On Saturday, these defenders left football's Mr. Perfect, Tom Brady, looking average and football's great philosopher, Bill Belichick, looking helpless. A dynasty died at Invesco Stadium, vanquished by a marauding, hungry gang.
With 3:08 left in the game, Brady launched a long, floating pass from his end zone, and the Broncos' John Lynch ran under the ball like a center fielder. As Lynch caught the ball, the mighty New England Patriots were finished.
Brady pulled himself from the ground and began a brief conversation with Broncos linebacker Al Wilson, who had decked him. Then Brady turned for a painful trot to the Patriots sideline, where Belichick stared silently at the turf.
Lynch was hugging Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. Belichick just kept staring at the ground. Wilson hopped up and down with joy. Belichick kept gazing straight down.
Belichick is a superlative football coach, but all his skills will now be wasted. He'll be a spectator to the rest of this season.
"There's going to be a new champ wearing the crown this season," said Broncos linebacker Ian Gold.
As the Broncos prepare for a probable AFC championship matchup against the Indianapolis Colts, the defense gives this team a chance for another trip to the Super Bowl.
Sure, it remains an improbable ride, but after a grinding 27-13 victory over the Patriots, it's not ridiculous for the Broncos to envision a journey to Detroit for the annual Ultimate Game.
Broncos fans have their own visions. After Lynch's interception, Broncos fans began a chant. "Let's Go Steelers," revealing their hope Pittsburgh could find a way to upset the Colts yesterday in Indy.
If the Steelers won, they will travel to Denver for the AFC title game. Keep dreaming, Broncos faithful.
To many eyes, the Broncos ranked as the underdogs on Saturday. That's strange, in a way, because the Broncos boasted an 8-0 home record, and the Patriots spent much of the season wandering.
Yet the doubts had a foundation. The Patriots won consecutive Super Bowls and three of the last four while Brady and Belichick vaulted to the status of folk heroes. These Patriots have powered along as a mighty, virtually flawless football machine.
The machine broke down on a warm, gorgeous Colorado night. The machine broke down because it collided with a nasty bunch of Broncos defenders.
The game turned on a moment of spectacular football theater. With 1:03 left in the third quarter, Champ Bailey transformed the game with 100-yard sprint from the Patriots' end zone to the 1-yard line.
Bailey outfought Troy Brown for the ball just inside the end zone and then turned his eyes to the other end zone. As he crossed the 5-yard line, near the end of a long journey, he relaxed a little.
A little too much, as it turned out. The Patriots' Benjamin Watson never gave up and caught Bailey at the 1-yard line. Bailey fumbled as he tumbled to the ground.
Watson's hustle was impressive, but didn't matter. On the next play, Mike Anderson finished Bailey's mission, skipping into the end zone untouched. If Branch had outbattled Bailey for the ball, the Patriots would have grabbed a 13-10 lead. Instead, Denver led 17-6, and was on its way to the AFC title game.
"That was a 14-point swing," said rookie cornerback Domonique Foxworth. "That's a big swing."
As Foxworth talked, Bailey arrived at his locker.
"He's amazing," Foxworth said, glancing over at Bailey. "I want to be like him when I grow up."