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Patriots fall as new PAT rule helps determine AFC champion

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Gostkowski's missed PAT proves to be significant (1:58)

Merril Hoge breaks down how Stephen Gostkowski's missed PAT in the first quarter affected the rest of the AFC Championship between the Patriots and Broncos. (1:58)

Of course. Naturally. Who would have thought any different? After making a modest impact in its first season, the NFL's new PAT rule made a huge difference in a game that decided who would represent the AFC in Super Bowl 50.

The Denver Broncos beat the New England Patriots by two points in the AFC Championship Game. The final score was 20-18.

How did it get there? There were multiple unrelated reasons, of course, as there are in any football game. But let's go back to the first quarter, when Patriots place-kicker Stephen Gostkowski was wide right on an extra point, leaving his team trailing 7-6 at the time. Gostkowski followed with field goals in the second and third quarters, and the Patriots trailed 20-12 late in the fourth quarter.

Tom Brady threw a touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski to pull the Patriots to within two at 20-18 with 12 seconds remaining. Had Gostkowski made that first-quarter extra point, of course, the score would have been 20-19. An extra point after the Gronkowski touchdown would have tied the game and almost certainly sent it to overtime.

The Patriots were one of five teams this season to be perfect from the new 33-yard extra-point distance, a rule the NFL changed to eliminate the automatic nature of the previous PAT distance. The league-wide percentage dropped from 99.3 percent to 94.2 percent -- the league's lowest PAT conversion rate since 1982.

Gostkowski had been the most reliable extra-point kicker of this generation, having converted 523 consecutive PAT attempts -- including all 52 in the 2015 regular season under the new distance. The only other PAT miss in his career, which began in 2006, was a block in his rookie season.