The Denver Broncos went into Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots in what was supposed to be a showdown of the two best quarterbacks of this generation; Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. The game played out just as anyone would have expected with neither quarterback having much impact at all for the entire first half. Defense, turnovers and sloppy play were the story before Manning and Brady were able to come and take center stage in the second half. It was a wild game that went from a lopsided affair into a historic comeback and came down to the wire.
The Patriots could not get out of their own way in the first quarter and a problem that has been present all season came to a head arguably in the biggest game of the season. Stephen Ridley came out and put the ball on the ground in a hit from Danny Trevathan, which was picked up and returned by Von Miller for a 60 yard touchdown. The very next drive, Miller got around Nate Solder and hit Brady causing a fumble, which was recovered by the Broncos Terrance Knighton and run back to the 2-yard line. That set up another Denver touchdown, this time to Knowshon Moreno, putting them down 14-0 quickly.
The Patriots got the ball back after the Broncos kicked off and this time, it was LaGarrette Blount who fumbled the football. Broncos safety Duke Ihenacho ear-holed the Patriots back which caused him to lose the ball; this time recovered by Trevathan. This time, the Broncos were forced to settle for just a field goal, but now had a 17 point lead all off of turnovers.
After the teams exchanged a couple punts, the Broncos were able to put a drive together with their running backs. Moreno did damage on the ground while Montee Ball had a screen pass he took for 31 yards on a 3rd down-and-20 situation. Ball and Moreno were responsible for 55 of the 65 yards on this drive which finished with a Manning touchdown pass to Jacob Tamme.
The Patriots lost three fumbles in all, but had two others they were able to recover; another from Brady and one from Julian Edelman on a kickoff return. The Broncos one mistake was on a punt return right before the end of the half where Trindon Holliday muffed a punt which was recovered by the Patriots. The half ran out with the Patriots unable to capitalize, going into the half down 24-0 with some uncharacteristic boos from the Foxboro crowd.
The Patriots came out in the second half and were able to drive the ball down the field. After a first half of self-inflicted wounds, the Patriot offense threw six passes and ran the ball just once; this time to Brandon Bolden. Brady was able to march them right down the field and get them into the end zone with a touchdown pass to Edelman, getting the Patriots on the board 24-7.
On the next possession, the Broncos made another miscue. After a pass to Ball to the right, he fumbled the ball with the Patriots recovering the ball at the Broncos 41 yard line. Seizing on the opportunity, the Patriots ran three more passes including a pass to Rob Gronkowski that had him drag several Broncos to the goal line that set up a Brandon Bolden one yard touchdown, making it a 24-14 game.
After forcing a Bronco punt, the Patriots again had the ball and wasted little time in pushing it down the field. After a completion to Kembrell Thompkins for 14 yards, Brady found Edelman deep for 43 yards which set the Patriots at the 8 yard line. After a run for two yards, Brady found Gronkowski in the end zone for the third straight touchdown for the Patriots.
The Patriots finished the third quarter with 21 points and entered the fourth quarter down just three and with all of the momentum on their side. After a run for four yards, Manning came out and tried to adjust his pass mid throw and the resulting awkward footwork had him throw a duck which was intercepted by Logan Ryan. After a one yard run, Brady threw a pass to the left complete to Gronkowski for 15 yards and then a 14 yard pass to Edelman, which he ran into the end zone for another touchdown. After being down 24-0 at the half, the Patriots scored on the next four possessions to make it 28-24.
The Patriots were able to get the ball back after a three and out and ran a 12 play, 33 yard drive that resulted in a Stephen Gostowski field goal. Not only did that give the Patriots a 7 point lead, but the drive took 4:45 off of the clock. Their defense was able to get some rest and the Broncos were getting the ball back with about half of the fourth quarter remaining.
Manning and the Broncos were able to mount a drive, but not without its fair share of drama. After throwing what looked like might have been a disastrous interception to Aqib Talib, Talib was called for defensive holding which gave the Broncos a first down and a stay of execution. Manning was able to complete a pair of passes into some tight windows; one to DeMaryius Thomas and one to Tamme. Both passes were just out of the reach of Patriot defensive backs.
After an incomplete pass, Rob Ninkovich was called for a pass interference call, which set up a touchdown pass from Manning to DeMaryius Thomas which tied the game at 31-31 with 3:06 left to go in the game.
After giving up scores in all five possessions of the second half, the Broncos defense was able to hold up and get a three and out to get the ball back to Manning with 1:34 to go. They were unable to do anything with it and the two teams went to overtime to settle the game.
The Patriots won the toss in overtime and took the wind, opting to kick it to Manning. The Broncos responded by running the football. On back to back handoffs to Moreno, the Broncos were able to get to the 46 yard line. The Broncos then stalled out and had to punt, but at least were able to put the Patriots inside their own 20. Brady and the Patriots were able to move the ball, but were stopped as well including another controversial non-call for a potential pass interference play. The Patriots punted and gave the Broncos the ball at the 16 yard line. The Broncos stalled, then gave the ball back to the Patriots, who could not put together a drive.
The biggest play of overtime came on a Patriots punt. Ryan Allen punted the ball to Wes Welker who opted to let the ball hit the ground, but in doing so, the ball landed right by Broncos safety Tony Carter, who was playing as if Welker was going to catch it. The ball bounced off of the ground, then off of Carter which was immediately covered by the Patriots, which set them up at the 13 yard line. After taking a snap to re-position the ball, the Patriots immediately brought out Gostowski to try to kick the game winning field goal. The Broncos called time out, which prompted Bill Belichick to send the offense back out to run a quarterback keep to get the clock to the two minute warning. Gostowski came out and kicked a 31 yard field goal to win the game for the Patriots, 34-31.
This was supposed to be a game that featured incredible performances by two hall of fame quarterbacks. Instead, Brady looked like he was supposed to, throwing for 344 yards and 3 touchdowns while Peyton Manning threw for 150 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. Knowshon Moreno’s 224 yards rushing and 280 rushing yards as a team in combination with turnovers keyed the Broncos in this game.