Tom Brady and the Patriots rekindled the days of old against Peyton Manning on the first wintery day of the year in Foxboro.
New England ran out to a 27-7 halftime lead behind four second quarter touchdowns and never looked back in a 43-21 victory. The win pushed the Pats to 7-2 on the season (5-0 at home) and furthered their stranglehold on first place in the AFC East.
Denver, which entered as three-point road favorites, took just their second loss of the season after winning four straight.
Metro looks at three things that went right in the Patriots’ biggest victory in years.
1. Back on top
The Brady-Manning showdowns have always been used as a measuring stick for the best quarterback in the game. And despite their advanced ages, they are still the league’s best. But no one is playing better than Brady right now. The 37-year-old followed up a five-touchdown performance with a ho-hum four touchdowns and 333 yards against the vaunted Denver defense.
Brady threw the ball 53 times in a game that was supposed to be tailor made for the running game due to 20 mph wind gusts. The Patriots eschewed the running game almost entirely — with just 23 carries for the backs — and considering how hot Brady was, it made sense.
Most importantly, the previously shaky offensive line let Brady stand in the pocket largely unmolested by elite pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.
2. Gronk’s good, real good
You’re allowed to still expect him to get injured eventually, but Rob Gronkowski is separating himself from the greatest tight ends of all-time — forget about just active ones. He added another touchdown on Sunday with nine catches and 105 yards receiving.
The touchdown was the 50th of his career. He became the second fastest in history to have 50 touchdown catches, behind only Randy Moss. He is averaging 103.2 yards per game with five total touchdowns since taking on a full workload against the Bengals.
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3. Getting defensive
Most of the numbers will say the Patriots defense had a poor game. They gave up 472 total yards and sacked Manning just once. But the game tape tells a much different story. Against the best offense in the game, the Patriots’ no-name defensive made plays when it mattered most. The defense held Denver scoreless as the game slipped from their fingers in the second quarter.
Trailing 7-6, Rob Ninkovich picked off Manning and Brady found Julian Edelman for a quick touchdown four plays later. On the next possession, the Pats forced a punt after five plays for 11 yards and Edelman returned it 84 yards for a touchown. Just like that it was 20-7 Patriots and after a missed field goal on the next possession, the Broncos never got close again.