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Big week ends on a downer as team could never get things rolling

FOXBOROUGH -- It was a big week at the Razor. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards Wednesday. Jake Plummer and the Broncos defense last night. Beasts of burden, one and all.

For the third time in a calendar year, and the fifth time since 2001, the Patriots saw Denver orange and morphed into the US Ryder Cup team, dropping a dreadful 17-7 decision at the hands of the Broncos. The Patriots dominate the rest of the NFL but stubborn Mike Shanahan simply won't sign on to the theory that he's supposed to lose because the New England organization is smarter and better-prepared. As a duo, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are now 1-5 against the Broncos since 2001.

It proves only that arrogant attrition can catch up with any organization. Sometimes it's actually the team with the better players that wins. And on this night, Denver had better players. There was more booing at Gillette Stadium and the Patriots truly look like a team in distress, but we'd do well to remember that New England's 2003 Super Bowl champs were pancaked by Buffalo, 31-0, in September.

It was a weird night all around, one with plenty of statistics providing plenty of lies. Tom Brady completed 31 of 55 passes for a whopping 320 yards, but he was oddly ineffective and got little of his work done in the red zone. The Patriots ran for only 50 yards and their passing offense didn't come to life until it was 17-0 in the fourth (when Denver conceded all the short stuff). New England converted only four of 16 third downs.

All in all, not a great show. The game was scheduled to be broadcast early this morning in Beijing and one could easily see why several million Chinese might not give a damn. Given this sample of American football, new viewers in Asia might prefer something more along the lines of a Jerry Lewis Film Festival.

Early last night the NFL announced the Patriots would be traveling to Beijing Aug. 8, 2007, to play the Seattle Seahawks in the China Bowl as part of a one-year countdown to the 2008 Summer Olympics. Not to be confused with the Scorpion Bowl at the Kowloon off Route 1, the China Bowl will be played in Beijing's Workers Stadium, the site of the soccer competition for the XXIX Olympics. You'll have to rise at 8:30 a.m. to catch the Patriots and Seahawks in what could be a rematch of Super Bowl XLI.

It's hard to believe Coach Bill could be thrilled with the decision to fly halfway around the world during the Patriots' preseason. The vaunted New York Yankees spent two months complaining about jet lag after they opened their 2004 regular season in Japan. Mike Mussina still hasn't recovered. No word yet on whether Bob Kraft plans to show off a championship ring to Chinese president Hu Jintao, but the government officials no doubt will applaud Belichick's crackdown on free speech in the Patriot locker room.

Coach Bill was in boring overdrive after the spanking.

``We've got to go back to work and need to improve in every area," he said. ``That's what we're going to try to do this week. We need to coach and play better. That goes for everybody.

``There were some positive things out there, but not enough of them. We need to do more of them. Whatever you want to list, whatever you want to ask about, we need to do it better. Whatever you want to ask -- the answer is yes."

His wrapup was classic. Asked what this game said about his team, Belichick answered, ``It says they were better than us tonight. I think that was obvious. OK? Anybody got anything else? OK."

Then he was gone.

This was a night when the Patriots missed Corey Dillon (16 yards on five carries, injured arm), wideouts Deion Branch and David Givens, and kicker Adam Vinatieri. Brady looked lost for most of the first three quarters and New England's only scoring opportunity was smothered when rookie Stephen Gostkowski had a (too low) 37-yard field goal attempt blocked.

The first quarter featured five punts and little else. It was a battle of field position as Brady and Plummer did almost all of their play-calling inside their own territory. If you closed your eyes, it felt a little like the Revolution and Wizards from the night before (a 1-1 offensive outburst) -- with a lot more people in the stands.

Denver scored on a 23-yard field goal by Jason Elam with 7:25 left in the half. New England, meanwhile, could not get untracked as Denver's offense extended its streak to 11 straight quarters without allowing a touchdown. The Patriots' muffed field goal effort was followed by Denver's seven-play, 73-yard scoring drive, capped by a 32-yard pass from Plummer to Javon Walker over Ellis Hobbs. The Patriots found themselves in a familiar place: trailing the Broncos at halftime.

Brady had the look of a young, beleaguered Jim Plunkett in the scoreless third quarter as the Patriots again were stoned by the Denver defense. The Broncos offense spent considerable time inside its 20, but New England was unable to capitalize and it was still 10-0 after three.

Then came a stake-driving 83-yard TD bomb from Plummer to Walker (five plays, 97 yards). Trailing, 17-0, the Patriots came to life, driving 80 yards and getting into the end zone on an 8-yard pass to Doug Gabriel. Looking newly comfortable in the hurry-up offense, Brady was 10 for 10 in the drive. That made it 17-7 with 9:13 left. It was the Patriot offense's only flash of brilliance on this night. Denver re-gained control as the clock mercifully wound down.

``We just couldn't put together enough good plays in a row to get the ball in the end zone," said Brady. ``It wasn't great and that's why we lost. I don't think we did terrible in the first half. We just didn't stay on the field on third down.

``They don't ever really make a lot of mistakes when they play us. We dug a hole, we just couldn't dig ourselves out of it. I like some of the things we did in the passing game, I really did. We just didn't do enough of it. This is a building process."

It gets tougher before it gets easier. Next week the Patriots go to Cincinnati to face the 3-0 Bengals. Coach Bill says they have to play better.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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