Brady-Manning deservedly gets a lot of hype, but that doesn't mean we'll get the matchup that was billed. On Sunday, the Denver Broncos were slow to wake up against the New England Patriots, falling behind 27-7 at halftime before losing, 43-21.
Peyton Manning threw two interceptions, the first a bad throw into the arms of Rob Ninkovich, the second a bobbled pass by Wes Welker that ended up in the arms of rookie cornerback Brandon Browner. Both turnovers led to short-field touchdowns by the Patriots, who also scored on an 84-yard Julian Edelman punt return in the second quarter.
Tom Brady won the quarterback duel with a productive performance, though perhaps not his most efficient. He completed 62 percent of his 53 passes at 6.3 yards per attempt, but racked up 333 yards and four touchdowns in the process. He hit four different players for scores -- Edelman, Shane Vereen, Brandon LaFell and Rob Gronkowski.
The Broncos had an awful first half. They went 0 for 5 on third down conversions, and 0 for 1 on a 4th-and-6 attempt. Head coach John Fox opted to go for a first down rather than attempt a field goal just before the two minute warning before halftime. The play resulted in a sack from Akeem Ayers and turnover on downs. The Patriots took possession and went 57 yards for what would prove to be, essentially, the game-winning score.
1) Well that was kind of disappointing
Last season's regular season bout produced a big Patriots comeback and an overtime classic. This year's version ... well it was kind of dull. Neither quarterback was at his best (though the scorecard goes to Brady), and instead we got a lopsided outcome that turned on Broncos mistakes more than anything. The Patriots capitalized, certainly, but the story was more that the Broncos didn't show up. Manning was relatively shaky, both running games were moribund, and Wes Welker hurt his team with a bad drop that turned into an interception. Welker was targeted eight times in the game, and managed just three catches for 31 yards off those looks.
2) But Emmanuel Sanders, Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell were excellent
It was good day for passing targets not named Welker. The three above deserve special mention. Sanders won a tough matchup, catching 10 passes for 151 yards. Edelman scored two touchdowns, one on a punt return that was a franchise-record fourth for his career. LaFell is simply a great reclamation story -- after four quiet seasons in Carolina, he has become perhaps one of the better deep options in the NFL. On Sunday, he caught his fifth touchdown pass in six games, tying his career best for a single season.
3) This game actually didn't mean all that much
A loss for the Patriots would have given them a third loss along with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins, true, but the Broncos would have been in fine standing in the AFC West win or lose. The San Diego Chargers suffered a bad loss Sunday, and the Kansas City Chiefs are on a three-game winning streak but against iffy competition.
The Patriots have to worry about a surging Dolphins team, and the Broncos about letting this loss dictate their season, but right now the threats don't seem too pressing. These teams should still be in good standing when the playoffs come around.