DENVER — John Elway put the arm on the New England Patriots and then he put his foot down.
Elway threw a pair of second-half touchdown passes and surprised the Patriots with a punt to the five-yard line Sunday, helping the Denver Broncos into the AFC West lead with a 31-20 victory.
"It put them in a hole and gave our defense the opportunity to stop them deep," Broncos' Coach Dan Reeves said of Elway's 31-yard punt out of the shotgun formation on fourth down. "John shows me something new every week."
Two plays after the punt, Denver cornerback Mark Haynes intercepted Tom Ramsey's pass and returned it 14 yards for an insurance touchdown.
Haynes' interception came two plays after Ramsey connected on a long pass to Irving Fryar, who was ruled to have caught the ball out of bounds even though the replay indicated the pass should have been ruled a completion.
Denver (8-3-1), which has won four straight games and has the best record in the AFC, rallied from a 17-3 halftime deficit by forcing New England (5-7) into five of its six turnovers.
"The defense had to pick up the slack," Reeves said. "We were fortunate to get two turnovers in the third quarter. The only way we could have turned it around in the second half was with turnovers. I can't say enough about our defense."
The Broncos capitalized on two turnovers deep in Patriot territory to score third-quarter touchdowns on Tony Boddie's one-yard run and Elway's seven-yard pass to Rick Massie and pull even, 17-17.
After New England went back ahead on Tony Franklin's 27-yard field goal, Elway took the Broncos 74 yards in 6 plays, hitting Mark Jackson on a 2-yard touchdown pass early in the final quarter. Elway set up the score with a 48-yard pass play to Ricky Nattiel.
"John made a lot of great plays," Reeves said. "The one to Ricky was a great one. He threw it off his left side."
New England built its early lead on Reggie Dupard's 10-yard scoring run, Ramsey's 4-yard touchdown pass to Tony Collins and a field goal by Franklin.
Sammy Winder's second fumble of the opening quarter set up Dupard's touchdown, and Rod McSwain's interception of Elway's pass led to the field goal.
"We played very well in the first half, but then everything came apart in the third quarter," Patriots' Coach Raymond Berry said. "I was not concerned so much with John Elway as I was with our generosity. Our donations really took us out of the game."
Fryar started the giveaway with a fumble on the first play of the second half, leading to Denver's first touchdown.
Ramsey tried to rally the Patriots, but threw three of his four interceptions in the final six minutes.