The Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady matchup lived up to the hype, but the Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots matchup did not. The Broncos had the tough task of going on the road to try and beat one of the NFL’s best teams and couldn’t keep up in a 31-21 loss.
Denver’s defense couldn’t keep up with the tempo of New England’s no-huddle offense and a couple of key fumbles derailed a late comeback attempt. Manning had another good passing performance, but 345 yards and three touchdowns were not enough to overcome Denver’s problems on defense.
Manning found a favorite target in Demaryius Thomas, who caught nine passes for 188 yards. Thomas fumbled at the end of a 43-yard catch-and-run, but it didn’t result in any points for the Patriots. It was the Broncos' other two fumbles that proved costly.
What is most to blame for the loss to New England?
Manning’s fumble in the third quarter resulted in a touchdown a few plays later for the Patriots, who extended their lead to 31-7. The Broncos climbed back into the game, and Von Miller forced a fumble late in the game to give the Broncos a chance, but Willis McGahee fumbled with 3:42 left on the clock to seal the game.
The turnovers were costly because Denver’s defense was nearly incapable of stopping Brady when he used the no-huddle offense. The Patriots held the ball for more than 35 minutes and had scoring drives of 12, 14, 16 and 16 plays.
The Patriots were able to sustain drives by using the no-huddle offense to exploit favorable matchups on the field. Wes Welker had 13 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown while working against Chris Harris and Denver’s linebackers, and New England’s new-found ground game combined to rush 54 times for 251 yards and three touchdowns.
Stevan Ridley did most of the damage with 151 rushing yards, but he got help from Brandon Bolden (54 yards), Danny Woodhead (47 yards) and Brady himself who dove in for a touchdown to cap one of the long drives. The Broncos simply had no answer for the balanced attack. Joe Mays particularly looked lost in coverage and didn’t bring his usual thump in run defense.
Manning had a rating of 116.2 to Brady’s 104.6, but it was Brady’s team that had a comfortable lead until the fourth quarter. The defense and turnovers are the only reasonable explanation for the team’s lack of success against the Patriots, but Manning continues to look strong, and the Broncos can claim a share of first place in the AFC West with a win next week against the San Diego Chargers.
It’s not every week the Broncos will play an elite team like the Patriots, and fans have to feel good about Manning and the offense being able to compete offensively with any team. The Broncos should start getting more wins as the schedule eases up for them and with a few tweaks on defense should be able to trade blows with some of the best teams in the league.