Predictably, most of the post-game reaction centered on the Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Tom Brady besting Peyton Manning in the latest renewal of the best quarterback rivalry of the last 10 years makes for a good story.
But if anyone is to blame for the Broncos latest defeat to New England, it's a defense that continues to get shredded. Manning, who threw for 345 yards and three scores, decidedly outplayed Brady's stat line of 243 yards and one touchdown.
Brady and a balanced New England offense were the hot knife to Denver's butter defense.
Of the Patriots first six possessions Sunday, four finished with scoring drives that covered at least 80 yards. Denver got three-and-outs on New England's first possession in each half, but the Patriots had their way early.
Here are New England first four scoring drives:
- 12 plays, 84 yards, touchdown.
- 14 plays, 80 yards, touchdown.
- 16 plays, 93 yards, field goal.
- 16 plays, 80 yards, touchdown.
When Stevan Ridley ran in an 8-yard touchdown with 4:42 left in the third quarter, the Patriots led 31-7.
By the time the game was finally over, after Manning's furious comeback attempt came up short, the defensive numbers for Denver were staggering.
New England totalled a franchise-record 35 first downs, went 11-of-17 on third down, racked up 251 yards rushing and held the ball for over 35 minutes.
Brady threw just eight incompletions as the Patriots, who ran 89 total plays Sunday, were as efficient offensively as any unit could ask for. He completed 6-of-8 passes for 87 yards on third downs.
It was a total defensive collapse for Denver, one that not even a great Manning performance could erase.
That still didn't stop Manning from pushing the Broncos to the brink of a great comeback. Touchdown passes to Brandon Stokley and Eric Decker got Denver to within 10 points, but a fumble from Willis McGahee late in the fourth quarter ended the comeback attempt. McGahee also dropped a crucial fourth down in the fourth quarter than ended a Denver drive.
A fumble from Demaryius Thomas on the Broncos first drive took points off the board in the first quarter.
Manning was in old-Manning form, but the pieces around him just weren't up to snuff on the road in New England.
But the Broncos won't win many games with a defense playing as poorly as it did in New England. The rest of the offense can't make such game-changing mistakes against elite competition, either.
Chalk up Manning for the Broncos' loss in Atlanta. The defense gets the blame for Sunday's disaster in New England.