In Sunday afternoon's most anticipated NFL Week 5 matchup, Broncos QB Peyton Manning out-performed Patriots QB Tom Brady in the stat column. However, it was Brady who emerged victorious, helping the Patriots move to 3-2 on the season. The 31-21 final score showcased why the Patriots are still considered among the NFL's elite, and why the Broncos, although much improved, remain on the outside looking in.
All afternoon long, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense made a point of utilizing their very effective no-huddle attack, oftentimes seeming like more of a hurry-up drill. This, in combination with what has become an extremely productive running game, played a big factor in keeping Denver's defense off balance.
While his final stat line was not quite what we have come to consider "Brady-esque" (23-of-31, 233 yards, one TD passing, one TD rushing), his control of the game and resultant domination of the time of possession was classic No. 12.
Brady and the rest of the Patriots offense seem to be getting progressively more comfortable in Josh McDaniels' new system. Wes Welker, despite a slow start both production wise and in regards to playing time, has started to pick up the slack in the absence of Aaron Hernandez and Julian Edelman.
The Patriots would be wise to leave him right where he is. His 13 catches on 15 targets for 104 yards and one TD against the Broncos is quite indicative of just how comfortable Tom Brady is in getting the ball in Welker's hands.
One of the more surprising keys to the Patriots' success so far this year has been the running game. Against the Broncos, the Patriots amassed a total of 251 yards on the ground—the majority of which came from Stevan Ridley, who contributed 151 yards and one TD (his third 100-pus yard rushing effort on the season).
This is a team that has long maintained a strong offensive line, but they have rarely featured the running game as much as we have seen so far in 2012. Through five games, they have now totaled 245 rushing attempts, amounting to well over 50 percent of their 16-game total of 438 attempts in 2011.
A rushing attack this successful, in combination with the plethora of weapons that the Patriots possess in the passing game, certainly does not bode well for the rest of the AFC moving forward.
Peyton Manning, although on the losing end for the third time this season, seems to be getting more and more comfortable as the weeks go on. He finished this particular game having completed 31-of-44 passes for 345 yards and three TDs.
Aside from Manning, the Broncos continue to get stellar play out of second-year LB Von Miller. This game was no different, and likely was his best of the year to date. Miller tallied eight total tackles with two sacks and two forced fumbles. Since the day he first put on a Broncos uniform, he has been as consistent as they could have hoped from the third overall pick of 2011. Unfortunately, as the Broncos know, he can't do it all himself.
Their struggles against the run continued in a big way against the Patriots. Teams will likely continue their efforts in exploiting such struggles, as doing so would help nullify Denver's lethal pass rush.
Moving forward, the Broncos will need improvements in both their own running game and defending the run. Performances like these from your quarterback alone are enough to win against many opponents, but a more complete team effort is required against those who will populate the NFL's playoff scene.
The Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning matchup is always fun to watch, and this game did not disappoint. Despite offensive firepower on both sides of the field, a difference was evident in the complete effort that the Patriots were able to put forth. As Peyton Manning and his new Denver team continue to come together over the course of the season, that apparent gap could close in a hurry, making this matchup an interesting one to revisit come playoff time.