DENVER -- It took a quarterback making just his second career start, a productive run game and a fourth quarter to remember, but the Denver Broncos finally flipped the script on the New England Patriots.
Time after time, the Broncos had seen their chances at victory erased by their own misplays -- the Patriots had won five of the past six meetings going into Sunday night. This time, the Broncos handed the Patriots two touchdowns that were far too easy to come by but scrapped, battled and willed their way back.
The win keeps the Broncos, 9-2, in the discussion for home-field advantage in the AFC.
"It's huge," Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "We needed to get back in the AFC win column and we've got a chance to be right back in the first or second seed. We put ourselves in great position to be ... that seed. It feels good."
In the past it has been interceptions, fumbles, a missed field goal, a punt return for a touchdown and an assortment of missed tackles. This time it wasn't nearly as spectacular, but oh-so-close to just as painful for the Broncos as a shanked punt and another interception joined the growing list early in the game.
But the Broncos kept holding their ground on defense and finding a crease here and there in the run game. And quarterback Brock Osweiler engineered a remember-when drive with all the chips on the table, giving the Broncos a 24-21 lead with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell with 1 minute, 9 seconds left in the game.
In all, the Broncos scored 17 points in the fourth quarter. Then, Tom Brady did what Brady does and pushed the Patriots on a closing-minute drive to tie it 24-24.
In the end, a team coach Gary Kubiak has consistently said had the "right stuff" showed it does indeed on a big stage with an overtime victory.
"It shows everybody we can beat anyone," linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "And we can. If we do what we have to do, play the way we can play, we can beat anybody."
What were they thinking? Another game, another perplexing penalty from a defensive player. This time it was linebacker Von Miller, who had a personal foul penalty for flopping on Brady two plays into the second half. The penalty came when Broncos defensive end Vance Walker had already earned the sack on what would have been a 7-yard loss that would have put the Patriots in a third-and-16 situation at their own 14-yard line. Instead, the Patriots got at first-and-10 at their 29-yard line. The Broncos forced a punt to avoid significant damage, but it was Miller's third roughing-the-passer penalty of the season.
One reason to get excited: The Broncos continue to show that when they have a productive outing in the run game they can compete and move the ball on most any defense. They had 91 yards rushing by the end of the third quarter and by the time C.J. Anderson sprinted in for a 15-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, the Broncos had 111 yards rushing -- 129 yards by the end of regulation -- and their first two touchdowns of the game had come on the ground.
One reason to panic: Osweiler has been sacked 11 times in just over nine quarters' worth of work, and after one particularly difficult hit following a fourth-quarter pass against the pressure he came up limping. In his zeal to avoid mistakes, he has often held the ball too long in the pocket and the at other times the Broncos line has not protected him well. Guard Louis Vasquez, who has dealt with knee trouble this season, left Sunday's game with a groin injury. That put Evan Mathis in the lineup after a week when Mathis had practiced just once -- on a limited basis -- because of an ankle injury. The Broncos simply have to get the protection issues ironed out and Osweiler must play with a better clock in his head.
Fantasy watch: By the time there was just six minutes left in regulation of Sunday's game, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas still did not have a catch against the Patriots. Thomas also had dropped three of the kind of passes he routinely reels in. It was a frigid, snowy night, but Thomas had a bout of the drops early in the season and it lasted several weeks before the team adjourned for the bye. The Broncos do play in San Diego next week, but they need Thomas to snap out of it quickly.
Ouch: It was a painful night for the Broncos. Starters Vasquez, safety T.J. Ward (left ankle) and nose tackle Sylvester Williams (right ankle) left in the first half and did not return. All three will be further evaluated Monday.
Kiddie corps: The Broncos have inched their way to the youthful offensive front they had envisioned in training camp. Rookie Ty Sambrailo was a starter at left tackle before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury at Detroit in Week 3. Matt Paradis, who spent his rookie year in 2014 on the Broncos' practice squad, has played every snap on offense this season. And on Sunday night, rookie Max Garcia started at left guard. All three of those players had spent most of training camp in the starting offensive line until the Broncos elected to sign Evan Mathis in late August. The Broncos like Garcia's progress and believe he gives them added muscle in the run game and that his work in pass protection, while spotty at times, warrants giving him a chance at this point in the season.