FOXBOROUGH — With 3:48 left in the game, the Denver Broncos trailed, 31-21, but were inching closer to the Patriots end zone.
Call it serendipity. For the pessimist, call it luck. Whatever it is, the timing was impeccable.
Broncos running back Willis McGahee took a handoff up the middle and lost the ball, thanks to defensive end Rob Ninkovich.
It’s not the first time the Patriots happened to procure a huge turnover at the most opportune time. Earlier Sunday, Sterling Moore stripped Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas after a 43-yard reception on what might have been a touchdown on the first series of the game.
Against the Bills two weeks ago, Brandon Spikes punched out a ball right before halftime, preventing Buiffalo from extending its lead. The week before that It was Spikes again who forced another fumble against the Arizona Cardinals with 1:01 left to play, giving the Patriots a chance to win on a field goal, which Stephen Gostkowski missed.
The timeliness hasn’t been lost on the players.
“We got a lot of turnovers last year as well. You know we kind of lived off the turnovers,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said. “We’re just trying to get these yards down. But these turnovers are coming up at huge times in the game and really getting the momentum shifted.”
Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who recovered a fumble Sunday and has recovered three this season, said part of the Patriots’ plus-10 turnover differential should be attributed to more than luck.
“We practice very hard at that: we practice ball drills, interception drills, fumble drills,” Wilfork said. “We put a lot of time and work into it, into going out and being able to force turnovers, getting our offense the ball back. We know as a defense, if we can continue to give our offense the ball, they’re going to move the ball [and] they’re going to give us some points.
“At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about: Scoring points [and] stopping guys from scoring points.
“I think we have a pretty good defense and I think we have a hell of a good offense,” Wilfork continued. “If we can continue to play together, this football team will be special.”