On the back of a fantastic second-half comeback in Foxborough, the New England Patriots overcame a 24-point deficit to win 34-31 in overtime Sunday night against the Denver Broncos.
The Pats overcame some improbable odds, as ESPN Boston stats guru Jeremy Lundblad pointed out:
Over past 50 years, teams are 5-485 when trailing by 24+ at halftime— Jeremy Lundblad (@JLundbladESPN) November 25, 2013
Brady finished with 344 yards and three touchdowns, compared to 150 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for Manning.
Knowshon Moreno was a big part of the Broncos' near-win, as he finished with 224 yards and a touchdown on 37 carries (6.1 YPC). He's the first Denver running back to eclipse 200 yards since 2003, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Knowshon Moreno: 1st Broncos RB to rush for 200 or more yards since Clinton Portis in 2003 (218 against Chiefs)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 25, 2013
Time and again, the Broncos were able to pound the rock with Moreno, which was huge with the way Manning was struggling in the icy and windy conditions. He earned some praise from his teammate after the game.
Manning: "Our running game was working, so that's what we were going with. When you're running the ball well, that's a good thing."— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) November 25, 2013
Of course, it helps when your defense is scoring touchdowns.
Stevan Ridley fumbled on New England's first drive of the game, leading to Von Miller's 60-yard return to the house.
Just two plays later, it was Brady fumbling on the dropback. Miller forced the fumble, with Terrance Knighton recovering and getting down to the Patriots 10-yard line.
After two runs from Moreno, Denver took a 14-0 lead six minutes into the game.
It must have felt like Groundhog Day for the Patriots, as they fumbled for the second straight drive. LeGarrette Blount coughed up the ball, with Danny Trevathan recovering at the New England 44-yard line.
ESPN's Stephen A. Smith bemoaned how much those fumbles were hurting the overall narrative of the game.
Damn! Here we all were looking for a Brady/manning matchup, but Ridley AND Blount can't hold onto the football. Damn Shame!— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) November 25, 2013
The Broncos wound up with a 27-yard field goal by Matt Prater to take a 17-point lead.
Denver kept rolling, as Manning hooked up with Jacob Tamme for a 10-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-0 with a little over six minutes left in the half.
New England looked like it caught a break close to the end of the half, when Denver's Trindon Holliday muffed a punt. The ball was picked up by Marquice Cole, who attempted to advance the ball, only to find that the ball was dead as soon as he recovered it.
It still gave the Patriots a Hail Mary opportunity with the last play of the half. Although Brady's pass to Kenbrell Thompkins was incomplete, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie picked up a shoulder injury that kept him out for the rest of the game, per Raul Martinez of Fox 31 in Denver.
That injury would prove to be huge, as Denver was without one of its best corners the rest of the way.
The Patriots came storming out of the gates after halftime. Brady completed all seven of his passes on the first drive of the third quarter. He hooked up with Julian Edelman for the capper, who made a great catch in the end zone to get the Pats back into the game, 24-7.
A Montee Ball fumble gave New England the ball right back at the Denver 32-yard line. NFL Network's Rich Eisen quipped:
Montee Ball v. Stevan Ridley. Last fumbler standing.— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) November 25, 2013
New England moved quickly to capitalize on the turnover, scoring two-and-a-half minutes later on a one-yard run by Brandon Bolden to get the Pats within two scores, 24-14.
After their defense held yet again, the Patriots got the ball back looking to get within three points. It took them five plays to go 64 yards and find the end zone. Rob Gronkowski caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Brady to close the gap to 24-21 just before the end of the third.
That TD pass was also the 350th of Brady's career, putting him in quite the exclusive club.
Tom Brady: 5th QB with 350 career TD passes— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 25, 2013
It was a scintillating third quarter for the star signal-caller.
Tom Brady in 3rd quarter: 12-14, 163 yards and 2 TD— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 25, 2013
On the Broncos' next drive, the wheels finally came off, if they hadn't already before.
