DENVER — The Denver Broncos weren’t just bad on special teams. They were downright hurtful.
To themselves, of course. To an official as well.
A mistake-filled night began with a muffed punt , included a 103-yard kickoff return, blocked punt, and getting a too-many-players-on-the-field penalty on fourth down to extend a New England drive. Even an umpire was run over — and had to leave the game — on a punt by the Broncos.
All told, Denver’s lapses on special teams added up to 24 points, which Tom Brady and the Patriots turned into a 41-16 blowout Sunday.
“How are you supposed to win against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots when you’re starting off 14-(3)?” lamented defensive end Derek Wolfe, whose team dropped its fifth straight game. “You can’t. You’re not going to win against a good team like that.”
The gaffes made things just that much easier for the Patriots against Von Miller and a stalwart Denver defense.
“It helps out tremendously and sparks us,” receiver Danny Amendola said. “Hats off to the special teams.”
The night actually started just like Denver (3-6) scripted — forcing the Patriots (7-2) to punt on their opening possession.
It went horribly awry after that, with rookie returner Isaiah McKenzie bobbling a punt. New England recovered and cashed in on Rex Burkhead’s 14-yard TD catch.
“It puts us in a big hole. I put the blame all on me,” said McKenzie, who now has five fumbles this season. “If I would’ve caught that first punt, did anything with it, besides turn it over, then probably … things would’ve changed for us.”
There was plenty more blame to spread around.
Minutes later, Dion Lewis returned a kickoff 103 yards down the left sideline for a score. It’s tied for the third-longest return the Broncos have allowed.
“It just was bad, man,” special teamer/defensive back Jamal Carter said. “Once we made one mistake it just kept going on like a domino effect.”
The next domino to fall was when Burkhead blocked a Riley Dixon punt in the second quarter. That led to a Stephen Gostkowski field goal to make it 20-6.
All season, Broncos special teams coach Brock Olivo has willingly accepted blame for blunders made by his blocking or coverage units. The performance Sunday will be hard to explain away.
“We can’t do those things,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “It’s all three phases that we have to look at.”
This wasn’t a special teams error — just a scary moment. On a punt in the third quarter, Carter was blocking New England’s Trevor Reilly when Reilly rolled into the back of umpire Jeff Rice, whose legs were taken out from under him. Rice stayed down for several moments before walking to a cart to take him off the field.
“(Reilly) was trying to bull rush me and I kind of slung him. I didn’t know the ref was back there,” Carter explained. “It was crazy.”
To close out a special teams night to forget, Denver was called for a 12th player on the field early in the fourth quarter on a New England punt. The play was so bizarre that linebacker Brandon Marshall actually was the one who called for a fair catch. The penalty gave New England a first down and Brady took advantage by throwing a short TD pass to James White .
“We have to be better on special teams,” cornerback Chris Harris said. “They outplayed us in that area. When you play against Tom Brady, man, you can’t spot him anything. … He’s going to take advantage of our mistakes.”
Brady did at that, too.
“We did a good job staying balanced,” Brady said. “Playing from ahead was really important all night. It’s hard to play this team when you’re behind and they can just tee off on the rushes. They’ve got very skilled pass rushers. Special teams played great and we just tried to hold up our end of the bargain.”
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