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The last game before their bye week of the 2003 season, the New England Patriots took on the Denver Broncos, a foe they had long struggled against; they had won ten of their first eighteen match-ups against the Broncos in the 1960s, then split four 1970s meetings before losing eleven straight against John Elway's Bronco teams; the Patriots finally won again after Elway's retirement, winning two straight before dropping two straight entering this 2003 match-up. The Broncos were surging toward the 2003 playoffs under the stewardship of coach Mike Shanahan, having recovered from a 6-10 1999 season, the first following Elway's retirement. Former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer was the Broncos' new QB, but Plummer and backup Steve Buerlein were out with injuries, leaving journeyman Danny Kanell to control the football on Denver's possessions. The heart of the Broncos, though, was their defense and their running game, and they pounced to an early 7-0 lead before Tom Brady nailed a 66-yard touchdown pass to wide-out Deion Branch late in the first quarter. The Broncos scored twice more before a late kick return by Bethel Johnson set up an Adam Vinitiari field goal that left the halftime score 17-13 in favor of Denver. Late in the fourth the Patriots trailed 24-23 but were backed up at their one-yard line, and it was here that Patriots coach Bill Belichick called for taking a deliberate safety, putting the score 26-23 but allowing the Patriots to kick the ball from their 20 yard line. An unexpected bounce off a poor punt by Ken Walter put the Broncos deep in their territory, and a three-and-out Broncos possession gave the Patriots one last chance to pull an upset in Invesco Field.