Consider that Tom Brady was sacked four times and hit 20 times in all by the Broncos in Sunday's AFC title game -- the most any NFL quarterback has been hit in any game this season -- and it could be considered a minor miracle that the Patriots even had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter with a two-point conversion.
Listening to Brady during his postgame press conference at the visitor's podium at Mile High Stadium, it seemed as though he may have felt the same way.
"I think there was a lot of plays I got hit pretty hard today," Brady said with a chuckle. "It's just football. Just football."
More specifically, it was a Broncos interior defensive line that had its way with its counterpart on the other side of the line of scrimmage. It was Denver edge rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware who timed center Bryan Stork's snaps and sliced into the Patriots backfield almost unimpeded. It was coverage that had Patriots pass-catchers Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski locked down for large chunks of the game.
All of it combined to make Brady's day miserable. Not only was he on his back once out of every three drop-backs, he finished the game 27-for-56 for 310 yards, one touchdown and two picks. He had a quarterback rating of 56.4, which was his lowest mark of the season.
"They got a great rush, and you know they got some great rushers," Brady said. "They've got interior pass-rushers. They've got some outside rushers. I think you complement that with good coverage, it was just tough for us to ever get into a rhythm. [We] finally were able to score some points at the end. For it to come down to a two-point conversion is a tough way to obviously end the season."
Brady, of course, wasn't without fault. His struggles weren't entirely precipitated by what his teammates could or couldn't do, either up front or in the secondary. His second-quarter interception, thrown right into Miller's numbers, was on him. And he knew it.
"Just a bad decision," Brady said.
That set up a touchdown from Peyton Manning to tight end Owen Daniels three plays later, giving the Patriots a 14-6 lead.
As the Patriots tried to scrape their way back into the game, they couldn't depend on any of the things they typically do well. The Broncos dropped seven or eight into coverage at times, dropping linebackers underneath the short-to-intermediate routes that Brady often relies upon. Julian Edelman couldn't shake free and Rob Gronkowski -- when he wasn't on the sidelines dealing with cramps in the third quarter -- saw double and triple-teams.
One indication that Brady knew his offense was up a creek was that he was actually pleasantly surprised at halftime. Somehow, as bad as they had performed to that point, they were down 17-9. It was a one-possession game.
"We were all pretty . . . We were happy we were still in the game based on the way we played offensively," Brady said. "We just never could really get into a rhythm with what we were doing. It was just a tough hard-fought game. I think they did some things defensively. We had some plays obviously we should've made. We just didn't make them."
In the second half, Brady and the Patriots did what they could to slow down Denver's unrelenting rush. They tried to switch up their cadences. They tried to attack Broncos linebackers in one-on-one coverage on running back James White.
It worked to a certain extent. Brady finished with 213 yards in the second half, but the Patriots couldn't muster scoring chances late without staring down desperate fourth-down situations. Their first two failed, leaving them down 20-12 with 1:52 left in the fourth quarter.
On what seemed like their final opportunity to tie it, they converted on a fourth-and-10 from the 50-yard line on perfectly-placed pass from Brady to Gronkowski for a 40-yard gain. Four plays later, they faced a fourth-and-goal and Gronkowski was there for Brady again, fighting through a double-team to grab a four-yard touchdown.
But the two-point conversion was one gotta-have-it scenario too many. The percentages weren't in their favor. Brady knew it, and he essentially shrugged his shoulders when asked what happened on his final snap of the game, when former teammate Aqib Talib tipped Brady's attempt into the air and into the arms of corner Bradley Roby.
They were fortunate to even be in that spot, Brady hinted.
"I think you make some . . . You're not going to make them all," he said. "We hit the fourth-and-10 to Gronk. We hit the fourth down for the touchdown. I just don't think you're going to be 100 percent in those situations. Unfortunately we had four or five of them. They just didn't go our way. They cost us points, and they cost us an opportunity to move on."