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Atypical mistakes bring end to magic

DENVER -- Perhaps the most frustrating part of last night's 27-13 loss to the Broncos was that so many of the stalwarts of New England's historic 10-game postseason winning streak could not carry on the magic for one more game.

In the fourth quarter, when Adam Vinatieri normally has been automatic, he pulled a field goal try wide right.

Troy Brown, generally so sure-handed, muffed a fourth-quarter punt inside the Patriots' 20-yard line, and Denver promptly turned it into a backbreaking touchdown.

And then there was the master of poise, quarterback Tom Brady, who committed a game-turning gaffe when what looked like a go-ahead touchdown pass to Brown became an interception and 100-yard return by Denver's Champ Bailey. A second interception by Brady in the final three minutes put an exclamation point on the evening.

To see the core group of Patriots, who had been nearly flawless in winning three Super Bowls in four years, make such mistakes left the team and its followers in stunned disbelief.

When the visitors' locker room was opened to the media after the game, the silence was deafening. No chatter, just quiet talk, somber responses to questions, and little else. The accomplishments of the past would be appreciated at some point, but not last night.

There was only self-reflection as the Patriots explained mistakes that generally have been made by their opponents.

Even the normally stoic Bill Belichick showed some emotion, throwing his hands up and turning away in dismay when Brown botched an attempted fair catch on a Todd Sauerbrun punt at the New England 12-yard line with 10:21 to play.

Although trailing, 17-6, the Patriots had some some success moving the ball in the second half and had a chance to rally after forcing the punt. That chance slipped through Brown's hands.

''All I was doing was trying to make a fair catch," said Brown, ''and I didn't do it. And it cost us a chance to come back."

The ball was recovered by Denver's Mike Leach, and three plays later, the Broncos were in the end zone with a 24-6 lead.

The Patriots' disappointment was evident in every corner.

''We had high expectations and we didn't do the job," said Vinatieri, who hit from 40 yards in the second quarter but missed from 43 with 12:53 left in the game. ''We made a lot of mistakes. It was a crappy game. We knew exactly what we had to do against a good team and we didn't do a good job of that."

Asked about the Patriots' five turnovers, Brown could only shake his head. ''Five turnovers," he repeated. ''That's five too many."

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