For thirty minutes of play, Manning/Brady 14 did not appear to have much of a chance of living up to billing. Of course, it was a matchup between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and Sunday night’s game did not disappoint.
But bouncing footballs were the stars of the show, rather than the future HOF quarterbacks.
The Broncos (9-2) stormed out to a 24-0 lead, allowed the Patriots (8-3) to score 31 straight points, and then forced overtime with a fourth-quarter touchdown drive, before ultimately succumbing in a 34-31 (Gamebook) classic.
The outcome hinged upon a poor decision by Wes Welker that led to a New England punt richocheting off Tony Carter, setting up the winning 31-yard kick by Stephen Gostkowski.
After Denver opened with a four-and-out, New England motored into Broncos territory, only to have Stevan Ridley cough up his third fumble in as many games.
Jarred loose by Wesley Woodyard, the ball took a fortuitous bounce to Von Miller, who ran it back 60 yards to give the Broncos an early 7-0 lead.
Just two snaps later, Von created another massive turnover, this time a pwning of Nate Solder and strip sack of Tom Brady.
Terrance Knighton recovered the ball and rumbled 13 yards to the New England 10.
Knowshon Moreno took it from there, running for eight and then two yards to put Denver up by two touchdowns.
New England’s third fumble would come just three snaps later, as Duke Ihenacho decimated LeGarrette Blount, and after a review, Danny Trevathan was found to have been touched down by Blount at the New England 44.
Moreno and Montee Ball ran the ball as far as the five-yard line, but a one-yard loss by Ball on first down and second-down sack of Peyton Manning forced the Broncos to settle for a 27-yarder from Matt Prater.
Although it was a small victory for the Patriots defense, the Broncos had jumped out to a 17-0 lead, just 12 minutes into the game.
From there, the teams exchanged punts, and Julian Edelman did his best impression of Trindon Holliday at his worst, muffing and then fumbling the same return.
Randomness was no longer on Denver’s side, though, and New England recovered at their own 21. During the ensuing possession, Brady was able to recover his own fumble (forced by Shaun Phillips) and complete a pass on the same play.
But the turn of luck did not yet pay off for New England, as they eventually turned the ball over on downs.
Denver then put together its first real scoring drive, marching 70 yards in 11 plays, the last a 10-yard throw from Manning to Jacob Tamme to expand the lead to 24-0.
After an iffy-at-best roughness call on Sly Williams, Miller helped wreck New England’s next drive with a six-yard sack of Brady.
The teams exchanged punts to close out the half, with Holliday muffing a kick he probably should never have been sent to return (not in that wind).
Although the turnover itself would prove meaningless, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie injured his shoulder while trying to intercept Brady’s half-ending pass, and would not return.
DRC’s absence was felt on the opening drive of the third quarter, as Brady completed seven straight passes on an eight play, 80-yard drive capped with a five-yard score by Edelman.
The next bounce also went New England’s way, set up by Denver’s own fumble-prone running back. Montee Ball coughed up his third huge fumble of the year, with the Pats recovering at the Broncos 32-yard line.
Brandon Bolden punched the ball in on a one-yard score six plays later, and the Patriots had climbed to within 24-14.
The next fumble was also Denver’s, as Manning knocked the ball out of his own hand on a third down, but was fortunate enough to recover.
All Peyton’s recovery accomplished was to delay New England’s next touchdown, which came six plays later on a six-yard throw from Brady to Rob Gronkowski.
It was a 21-point quarter for the Patriots, who started the fourth with a Logan Ryan interception of Manning at the 30-yard line.
Seconds later, Brady threw his third touchdown of the half - a 14-yard catch-and-run by Edelman, giving the Patriots a stunning 28-24 lead.
Edelman’s next touch, a 20-yard punt return, set New England up in Denver territory at the 47-yard line.
The Pats offense finally ran out of steam on the drive, but not before they reached the 13-yard line, and Stephen Gostkowski’s 31-yard kick gave New England a touchdown’s edge at 31-24.
Manning & Co. finally got it going from there, driving 80 yards in 11 plays, knotting the score at 31 with an 11-yard fade to Demaryius Thomas.
New England won the overtime coin toss, but Bill Belichick made the puzzling choice of giving Peyton Manning the ball right back.
Obviously, the decision was not a costly one.
The game's final bounce went the Patriots' way, as Welker - returning punts after Holliday muffed a fourth-quarter kick return - waited too long to call off his teammates. Ryan Allen's punt bounced off of Carter, and New England had its biggest comeback in franchise history.
While Denver remains in control of the AFCW due to Kansas City having lost two games within the division, they blew a chance to strengthen their hold on the AFC's best record and, potentially, home field advantage.
- Manning threw two touchdown passes but completed only 52.8% of his passes for 150 yards and a 70.4 QB rating; his prior lows this season had been 59.2% (at Indy), 295 yards (versus Jacksonville), and 92.9, respectively (also against the Jags)
- Brady piled up 344 yards and three touchdowns, with Edelman gaining 110 yards and the two touchdowns on his nine catches
- Knowshon Moreno totaled 230 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown
- Wesley Woodyard totaled 15 tackles and a forced fumble, while Danny Trevathan had 12 tackles and a recovery
- Von Miller finished with eight tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, three QB hits, a forced fumble, another recovered, and the 60-yard touchdown
- Videos: Highlights from NFLN and BTV, and of Knowshon Moreno and Peyton Manning; Jack Del Rio, Peyton Manning, and several others speak afterward
- Knowshon Moreno left the locker room on crutches and in a walking boot on his injured right ankle
- Omar Bolden suffered a concussion; Kevin Vickerson injured his hip; like DRC, neither player returned from his injury
- Mike Klis, Gregg Rosenthal, Jarrett Bell, Don Banks, and Dan Wetzel recap the game