New England Patriots fall below .500 this late in NFL season for first time since 2002

 espn.com  10/18/2020 22:21:19 
4:02 PM ET

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' offense sputtered in a surprising 18-12 loss to the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, putting the franchise in an unfamiliar spot.

The Patriots (2-3) haven't been under .500 through the fifth game or later since they were 3-4 in 2002. That was the last season the Patriots did not win 10-plus games.

The Buffalo Bills, who host the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday, lead the AFC East with a 4-1 record.

The Patriots had hardly practiced over the past two weeks, as their facility was shut down multiple times because of COVID-19. The lone full-pads practice had been Thursday, which was the first day quarterback Cam Newton returned after testing positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 2.

"We need more time together, we need to practice together, we need to execute and do everything better -- no question about that," coach Bill Belichick said.

Newton finished 17-of-25 for 157 yards, with two interceptions on tipped passes. He added 10 rushes for 76 yards and one touchdown.

On his positive test for COVID-19, Newton said, "I'm just trying to move forward. Respectfully that was two weeks ago. Still bitter over the game and just trying to focus on ways to get better. Obviously everybody knows what the situation was, and it is what it is.

"Respectfully, for the sake of where we are right now, I don't think it's beneficial for me to speak on that. Obviously, the performance today, the time off showed. But like I said, I have to be better, and I will be better."

Sunday's Broncos-Patriots game had originally been scheduled for Week 5, but was postponed after Patriots starting defensive tackle Byron Cowart had tested positive for COVID-19 two days before kickoff.

The Patriots then closed their facility for three days before opening up for conditioning work last Wednesday. They then held their lone practice Thursday before abruptly canceling their Friday practice after reserve offensive lineman James Ferentz tested positive for COVID-19.

"There are no excuses," said linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley, one of the team's captains. "We all knew going into this game that there would be some adversity."

The Patriots currently have five players on the reserve COVID-19 list: Cowart, Ferentz, running back Sony Michel, starting right guard Shaq Mason and reserve defensive end Derek Rivers.

During Sunday's loss to the Broncos, they lost starting right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor (ankle) and reserve defensive tackle Adam Butler (elbow) to injuries in the first half.

After falling behind 18-3, they made a charge in the fourth quarter, but it was too late.

The game marked the first time the Patriots didn't score a first-half touchdown at home since Week 4 of the 2016 season -- a 16-0 loss to Buffalo in a game Jacoby Brissett started with Tom Brady serving a four-game NFL suspension.

Sunday's loss also marked the first time that a Belichick-coached Patriots team didn't win when not allowing a touchdown. Including the playoffs, they had been 39-0 in those games.

"We didn't do anything well enough to win," Belichick said. "So we have a lot of work to do, and just need to get back to work and improve and perform better than this. That's really all there is to it."

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