On Christmas Eve in Denver, the Patriots and Broncos swapped erratic play in the low-scoring first half until New England opened a double-digit lead in the third quarter thanks to strong defense, large offense, and a special teams score. Just when New England's offense went silent, Denver rallied with two fourth-quarter drives and knotted the game late.
The Pats defense forced one more stop, giving the offense one last chance, which they took advantage of with a 27-yard third-down play to DeVante Parker that set up a stunning game-winning field goal by Chad Ryland in the last two seconds. New England won 26-23.
The Patriots started poorly as Bailey Zappe was struck and fumbled on the first play. James Ferentz, playing in his first game after being elevated to the active roster, appeared to get beaten off the snap, while starting left tackle Vederian Lowe battled to block. Denver immediately took over on New England's six-yard line and attempted to lead early.
Marvin Mims' 52-yard punt return gave Denver a boost after five possessions without a first down. A game-changing play came from the Patriots' struggling special teams without Matthew Slater for the first time since 2017. Bill Belichick labeled Mims the best NFL returner last week, and he showed it early.
After three unsuccessful attempts, the Patriots scored on a 28-yard Jalen Reagor reception when Bailey Zappe dropped a great throw in the sideline coverage hole. Since Zappe was sacked for a 10-yard loss the previous play, the huge play was crucial. Ezekiel Elliot contributed 18 yards on the 13-play, 61-yard drive.
Denver had several big plays on the next drive, moving across midfield until Jahlani Tavai, one of the team's top playmakers, led Javonte Williams to fumble, which Jeremiah Pharms recovered by tugging the ball away. Pharms, who started the year on the practice squad, was praised by Demarcus Covington for his first memorable performance.
After two games of good first halves and wilting second halves, the Patriots got the second-half start they wanted by forcing a punt and then scoring a score. Christian Barmore's sack backed up Denver 10 yards, causing the stop. Barmore has had a great season and is rising in December.
With their playoff dreams hanging in the balance, the Broncos pulled together their finest drive of the night, a nine-play, 83-yard touchdown drive boosted by Marvin Mims' 47-yard grab. Denver's two-point conversion made it 23-15 midway through the fourth quarter.
On Christmas Eve, the Patriots won their fourth game of the season with a dominant defense and a group effort for scores. The defense held down Russell Wilson and the Broncos offense for most of the game with three sacks from Christian Barmore, who was in the backfield all night, and a takeaway from Jahlani Tavai and Jeremiah Pharms.