FOXBOROUGH -- The NFL's best home team since 2002 delivered a dud last night.
Unable to generate a consistent rushing attack, having a field goal blocked for the second straight week, and with their defense twice victimized by the big play, the Patriots dropped a 17-7 decision to the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium.
``The big thing is that we got outcoached and outplayed," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. ``They did a better job than we did, that's obvious. We weren't able to take advantage of the few mistakes that they made, and they were able to take advantage of the ones that we made."
The Broncos opened a 10-0 lead at halftime, on a Jason Elam 23-yard field goal midway through the second quarter and a 32-yard touchdown catch by Javon Walker just before the break. Walker added an 83-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter to increase the advantage to 17-0.
In addition to the loss, the Patriots might have suffered a significant personnel blow as running back Corey Dillon (arm) left the game in the second quarter and didn't return. Safety Eugene Wilson (right leg) also was sidelined after pulling up on the punt return unit in the second half, and didn't return.
The Patriots are now 31-7 at Gillette Stadium since 2002, with the Broncos the only team to beat them twice over that span. The home crowd showered the Patriots with boos at the end of the first half.
Quarterback Tom Brady, who finished 31 of 55 for 320 yards with one touchdown, dropped to 1-5 as a starter against Denver. The 55 attempts tied Brady's career high (Nov. 10, 2002 at Chicago) and were necessary because of a stagnant running game. After showing promise in the running game in the first two weeks of the season, the team finished with 50 yards on 21 carries (2.4 average). The Patriots were also 4 of 16 on third down, struggling to maintain drives.
Belichick said the team needs to do better in every facet.
``Whatever you want to list, whatever you want to ask about, can we do it better? The answer is yes," Belichick said. ``Whichever one it is -- special teams, offense, defense, running game, passing game, penalties."
The Patriots' lone score came with 9:13 left when Brady hit Doug Gabriel with an 8-yard touchdown strike in the back of the end zone.
It was one of the team's few highlights.
``We're disappointed with our performance," said outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. ``They're a good football team, made it to the AFC Championship game last year, and the coaching staff is good and they have good, quality players. You expect them to come out and play, but you don't expect us to come out and not play as well as we'd like to."
A crucial turning point came in the second quarter after Elam's field goal.
The Patriots responded with a solid drive, moving from their 21 to the Broncos' 19. The team's best offensive play of the first half came on the march -- a fake reverse to Troy Brown in which Brady connected with Laurence Maroney on a short pass that Maroney turned into a dazzling 31-yard gain. But the drive ended after three incomplete passes from the Denver 19, and then Stephen Gostkowski had a 37-yard field goal attempt blocked.
The Broncos then responded with a seven-play, 73-yard drive, scoring the game's first touchdown when Jake Plummer (15 of 30, 256 yards, 2 touchdowns) lofted a beautiful 32-yard pass to Walker on a go route down the right side with 50 seconds left before intermission. Cornerback Ellis Hobbs was in man coverage as the Patriots blitzed.
A final first-half drive by the Patriots, in which they had 43 seconds and took over at their 33, didn't yield positive results and the boo birds came out.
The Patriots' offense struggled throughout the third quarter, advancing only as far as the Broncos' 43, and Denver added the dagger at the start of the fourth quarter -- the 83-yard touchdown pass from Plummer to Walker down the left sideline.
The Broncos had started the drive on their 3. On third and six, Walker got past cornerback Asante Samuel, caught the ball, and then raced about 60 yards after safety James Sanders -- subbing for the injured Wilson -- overran the play.
``They had our number," said tight end Daniel Graham. ``We really weren't executing our plays like we could.
``They just outplayed us. We're better than what we showed. If we come out every week like we did, it's going to be a long season."