 yards. C.J. Anderson woke up from his season-long slump to pound the Pats' front seven (15 rush, 113 yards, 2 TDs) and ice the game with a 48-yard burner down the left sideline.
- Breaking: Tom Brady is not a human being, and the Patriots' offense is a flawless machine. Brady's one-minute drill at the end of the fourth quarter was a masterwork, even without considering that his weapons were as nameless as New England's shadowy ball boys. The Patriots legend took his tattered offense -- read: Scott Chandler and Chris Harper -- 51 yards down the field in 69 seconds just to set up Stephen Gostkowski's 47-yard game-tying field goal attempt on snowy footing -- not to mention that New England nearly got burned on a confusing injury timeout that stopped, and then started the clock with the Patriots unaware. Is it the least bit surprising that Brady could pull this off? No. Is it thrilling each and every time he does it? You bet. (NFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino said the clock was administered correctly).
- The hits keep coming for the Patriots. With Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola already sidelined, Brady's boys couldn't afford any more casualties, especially to either of their remaining skill players. One of those vital pieces, Rob Gronkowski, went down Sunday night with a right knee injury in the fourth quarter and was carted off the field. Devastated by injuries, New England came into the game with only three receivers and three tight ends, but Brady was able to move the ball thanks in large part to the space and coverage Gronk commanded. Initial tests on Gronk's knee rule out a serious injury, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source informed of the results. However if Gronkowski is out for a considerable amount of time, there's no telling how Brady and the Patriots will rebound.
- The straw that nearly broke the Broncos' back was Brady's bomb to Brandon Bolden in the third quarter, a play that perfectly epitomized Belichick's game plan coming into this game shorthanded on offense. With Bolden in the backfield on a third down in a two TE-two WR set, Brady sent the running back on a wheel route out right while Denver dropped back in man coverage. Bolden drew Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan and took him for a ride down the right sideline for a 63-yard touchdown. Who needs Pro Bowl weapons when you have perfectly run wheel routes? Right? With players falling by the wayside, look for the Pats to rely on these types of plays going forward.
- Demaryius Thomas, Peyton Manning's favorite ballhawk, had a rough night with Osweiler throwing him the football. The receiver, who signed a new $70 million deal this offseason, had just one catch on 12 targets. He didn't come back to the football on more than one occasion, and looked far from the elite receiver he was touted to be heading into the matchup. Credit unsung Patriots defensive back Logan Ryan for the shutdown effort as well.
- Danny Amendola's absence had evident effects on the New England offense, but it was on special teams where his injury proved the most costly. Harper, a rookie punt returner, fumbled a fourth-quarter punt in Patriots territory following another stunted Broncos drive, breathing life into Denver's offense and the slumbering Mile High crowd. The Broncos recovered the ball at the New England 36, Anderson pulled the game to within seven points on a touchdown run on the ensuing four-play drive and swung the momentum of the game fully in Denver's favor.
- With this loss, the Patriots' perfect season is officially over. New England suffered a few scares along the way at the hands of the Colts, Jets, Giants and Bills, but it was eventually the Broncos -- Manning's team, for what it's worth -- that did them in. Maybe it will be a blessing in disguise for this wounded Patriots team, free from the burden that comes with having to extend a perfect season week-by-week and to deal with the media's incessant questions about it. But don't worry, perfectionists: the 11-0 Panthers are still hanging in there.