DENVER — Quarterback Brock Osweiler takes the blame for Denver's sputtering offense. Brock Olivo keeps saying the unceasing blunders on special teams are his fault.
“My bad,” Osweiler said after the Broncos stalled three times inside the New England 21 in their 41-16 loss to New England that continued a season-long trend of settling for field goals.
“It's not the first time we couldn't score touchdowns,” Osweiler noted. “But that starts with me. I'm going to have to watch the tape and see what decisions I could have made differently.”
Olivo's awful special teams units had their worst showing yet with four foul-ups in Denver's fifth consecutive double-digit loss that dropped the Broncos 3-6.
Might one or both pay with his job?
Rookie coach Vance Joseph wouldn't commit to sticking with Osweiler against Cincinnati next week, saying, “We're going to watch the tape tomorrow as a staff and determine who the quarterback is next week.”
He seemed to indicate that he'll be sticking with his rookie special teams coordinator, however.
“When you lose like this, it's on all of us,” Joseph said when asked if he'd make a change on his coaching staff midseason. “It's a staff that we chose and that we feel great about. I wouldn't say that; I would say it's on all of us. We have to coach better and play better.”
That's the same mantra Joseph has been repeating ever since the Broncos lost to the New York Giants on Oct. 15. Since then, they've been outscored by 97 points, the worst point differential in the NFL in that span.
“We still have a good football team in us,” insisted Von Miller, who was once again neutralized by an early deficit. “But what we put out there is a bad football team.”
It would seem unlikely the Broncos would turn to Paxton Lynch, who failed even against vanilla defenses in the preseason, as long as they have a pulse in the playoff race, but the Broncos could go back to Trevor Siemian, who was benched two weeks ago.
The problem, however, wasn't so much the sputtering offense as it was their horrific special teams.
For the first time since 1979, the Patriots had a special teams takeaway , a blocked punt and a kickoff return for a touchdown , a trifecta that fueled a comfortable 27-9 halftime lead.
Dion Lewis has a 103-yard kickoff return and Rex Burkhead blocked a punt after catching a touchdown pass.
“That was great,” Tom Brady said. “We know the caliber of specialists we have. They do not get opportunities very often and the only got one opportunity tonight. Dion Lewis took it to the house so that was pretty sweet. And then the blocked punt was great and set up for great field position. Those were two huge plays.”
He didn't even mention Broncos rookie returner Isaiah McKenzie's muffed punt, his fifth fumble of the season, or the Broncos getting caught with 12 men the next time the Patriots punted, resulting in a first down — and another touchdown.
Other takeaways from the Patriots’ first back-to-back wins in Denver in 51 years:
MORE McKENZIE? One of Joseph's first eyebrow-raising moves as coach was to name McKenzie his starting punt returner just when the competition was about to begin. The reasoning was that the Broncos had selected the diminutive receiver in the fifth round out of Georgia for that specific purpose.
He's steadfastly stuck with him through all his fumbles, including Sunday night.
“He's our punt returner,” Joseph explained. “That's his job, so he has to do it. Looking forward, if he can't do the job, we have to change it.”
McKenzie sat alone on the bench for a long time after his latest blunder, which put Denver in another early hole.
“I just have to make better decisions, put up a fair catch,” McKenzie said. “I need to stop trying to make a play when it's not there.”
WHAT INJURY?: Welcome back to New England, Martellus Bennett . The newly acquired tight end didn't take long to fit back in as he caught three passes for 38 yards despite a shoulder injury that led to his release from Green Bay. The Patriots claimed Bennett on Thursday after he was waived.
“Last week I thought I was going to be on IR,” Bennett said. “It's just been a surreal week for me.”
THOMAS RETURNS: After going nearly a calendar year without a touchdown, Demaryius Thomas reached the end zone for the second straight week, catching a 7-yard pass from Osweiler in the third quarter that pulled Denver to 27-16.
Now it's Emmanuel Sanders who is mired in a touchdown-less streak. He hasn't scored since Week 2, a stretch that includes two games he missed with an ankle injury. After catching one pass for 30 yards in his return to the lineup last week at Philadelphia, Sanders had six catches for 137 yards Sunday night.
ALTITUDE ATTITUDE: The Patriots aren't going home for another week. They'll train at the Air Force Academy, where the 6,621-foot elevation will help prepare them for their trip to Estadio Azteca in Mexico City where they'll fact the Oakland Raiders next week 7,200 feet above sea level.
“We're away from our normal routine, but we've got to make it as normal as possible because we're playing a good team,” Brady said. “They're on the road and we're on the road. It's kind of a different type of game. We've never played there, so the only thing we can really control is our effort and our preparation.”