New England and Denver were riddled with injuries. But the Patriots had a healthy quarterback and shrewd coaching strategy.
The Patriots 30-26 win over the Broncos on Monday night in Denver was their fifth straight victory.
It came after coach Bill Belichick's smart move, calling for a deliberate safety with his team trailing 24-23 with 2:49 left with his team backed up on fourth down at its own 1.
The safety made Denver's lead 26-23, but it gave New England punting room and Ken Walter's free kick put the Broncos back to their own 15.
They failed to make a first down, and Brady then drove the Patriots 58 yards for the winning score, hitting Kevin Faulk for 16 yards on the play before the TD. On the touchdown, Givens beat Deltha O'Neal, whose 57-yard touchdown return late in the third quarter gave the Broncos a lead they didn't surrender until the final minute.
Both teams entered the game with all sorts of injuries. Denver (5-4) was without two starting linebackers, and its starting left tackle as well as Ed McCaffrey, the third wide receiver.
Danny Kanell, Denver's third-string quarterback, was making his second straight start because of injuries to Jake Plummer and Steve Beuerlein.
And kicker Jason Elam pulled a groin muscle during the game, the Broncos' third straight loss.
The Patriots (7-2) had started 40 different players in their first seven games and added defensive tackle Richard Seymour, having a Pro Bowl season, to their injury list just before the game with a leg injury.
New England was leading 20-17 and punted from its own 30 with 3:40 left in the third quarter. The punt pinned the Broncos back to their own 23, but snapper Lonie Paxton was called for holding.
On the re-punt, O'Neal took the ball on his own 43 and darted left through Patriots' defenders, got some help from an official who got in the way of Walter, and went all the way to the end zone.
It was the first punt return for a score against New England in 167 games since Sept. 5, 1993.
The Patriots cut it to 24-23 on Adam Vinatieri's 28-yard field goal with 11:09 left.
In the final three minutes, New England was pinned at its 1 after Brady threw three incomplete passes. Paxton deliberately snapped the ball over Walter's head, hitting the goal post.
The Patriots' ploy of trading two points for field position worked perfectly.
Brady completed 20 of 35 passes for 350 yards.
Clinton Portis ran for 111 yards on 26 carries for Denver.
Denver led 17-13 after a first half in which Kanell was careful and error-free. But New England wasn't, turning over the ball on its first two possessions.
The first mistake was a fumbled snap by Brady recovered by Kenoy Kennedy on the Patriots' 28. Four plays later, Portis raced 15 yards through a huge hole up the middle to make it 7-0.
Kennedy also had an interception on the next series, but Elam missed a 43-yard field goal attempt, pulling his right groin in the process. He made a 44-yarder in the second quarter but left the game after that.
Brady's 65-yard bomb to Deion Branch tied it at 7. Elam and Vinatieri later exchanged field goals, Vinatieri's coming from 40 yards out.
Kanell then engineered a 72-yard, 14-play that consumed half the second quarter and was capped by his 1-yard TD pass to Mike Anderson. But Bethel Johnson returned the kickoff 63 yards, setting up a 46-yarder by Vinatieri to end the half.