In a game that was about legacy and not just making it to the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos were the big winners and outright better team from top to bottom, leaving the New England Patriots and Tom Brady empty handed for yet another season.
The Broncos won 26-16 in a game that really wasn’t that close. Peyton Manning threw the quietest 400 passing yards you’ll ever see, but that was the overall feeling. The Broncos were sailing smoothly in every drive, scoring in all of them except for the opener, while the Patriots and Tom Brady struggled for everything they got.
The offensive lines might have been the easiest difference to spot. Brady was sacked twice, hit a few more times and often hurried, causing him to make bad passes. He completed 24-of-38 for 277 yards and a touchdown, avoiding interceptions, but he overthrew his receivers on six occasions, two of them on definite touchdown scenarios.
Manning? He had all the time in the world. He completed 32-of-43 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns. He felt pressure from the Patriots on only 3-of-43 dropbacks. He was 7-0f-9 for 186 yards when throwing for over 15 yards downfield, and the play action was close to perfection; 8-of-8 for 116 yards and two touchdowns using play action, all of them on first down snaps.
The Patriots didn’t have the running game that made them so daunting at the end of the regular season and in their win over the Colts: They ran for 42 yards on 12 rushes between the tackles, their fewest since week 2 of the season. Over the last three games New England averaged 34.3 carries for 200.3 yards between the tackles. LeGarrette Blount had four rushes for 6 yards between the tackles after averaging 18.3 interior rushes for 130.0 yards per game since Week 16.
The Broncos’ running game? Knowshon Moreno ran for 59 yards, Montee Ball ran for 43; the Broncos got what they needed when they needed it, but they were different from their last meeting against the Patriots, in which they also built a big lead early. Instead of going conservative and sticking to the running game, the Broncos kept mixing it up, keeping Manning focused and in rhythm for the entire game. You don’t usually expect a John Fox team to throw the ball so many times in the second half while holding a lead, but he has learned from his mistakes.
Bill Belichick? Not the perfect game for him. The Patriots didn’t really do well defensively. It had something to do with Aqib Talib, but a defense shouldn’t completely fall apart and stick to coverage that doesn’t work just because one player left the field. Julian Edelman was the only passing target (10 catches, 89 yards, 1 touchdown) the Patriots had to offer Brady, who was probably more than envious of Manning spreading the wealth between Decker, the Thomas duo, Welker and Tamme.
The Broncos are in the Super Bowl for the first time since John Elway was still a quarterback. He retired after winning his second ring. Will it be the same for Manning? Many wouldn’t be surprised, although the Broncos are still far away from winning it all. At least Peyton Manning proved a point against Tom Brady, which probably only matters to certain fans who love this sort of debate. Tom Brady might have more Super Bowl rings, but he’s the inferior quarterback of the two.