Manning had his pass intercepted by Logan Ryan on Denver's third play of the drive, setting up the Patriots in a great position to take the lead.
New England needed three plays to do so. Once again, it was Edelman stepping up big, as he caught a 13-yard touchdown pass to give the Pats a 28-24 advantage. It was finally the breakout game Bill Belichick and Co. were waiting for from the shifty wideout.
Patriots take lead on Julian Edelman TD catch. He has 2 TD catches in this game. He entered the day with 2 TD catches all season— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 25, 2013
A 31-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski increased the lead to 31-24.
Manning finally responded with a touchdown drive of his own to tie the game at 31-31 with 3:10 to go in the game. It was a great pass over the top to Demaryius Thomas.
Eisen thought Manning was able to silence some of his critics with his performance on that drive.
Some superb Peyton throws in the deep of a chilly night. Just what many think he can't do. Settling in for big finish.— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) November 25, 2013
That would be the last of the scoring in regulation, leading to overtime.
Belichick made a curious decision at the cointoss, taking the wind and giving the ball to Manning and the Broncos offense to start the overtime period. He spoke about that choice after the game.
Belichick on decision: "It was a strong wind. … The wind was significant in the game."— gregg rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) November 25, 2013
Grantland's Bill Barnwell aptly noted:
Patriots win: BELICHICK IS A GENIUS FOR TAKING THE WIND Patriots lose: TOO CUTE, BELICHICK, YOU DUMMY— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) November 25, 2013
For 12 minutes, overtime was a drab affair. Neither offense could get into a groove, and both teams were forced to punt the ball away.
But it was a punt that would decide the game.
Standing close to his 10-yard line, Wes Welker opted to let the punt drop rather than secure the fair catch. He tried to alert his teammates to get out of the way, but Tony Carter heard the call too late. The ball bounced off the cornerback, and the ball was recovered by Nate Ebner at the Denver 13-yard line.
The Patriots ran a couple of plays to set up for the game-winning field goal and take time off the clock. After the customary icing timeout by Denver, Gostkowski stepped up to hit a 31-yarder to win the game at the 2:00 mark of the extra period.
Manning discussed after the game how much it hurt to give away the loss.
Manning: "It's disapointing. You had a chance to beat a good team at their place...hated the way that ended."— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) November 25, 2013
Key Player Grades
Tom Brady, New England Patriots: A
Brady was masterful in the second half. It's amazing how well you can do when your running backs aren't fumbling the football.
Sunday night's conditions weren't conducive to having a great passing performance, but Brady had exactly that. Although his throws weren't perfect, he was able to get enough heat on the ball that the wind was never too much of a factor for him.
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots: A
Edelman stepped up large in this game. Time and again, Edelman was there to make the catch. He had nine receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns for the game.
His ability to make the short receptions was a huge boost for Brady in the tough conditions at Gillette Stadium, keeping the chains moving and drives alive for the New England offense.
Aqib Talib, New England Patriots: A
Talib did a great job of blanketing Demaryius Thomas. Some of that was helped by the lack of downfield throws against the wind from Manning, but Talib deserves plenty of credit for limiting Thomas to only four receptions for 41 yards and the TD catch in the fourth quarter.
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: B
Manning was clearly the more affected quarterback by the bitter conditions. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah posited:
Brady throws a much tighter ball than Peyton…easier to control in these conditions. Arm strength disparity is very obvious too.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) November 25, 2013
To a certain extent, you can't criticize Manning too much. He doesn't have a strong arm, so wind is bound to wreak havoc on his throws.
There's definitely a narrative that Manning doesn't succeed when the weather gets cold and nasty. His performance Sunday night is only going to further that.
The Broncos stay on the road for Week 13, when they take on the now two-loss Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots get a bit of a letoff, when they hit the road against the 2-9 Houston Texans.