Patriots outgun Broncos, 31-21
Monday, October 08, 2012
The day had a definite throwback feel to it.
To begin with, the temperature was in the low 50s with a slight breeze, grey clouds, and rainy skies. Definitely a raw, fall feel to the day. And the two QBs on the field - were future Hall entrants Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Four Super Bowl rings, numerous records and hundreds of teammates between them...the two gunslingers preparing for their 13th career showdown.
It was strange to see Manning dressed in something other than Indy Colt blue, but he certainly carried himself like the Manning we used to know. The trouble for the Broncos, however, was that Brady also carried himself like the Brady of yesterday...as did the Patriots as they beat Denver 31-21 Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Brady fired the first shot of the game on the Patriots second possession, finding Wes Welker for an eight-yard TD pass, capping a 12-play, 84 yard drive for a 7-0 lead. And even though Manning misfired on Denver's first two possessions (one ending in a fumble), you knew he wouldn't be firing blanks for long. With just under a minute gone into the second quarter, Manning hit TE Joel Dreesen from a yard out, after a Devin McCourty interference penalty in the end zone against Eric Decker.
7-7 in the second quarter...and each gunfighter now had a notch in his belt. Just like old times.
After Manning's drive put the Broncos on the board, Brady and the hurry-up Pats' offense never let the Denver "D" catch its breath. A 14-play, 80 yard drive was capped off by Shane Vereen's one yard score, giving New England the 14-7 lead with 7:57 to play before halftime. And even though it was Vereen's legs that ran it in, it was Brady's arm - along with the hands of Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Lloyd - that led the way downfield. He connected on 13 of his first 15 passes, and needed every one of those completions...as Manning looked like the Peyton of old, just in a different colored jersey.
With just over five minutes left in the half, and starting from his own two yard line following a Denver punt, Brady morphed from a gunslinger with a six-shooter, into a surgeon with a very sharp scalpel. Deftly directing the Patriots from their no-huddle set, Brady found Danny Woodhead for a 25 yard gain on 3rd and 14 to keep the drive alive, and Brandon Bolden added a run of 24 more to put the Pats in scoring position. Denver made a huge stop on Bolden with the clock running down inside the five yard line, ultimately forcing Stephen Gostkowski to kick a 23 yard field goal, and the Patriots led it 17-7 at the half.
To this point, Brady's guns simply carried a few more bullets than did Manning's. And they connected with their targets a little more often.
On New England's second drive of the 3rd quarter, help came from the ground game. Woodhead picked up a huge 1st down to keep the drive alive, gaining 18 yards on a 3rd and 17 play. And Ridley ran around, over and through the Broncos defense (going over 100 yards rushing for the game) to set up a one-yard sneak by Brady to finish off a monster 16-play, 80-yard drive that took more than six minutes off the clock.
If Manning had any bullets left in his holster, he would need to fire them...and soon.
Instead, on the first play after the NE touchdown, his gun backfired. Manning was strip-sacked by Rob Ninkovich with the fumble recovered by Vince Wilfork at the Denver 14. Two plays later, it was Ridley darting in from eight yards out, and the Patriots put seven more up on the scoreboard to make it 31-7, with 4:42 to go in the quarter.
The anticipated shootout at Gillette Stadium was over, except for the time left on the clock. Brady had out-dueled, out-gunned and outlasted his foe in the arena. Or had he?
Manning pitched the Broncos downfield on the ensuing drive, capping off the 90-yard march with a two yard toss to Decker to bring Denver within 31-14 and an entire quarter still to play.
With the Patriots trying to take time off of the clock at this point, they suddenly stopped attacking. Brady coughed up a fumble to set the Broncos up with a short field, and Manning hit Brandon Stokley with a bullet to pull Denver within 31-21, and 6:43 left. Then, with Ridley running hard he fumbled on a second-effort run, giving the Broncos hope - if not a shot.
Manning led his team into the Pats' red zone, causing an extreme surge of anxiety throughout the stadium. Willis McGahee gave the shot right back to the Patriots however, losing the ball to Jermaine Cunningham at the 11 with 3:42 remaining.
The Patriots, and Brady, managed to run the clock out from there, setting the sun on Denver's chances. You might say, they put a final bullet in the Broncos' comeback hopes...just like any good gunslinger should.
Post Game Notes
The Patriots gained a total of 35 first downs against Denver, marking the highest total in franchise history (793 games)...they are also the first team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to have recorded 30 or more first downs in three straight games...the offense has now had more than 200 rushing yards in back-to-back games for the first time since 1978. Against Denver, New England finished the game with a total of 251 rushing yards on 54 carries. Last week at Buffalo, New England had a total of 247 rushing yards. The last time New England had 200-plus rushing yards in consecutive games was when it followed a 213-yard performance on Dec. 3, 1978 at Dallas with a 249-yard effort against Buffalo on Dec. 10, 1978...the Patriots have scored seven rushing touchdowns in the last two weeks, scoring three times on the ground against the Broncos to follow up on a four-score performance on the ground last week in Buffalo. It’s the first time since 1978 that the Patriots have had as many as seven rushing touchdowns in a two-game span...Stevan Ridley had a career-high 151 rushing yards on 28 carries (5.4 avg.) and added a touchdown...the matchup between starting quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning was only the second time in NFL history that two starting quarterbacks with 125+ career regular-season wins each met in a game. The previous matchup featured Dan Marino (147) of the Miami Dolphins versus John Elway (148) of the Denver Broncos on December 21, 1998. Following Sunday's game, Manning has 143 career victories and Brady has 127 career wins...the game also marked the first time in NFL history that two quarterbacks entered a game with more than 300 career touchdown passes. The veteran quarterbacks rank third (Manning, 410) and fifth (Brady, 308) respectively for most touchdown passes in NFL history...with 13 receptions against Denver, Wes Welker had his 15th career game with 10 or more catches and is now tied with Andre Johnson (15) for the most among active NFL players...