All we hear about nowadays when it comes to football is passing records and how great Peyton Manning is. Truth is, it is exhausting and boring to listen to the "experts" talk about Manning as the greatest thing that ever played sports. He's a great player, no question, but every once in awhile we are reminded that Manning isn't Superman. Typically that reminder occurs when he's facing Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. On Sunday, Brady reminded us for the 11th time in 16 attempts.
The game wasn't ugly right away, it slowly built into the rout it became. The Broncos offense quickly found out that they weren't going to have an easy day like they did in January. Peyton Manning had the pleasure of handing the ball to Knowshow Moreno last year, a player New England has trouble containing. Problem is, Moreno is a Dolphin now and Denver has to rely on speed back Ronnie Hillman. Once again, the Patriots contained the speed back right from the start and the Broncos went three-and-out.
New England followed Denver with a three-and-out of their own, as did Denver on their second drive. After that, the Patriots got rolling. The Patriots drove and with an assist from a Denver special teams penalty, they were able to get Stephen Gostkowski in position to nail a 49-yard field goal to give New England a 3-0 lead.
On their third drive of the game, the Bronco offense woke up. Peyton Manning made the decision to go after Darrelle Revis, and on this drive, it worked. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders each had long catches that quickly moved them down the field. On third and goal, Brandon Browner was called for pass interference in the end zone (called for having his back arm around D.Thomas) and the ball was moved to the one. Ronnie Hillman plunged in for the touchdown to give the Broncos a 7-3 lead.
Brady and the Patriots offense drove down the field again, but once again, they stalled and had to settle for a second field goal to make the score Broncos 7, Patriots 6. Next it was time for the defense to make a play; Manning hit Welker for 14, but on the next play the Patriots did an excellent job of disguising coverage and Rob Ninkovich was able to make an interception that would set the tone for the afternoon.
Five plays after the Ninkovich pick, the offense cashed in from five yards out on a Brady-to-Edelman touchdown pass to put the Patriots up by six. The defense shut the Broncos down again on their following drive and forced a punt. That is when the fun began.
Julian Edelman caught the punt, made two moves, received four crucial blocks, cut left and he was gone. The Patriots took a 20-7 lead and got the big special team play they've been looking for all year.
Manning and the Bronco offense knew they had to put together a drive to answer, and they did just that. Manning hit Sanders three times and Ronnie Hillman ran twice to advance the ball to the New England 23. The Patriots defense stepped up again and forced Brandon McManus field goal attempt which deflected off the right upright, costing the Broncos three crucial points.
Brady and the offense next drive wasn't a drive at all; a rare three and out and the Broncos offense was back on the field to cut into New England' 17-point lead. Once again, Manning led them down the field, but once they got within the 35 yard line, the defense tightened up. Denver attempted to go for it on 4th and six from the New England 34, but new acquisition Akeem Ayers picked his second sack in as many games and forced the Bronco offense back to the sideline.
The Patriots offense took over at their own 43 and went to work. Aqib Talib gave the Patriots a free first down with a holding call and then Brady got hot. Nine yards to LaFell, 15 yards tacked in due to a late hut by Von Miller, Edelman for 26, Vereen again for 18, and the capper, a five yard touchdown pass to Shane Vereen (after Edelman had a TD-catch reversed) to make the score Patriots 27, Broncos 7. The half wasn't over yet but the rout was on.
The Patriots hoped to come out and score to open the third, which would have essentially put the game, but the Denver defense had other plans. After an initial first down to LaFell, New England stalled and had to give the ball back to Manning. The Bronco offense proceeded to walk down the field without much resistance, and six plays later, Julius Thomas hauled in a touchdown pass from 18 yards out. Thomas had a subtle push off that shouldn't be called because it's to quick to catch. That made the score New England 27, Denver 14. The Patriots fans started to get a little nervous.
New England took over at their own 20. Once again, Brady worked the ball down the field using Gronkowski, Vereen, LaFell, and this time Danny Amendola, who made a huge catch on 3rd and eight that kept the drive alive. The Broncos defense once again stepped up and didn't allow the Patriots into the end zone, but Stephen Gostkowski continued his excellent season and nailed a 45 yard field goal into the wind to make the score 30-14, Patriots.
After Denver went down the field on their previous drive, most thought they would be able to do it again. On the first play of the series, Manning found Wes Welker open, but Welker couldn't handle to pass, got drilled by McCourty, and the ball ended up in the hands of Brandon Browner, who returned the pick for 30 yards and set the Patriots offense up at the Denver ten yard line. On the first play, Brady hit LaFell for a beautiful ten yard touchdown and the Patriots extended their lead to 23.
Down by 23, Manning and the Broncos knew they had to score or the game was over. They did just that. Manning hit Sanders for 13, Hillman for 13, Sanders again for 25 more, and after back-to-back penalties on Browner and Chung, he found Ronnie Hillman in the flat for a 15 yard touchdown to make the score Patriots 37, Broncos 21.
One thing about the Broncos is this- they score in bunches and no lead is safe. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady know this better than anyone, and that is why they needed to stay aggressive. 14 plays and 80 yards later, Rob Gronkowski (who made the catch of the year on the drive) caught a one-yard touchdown to make the score 43-21, Patriots. They went for two to make it a four score game but Denver came up with the stop.
The Denver offense came out and continued to gain yards like they had all game, but once again, the Patriots defense stepped up. Manning drove them down to the Patriots eight yard line and got stuffed on four straight downs. New England took over at their own nine with 11:20 to go. Most expected the Patriots to establish the run, considering they could take time off and limit the amount of possessions the Broncos had for the remainder of the game. Josh McDaniels had other plans, like throwing the ball three straight times, not taking any time off the clock and handing the ball back to Manning and the offense with 10:23 to go. That is awful game management and needs to be addressed going forward. It is one thing to stay aggressive in the 3rd quarter, but with a 22 point lead in the fourth, it's clock management time.
Thankfully, Matt Patricia and his defense made up for Josh McDaniels awful time management and stuffed the Broncos, forcing yet another turnover on downs. The lesson was learned on the next offensive series for the Patriots; they ran the ball and took almost three minutes off the clock. After Denver and New England traded possession, the Broncos sent Peyton Manning onto the field to hand off three times and end the game.
The Patriots move to 7-2 and take over the top spot in the AFC, while the Broncos record drops to 6-2 and second overall in the AFC. New England has a bye in Week Ten and will travel to Indianapolis to take on the AFC South-leading Colts in Week 11.