Going into Sunday night’s football game between the Patriots and Broncos, many were disappointed that we weren’t going to see the 17th meeting between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. After the game, many New Englanders were disappointed that they wouldn’t get a free coffee today, unlike every other Patriots game this season.

Most Dunkin’ Donuts in New England have been giving away a free coffee (through an app) after every Patriots win. That meant 10 free cups of joe for Patriots fans already perked up by the dream of an undefeated season.

Those dreams came crashing to a halt in the Rocky Mountain snow, smashed into oblivion by a late-game flurry of Broncos offense.

That offense was run by a 6-foot-8 quarterback named Brock Osweiler, matching up against Brady and the Patriots for the first time in his career while Manning sat out because of a foot injury.

Other than yelling the ubiquitous “Omaha” at the line of scrimmage, Osweiler didn’t look anything like the Manning of late. Over center (instead of standing back in the pistol formation preferred by Manning), Osweiler and the Broncos established the run against a stout Patriots defensive line. Those repeated body blows eventually did in the Patriots when C.J. Anderson took a handoff in overtime and didn’t stop until he had run 48 yards for the winning score.

Suddenly, the Broncos look like a formidable foe in the AFC. They’ve come back to life in large part because Manning has gone to the sideline. Osweiler is the future, and the future is now in Denver.

When you have your own franchise quarterback – who’s in the midst of one of his best seasons ever – it’s hard to imagine having to replace a legend. Brady has almost single-handedly gotten the Patriots this far. He has lost several key receivers to injury, a trend that continued in Sunday’s game when tight end Rob Gronkowski was carted off because of a knee injury.

The Patriots have managed to keep on rolling despite injuries to Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis, to name a few. With Bill Belichick calling the shots and Brady calling the signals, they have found a way to win.

With a 21-7 lead in the fourth quarter Sunday night, it seemed like they would manage to squeak out a victory once again.

Instead, they are 10-1, and wondering how they will continue to fill the sizable holes created by injuries. It’s a pretty easy schedule from here on in, but nothing is easy when you are battered and bruised. The Patriots are still the favorite to represent the conference in the Super Bowl, but the rest of the pack is catching up. Home-field advantage, something Patriots fans took for granted a week ago, is no longer a sure thing with Denver and Cincinnati lurking at 9-2.

Time is the one adversary no athlete can defeat. Eventually it catches up to all of us. That’s a harsh reality for Manning, despite the fact that his team is celebrating its biggest win of the season. It’s an even harsher reality here in New England, where the Patriots are coming off their first loss and looking at another hole to fill, at least temporarily.

And where the fans spent Monday grumbling in the cups of coffee they had to pay for in order to stay awake after a long, frustrating night.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.