Last week it was the Denver Broncos defense that failed the team in a blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. In the first half on Sunday night against the New England Patriots it was the special teams unit that had Denver trailing 27-9 at the break.

Denver won the toss and deferred – one of their few special teams wins in the half – forcing a quick third-and-five after a pair of run stops to open the game. Tom Brady targeted wide receiver Brandin Cooks with Bradley Roby in coverage, who gave no ground and forced a punt. The Broncos’ ball security issues on offense and special teams would continue to haunt them, though, on their first opportunity of the game.

Rookie Isaiah McKenzie committed his fifth fumble in as many games (and the second lost in three weeks), muffing the punt from Ryan Allen, and New England would get the ball right back on the Denver 24-yard line. Brady hit running back Rex Burkhead on back-to-back strikes, the first for 10 yards and the second for 14 yards into the end zone and a quick 7-0 lead.

Brock Osweiler immediately responded with 29-yard pass to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, moving the ball into New England territory on Denver’s first offensive play of the game. The two connected again on third-and-five after a pair of C.J. Anderson runs. Osweiler then turned his attention to his other wideout, Demaryius Thomas, who picked up six yards on a screen pass but couldn’t convert a target in the flat on third-and-two and Denver had to settle for a Brandon McManus 39-yard field goal. The eight-play drive went 58 yards in 3:57.

Special teams continued to plague Denver, however, as the kick coverage team turned around and surrendered a 103-yard return for a touchdown by the speedy Dion Lewis.

The Denver offense would respond, though, as Osweiler again found Sanders for a big gain. The wideout caught a slant and broke for 38 yards across midfield. C.J. Anderson followed that with a 21-yard run. The drive stalled out again in the New England red zone as Osweiler could not connect with running back Jamaal Charles on third down, and McManus was again good on a field goal, this time from 33 yards.

Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett, in his first game back with New England after being cut by Green Bay earlier in the week, took his first target 27 yards to the Denver 48 after Brady slipped out of linebacker Von Miller‘s grasp and the Patriots were quickly threatening to put points on the board. The Denver defense stopped Brady short on a third-and-short from the Broncos 23, but with a comfortable lead and his team moving the ball well, Bill Belichick went for it and converted with a run from Burkhead. Brady finally connected with tight end Rob Gronkowski as the seconds ticked down on the first quarter and New England had a new set of downs and goal to go. A pass interference call on linebacker Todd Davis renewed that at the Denver three-yard line. The Denver defense bowed its back, though, and stopped Brady on three straight pass attempts – including a sack on third down by safety Justin Simmons – and New England was forced to kick a field goal. The 14-play drive burned 6:40 off the clock, though, and Denver trailed 17-6.

The Broncos got some help early in the next drive when New England was flagged for a defensive holding penalty that helped Denver avoid a three-and-out. The special teams nightmare would continue when Denver was eventually forced to punt. Burkhead got around the edge and blocked Riley Dixon‘s first attempt of the night, giving New England the ball at Denver’s 30-yard line.

Brady nearly connected with Gronkowski in the end zone on the first play, but the pass was ruled incomplete on the field (apparently hitting the ground as Gronkowski slid into the end zone) and review was not conclusive enough to overrule the call. The defense would continue to hold and Stephen Gostkowski kicked another field goal, this one from 28 yards, to extend New England’s lead to 20-6.

The Osweiler-Sanders connection continued on the next drive, as the duo hooked up for a crucial third-down conversion to open the series. The 23-yard pass put Sanders over 100 yards for the half – his largest single-game total for the season – and put him over 6,000 yards for his career. The duo connected again for nine yards and a first down, which put Denver back in the red zone after a Devontae Booker run. The offense once again couldn’t get anything going inside the 20, even taking a pass interference penalty on a pick play, which led to a third field goal from McManus.

Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels played it mostly conservatively on New England’s final possession of the half, riding Lewis and Burkhead in the early part of the drive. The biggest play of the drive was a 22-yard strike to Gronkowski that put the ball at the Denver 11. Brady connected with Dwayne Allen two plays later to extend the New England lead to 27-9 heading into the half.

The team at MHS was tracking the action on social media during the first half. Here’s how it played out, along with commentary and highlights from some of our favorite follows…