There was a lot more to just the Tom Brady and Peyton Manning rivalry in this game, but the end result of the New England Patriots coming away with a 34-31 win in overtime, coming back from a 24 point deficit was mostly due to the difference between the two quarterbacks in the second half.
And that what this mega game was – a story of two halves. The Broncos did everything right until the third quarter began. They forced fumbles on a sloppy Patriots team (3 fumbles) and got the most out of Knowshon Moreno, running for 224 yards on 37 carries, scoring a touchdown and plowing through the weakened Patriots front seven.
The Patriots fumbled the ball on their first three possessions. After a perfect run at home, the boos from the fans seemed to be signalling that this was clearly too much for them to handle. When the teams walked off into the locker rooms at half time, the Broncos were leading by 24 points. Peyton Manning wasn’t doing too great (73 yards through the first three and a half quarters) and John Fox was loving the conditions, “forcing” him to be conservative. And then everything changed. What?
We calmed down. We played each play one play at time. We didn’t turn the ball over in the second half.
It came down to one play that decided the game. The New England Patriots punted. Wes Welker warned everyone from the bouncing ball, but it hit Tony Carter and the Patriots recovered, getting the chance to kick a 31-yard field goal and win the game with 01:56 left in overtime. A fluke play, but the Patriots, underdogs in a home game for the first time since 2005, will take it.
Tom Brady provided the big turnaround. He threw for only 81 yards in the first half, but ended the game with 344 yards and 3 touchdown passes. He completed 81% of his passes in the second half, and he was 10-for-10 with three touchdowns on passes traveling 10 or fewer yards downfield in the second half/overtime, all coming when targeting Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. He was able to target his two favorite receivers a combined four times in the first half. Edelman finished the game with 9 receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns, Gronkowski caught 7 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.
It was the biggest collapse in Broncos history – tied for when they blew a 24-point lead in a 30-27 loss to the Raiders in 1988. For the Patriots, it was their biggest comeback ever, with their previous best being a 23-point comeback against the Seattle Seahawks in 1984.
The future? The Broncos still have the best record in the AFC, enjoying the head-to-head edge with the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s hard to say they showed they’re inferior to the Patriots, especially with their next potential game happening in Colorado. But it did show that John Fox once again can be a victim of his own old-fashioned play calling tendencies, leaving Peyton Manning out to dry after showing his head coach more than once he can overcome mistakes.
The Patriots? Luck continues to be on their side, as Tom Brady carries on with a very hard to read season. No run defense and a predictable passing game. Still, at home, they’re impossible to beat. Luckily, the remaining five games they have to play don’t offer much of a challenge, even if three of them are on the road.