DENVER — Football is the ultimate team game. Eleven players on the field, each one having to perform his job for a play to be successful.

Sunday night, however, Stephen Gostkowski tried to absolve his New England Patriots teammates of any fault in their AFC championship game loss to the Denver Broncos.

Gostkowski missed an extra point wide right after the Patriots’ first touchdown in the first quarter. Because of that miss, the Patriots had to try a 2-point conversion after they scored a touchdown with 12 seconds remaining to pull within 20-18. Denver stopped the conversion, as Bradley Roby intercepted a pass that Aqib Talib tipped away from Julian Edelman.

And so the Broncos, who secured home-field advantage for this game because the Patriots lost four of their last six games in the regular season, advanced to Super Bowl 50, to be played Feb. 7.

And the Patriots saw their dream of winning back-to-back Super Bowl championships – something that hasn’t been done since New England did it in 2003 and 2004 – vanish under a swirl of orange-and-blue confetti.

“It’s a nightmare,” said Gostkowski, a phrase he repeated several times in front of his locker.

“You want to help the team win. You don’t want to be the reason you lose. It’s not a good feeling.

“I deserve all the blame that I get and I’ll try to hold my head high. I’m not going to make an excuse. I should have done better. I’m sorry I couldn’t come through.”

Know this about Stephen Gostkowski: He’s the best kicker in the NFL. The missed extra point was his first since Dec. 31, 2006, when he had a kick blocked by the Tennessee Titans.

He had converted 523 consecutive PAT kicks since that block – an NFL record that will likely never be broken.

Yet his despair was tangible as he met the media.

“I can’t even explain how I feel right now,” he said. “It’s just a complete shock and I let a lot of people down. It’s not a good feeling.”

He took the blame squarely. Everything else about the play, he said, was good: the snap, the hold. It was just the kick that failed. “My fault, 100 percent,” he said.

“I’ve made hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of those,” he added. “Sometimes timing is everything. I never would have thought that missing a kick in the first quarter would be the difference in the game. But that’s why you have to be good all the time. That wasn’t the case for me today.”

Know this too about the Patriots. As disappointed as every man in that locker room was, they would not let Gostkowski fall on the sword. He is one of the most respected players on the team for the way he approaches his craft.

“No, it’s not Stephen’s fault,” said Matthew Slater, New England’s special teams captain. “We lost this game as a team and Denver won the game. I would not point the finger at Stephen. As well as he’s played for us this year, we definitely wouldn’t be here without him.

“I’m sure (we) will have a conversation. Stephen cares so much for the success of the team I know he’s taking it hard. But this is not on Stephen.”

Tom Brady said much the same in his postgame press conference.

“He’s the best,” said Brady. “Everyone misses them at some point. There was plenty of football left. We knew what the situation was.”

True, there were more than three quarters remaining. But for someone who seeks the perfect swing of his leg on every kick, Gostkowski will replay that miss over and over and over.

“I work hard to be good and I came up short,” he said. “I let a lot of people down, a lot of guys on the team, a lot of fans. All I can do now is stand up here and take it all on me. I feel like I lost the game for the team.

“I should have been out there kicking that tying extra point and helping us go into overtime. It’s a sickening feeling. I can’t it put into words.”

While this game came down to one final play, it wasn’t just one play that defined it. Peyton Manning twice found tight end Owen Daniels wide open for touchdowns.

The Patriots’ offensive line couldn’t keep Denver’s pass rushers off Tom Brady. He was sacked four times, knocked down another 20.

“There were plenty of opportunities for us to overcome (the miss),” said wide receiver Julian Edelman. “It’s never just one play. Steve is a stud. We love him to death. No chance it is on him. No way.”

Maybe later, Gostkowski will realize that. But Sunday night, in the bowels of a slow-emptying stadium, he felt all alone.

“I put them in a bad spot by missing that first kick,” he said of his teammates. “I was ready to go, hopefully waiting to get another shot, and I didn’t get it, and now it’s going to be a long few weeks.”