FOXBOROUGH –** For once, it didn't live up to the hype.
Of the 16 Tom Brady-Peyton Manning encounters we've ever seen, this was a rarity: a lopsided victory. One week after caging the Chicago Bears with a 51-point outburst, the Patriots corralled the Denver Broncos with nearly as many points – 43 – and holding Manning's offense to just 21.
It was about as easy a win as there's ever been in this storied rivalry.
On a day that started out snowy – yes, snowfall just two days after Halloween – it must have been an omen. Manning historically plays poorly in cold weather, while Brady excels in it. Ironically, though, neither team could run the ball effectively all day, and through a stiff wind, both QBs threw the ball all over the field.
So, how did the Patriots make the game get out of hand? It started on defense, with New England's strength: turnovers. A Rob Ninkovich interception, which saw the defensive end drop deep into pass coverage. New England's offense then converted it into seven points with a Brady-to-Julian Edelman touchdown pass.
"Yeah, bad play; bad play. I thought that was a critical play," Manning admitted when asked about the Ninko pick. "Thought that definitely gave them a lot of momentum for whatever reason. We didn't recover as well as we would have liked, so they got a touchdown out of that, which…you just can't put the defense in a bad spot like that. Certainly a play I'd like to have back, really bad decision by me."
Later came the first INT of cornerback Brandon Browner's Patriot career. Very next play, Brady hit wide receiver Brandon LaFell with his fifth touchdown grab of the season.
"Oh, that was big," safety/co-captain Devin McCourty maintained, "to come up and to make a play like that and get us right back in scoring position. Like we've been saying all season: line Tom up, line the offense up and get them back on the field. If we give them a short field, we're guaranteeing points. With our offense and with Steve [Gostkowski, the placekicker], at worst we're going to get three.
"And, I think, defensively, that's how we're playing. We're playing confident that if we get our offense the ball in scoring territory, we're going to get at least three points. And that will help us win every week."
New England's defense also came through on third- and fourth-down plays, limiting Manning's offense to just three conversions total in those categories (including 0-for-4 on fourth-down).
"We just knew what the game plan was and if we just execute it well and communicate well, then we'll be in good shape," a satisfied co-captain Vince Wilfork stated. "And we did that. It wasn't perfect, but at the same time, the majority of the time we did what we wanted to do and we played the game how we wanted to play it and it worked out for us.
"I mean, any time you have a fourth-down stop, it's always huge, no matter who you're playing against. Playing against Peyton Manning, just trying to get something going. And we knew we had – there were plenty of times on third downs that we just figured we were in four-down territory with the way the game was going, with some wind and stuff like that, just knowing the situation. Any time you can go on the field and come up and get the offense the ball back against Peyton Manning or anybody on fourth down, that's a huge stop. It's like a turnover. We did a good job of that tonight and we just executed better. We executed well. We were more consistent in what we did."
"It didn't take Peyton too long to figure out what we were trying to do," observed cornerback Kyle Arrington. "I think it was the third or fourth series when he got it going a little bit. We felt that we just had to hold up and get the ball back to our offense as many times as possible. We had a great bend but don't break mentality. They were moving the ball downfield on a couple drives on us, but we did a great job on a few of those fourth down stops. That's like turning the ball over. If we can get it back to Brady and those guys, that's a win for us."
The Patriots also won the battle on special teams, punctuated by Edelman's 84-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter. Gostkowski also drilled three field goals through the swirling wind.
"We gave [Edelman] some space, we didn't let him get lit up back there by those gunners," special teams captain Matthew Slater told reporters. "The guys did a good job blocking and Julian did what Julian does. I think we put a lot into it. We take a lot of pride in what we do. We have guys that understand their role and are willing to sacrifice for the greater good and I think that goes a long way."
"We're just coming together, playing as a team," tight end Rob Gronkowski said of the now 7-2 Patriots, who own the best record in the AFC as they head into their bye week. "Team chemistry is just coming along pretty well. So, we've got to keep it up."
"I learned that we have a team that prepares hard, that's mentally tough, physically tough, and that continues to try to get better," Edelman remarked. "As long as we keep on playing like that, we're going to be all right. We're at 7-2, which means nothing, really. There's a long way to go. Seven wins doesn't really do anything for you in this league. But I'll tell you right now, we're a team that's hungry and constantly trying to improve and show a little mental toughness.
"Without a doubt. When you go into a bye week [with a win], it makes things a little easier. It'll be nice to get away."
Even nicer for New England, knowing that Edelman and his teammates now own a key playoff seeding tie-breaker over Manning and the Broncos.
- Broncos-Patriots analysis: A complete win for New England
- Breaking down the Patriots victory over Denver
- Brady 11/02: Gronk is a tough matchup for everyone
- Belichick 11/2: Really proud of the way we played
- Game Notes: Patriots have won 72 straight home games when leading at half
- Game Recap: Brady outduels Manning, Patriots romp 43-21