New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

DENVER, COLORADO - DECEMBER 24: Place kicker Chad Ryland #37 of the New England Patriots kicks a field goal late in the 4th quarter during the game against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field At Mile High on December 24, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

The New England Patriots outlasted the Denver Broncos on Sunday night, as a go-ahead field goal by rookie kicker Chad Ryland gifted them a 26-23 road win in a Christmas Eve thriller at Mile High.

The game was 7-3 Broncos at halftime, before a relative explosion of points in the second half, as the Patriots built a 23-7 lead. The Broncos scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns with two-point conversions to tie the game at 23, but the Pats’ final offensive drive was capped with Ryland’s 56-yard kick, the eventual game-winner.

Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe lost a fumble on the first offensive snap of the game, but recovered to go 25-of-33 for 256 yards and two touchdowns, including 3-of-3 for 36 yards on the final go-ahead drive. Denver’s Russell Wilson was 25-of-37 for 238 yards and two touchdowns.

Ryland redeemed himself after he had missed an extra point and a field goal try earlier in the game. The 56-yarder marked easily the biggest kick of Ryland’s young career.

The Patriots defense came to play, headlined by three sacks for Christian Barmore and a fumble recovery. They also scored a special teams touchdown after a muffed kick return by the Broncos. They are now 4-11 on the 2023 season, with two games to go.

Patriots-Broncos Highlights

The Patriots’ first possession lasted one play, and the play was a disaster. Zappe looked to be attempting a pump fake, but the ball partially slipped out of his hands, and two Broncos pass rushers converged on him at the same time, causing a fumble. D.J. Jones recovered the ball for the Broncos, giving them first and goal at the Patriots’ 6-yard line.

  • That’s when the Pats defense stepped up big-time. Linebacker Mack Wilson Sr. nearly had an interception on third down, but the ruling was changed to an incomplete pass. Then, the Broncos went for it on fourth-and-goal, and running back Javonte Williams tripped over his own blocker to be stopped well short of the goal line, keeping the game scoreless early on.

  • The Broncos did eventually come up with the first points of the game, starting with a 52-yard punt return by Marvin Mims Jr. Five plays later, Williams grinded his way into the end zone and the Broncos made it 7-0.

  • It was in response to the first touchdown that the Patriots finally put a promising drive together. Zappe went 6-of-7 for 51 yards on the drive, including a 28-yard completion to Jalen Reagor, but a third-down catch by Demario Douglas was stopped short of the line to gain. The Pats settled for a Chad Ryland field goal, making it 7-3.

  • The Pats quickly grabbed another opportunity for the offense, via turnover. Linebacker Jahlani Tavai knocked the ball loose after Williams made a catch, then defensive tackle Jeremiah Pharms recovered the ball to get it back to Zappe and the offense.

  • The turnover went nowhere, though, as the Patriots went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, but the Broncos were unable to follow that up with more points. The second quarter ended with a missed field goal each for Ryland and the Broncos’ Will Lutz, keeping the score at 7-3 at halftime.

    However, things started to turn in the Patriots’ favor starting in the third quarter. The defense began with a three-and-out, highlighted by an 8-yard sack by Christian Barmore. Then the offense followed that up with one of its most explosive drives of the season, sparked by a 41-yard connection between Zappe and Douglas.

  • Douglas made another catch for a first down as part of the drive, then two plays later, Ezekiel Elliott hurdled a defender and dove his way into the end zone for the Patriots’ first touchdown of the night. Ryland’s extra point was no good, but the TD gave the Pats a 9-7 lead.

  • From there, the Patriots only continued to come up with big plays and extend the lead. After the teams traded punts for three possessions, Zappe struck again down the field with a 30-yard completion to DeVante Parker. Three plays later, Zappe escaped the pocket to the right then delivered a strike to Mike Gesicki in the back of the end zone, making it 16-7.

  • The Patriots ultimately saved their most momentous play for special teams. Mims muffed the catch initially then picked it back up, but fumbled it a second time on the tackle by rookie Marte Mapu. Patriots special teamer Cody Davis fell on the ball from the 1-yard line into the end zone for another touchdown, and just like that, the Pats were up 23-7.

  • Midway through the fourth quarter, the Broncos put together a nine-play, 83-yard touchdown drive, capped by a touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Lucas Krull. They converted the two-point attempt to cut the Pats’ lead to 23-15.

  • The Patriots went three-and-out on their next drive, and only drained 1:54 off the clock, because they ran three pass plays. That set the stage for the Broncos’ game-tying touchdown drive, which spanned 11 plays and 78 yards. Wilson threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Johnson, then the two-point conversion to Williams to tie the game 23-23.

  • The big play to set up Ryland’s game-winning kick was another big catch by Parker, a 27-yarder to get the Patriots into Broncos territory. Zappe completed two more passes for nine yards to set up Ryland at 56 yards.

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