DENVER -- There was no hiding for Duane Starks.
The Patriots cornerback was beaten on two long throws by Jake Plummer in the second quarter -- 72 yards to Rod Smith and 55 yards to Ashley Lelie. He was beaten for a touchdown as well. Three big plays, all on Starks's watch. After the game, a gaggle of media hovered around his locker. He signaled he was ready for questions and after an uncomfortable moment of silence, the first query got the ball rolling.
Starks was asked whether he should have had safety help on the big plays. Though he didn't answer directly, the indication was an obvious no.
''I never felt so good and played so bad," said Starks, acquired by the Patriots from the Cardinals along with a fifth-round pick for New England's third-round pick in 2006.
''I don't feel that my whole game was bad. Those two plays I gave up were deep balls. They weren't touchdowns but they were long plays and they created momentum shifts," Starks said. ''I mean, my body felt good, I was moving well. On the first one they just ran a great route for the defense we were in. Basically, that's what happened."
The route that sprung Smith loose was a crossing pattern against man-to-man coverage. Starks wasn't supposed to have any help.
It was Starks against Smith and the Broncos receiver won. It was a second and 5 from the Denver 23 with the Patriots leading, 3-0, when Plummer and Smith changed the momentum with one play. Two plays later, Tatum Bell crashed over from 3 yards out and it was 7-3 Denver.
It took some air out of the Patriots.
On Denver's next possession, Lelie caught a 55-yarder down the middle, scorching Starks all the way to the 17-yard line, where again the Broncos went at Starks for a 6-yard score on a lob that Smith came down with.
Starks, who did help catch the runaway Bell on his 68-yard jaunt in the second quarter, has battled a thigh injury for a while, but it didn't seem to have anything to do with the big plays he gave up.
The good news for Starks and the Patriots was that was the end of the exploitation of Starks. ''I think we played more disciplined in the second half," Starks said. ''I just think we executed more in the second half."
Starks was asked whether the bevy of injuries has taken its toll on the Patriots. New England did have Randall Gay playing nickel back and the secondary appeared as healthy as it has been in a while.
''We finished the game with everybody out there," Starks said. ''That wasn't a big deal. Everyone came out of there. We just got to get fixed what we got to get fixed. We can't give up big plays like we did today. Got to stop the run, got to stop the pass."
Starks did get into the rhythm of the comeback and could feel Tom Brady leading the Patriots back. All the Patriots had to do was make sure they got the ball back to the offense, which they did enough to make it a one-possession game. But the Broncos stopped the Patriots with 3:46 remaining and salted it away with their ground game.
''They came out and they ran some good plays. They were deep plays. There's nothing you can do about it, you know?" Starks said. ''They made the plays and we didn't. We need to play more consistently. We need to make more plays as a defense, more than the offense, and then we'll come out on top. Today wasn't a good day for it. We started out slow and got too far behind to win the game. They made great plays at the right times. They had great execution on their behalf.
''You have to win 60 percent or more of the battles and they won those battles. We have to play 60 minutes of football instead of 20 minutes."