Three things we learned in the Patriots 31-21 victory over the Broncos:
It’s never easy
The Patriots looked like they had the game locked up late in the third quarter and early in the fourth but a key turnover and more issues with the secondary led to the Broncos making the game quite interesting late in the contest.
Despite posting 151 yards rushing, Steven Ridley nearly handed the Broncos the game as he fumbled the ball at the Pats’ 32-yard line with 4:24 left in the game.
DeMaryius Thomas had a field day against the New England secondary as he had nine receptions for 188 yards and Peyton Manning actually put up better numbers than Tom Brady (23-of-31, 223 yards, 1 TD) as the longtime Pats foe completed 31-of-44 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns.
Devin McCourty continued to have problems in the Patriots secondary. His pass interference in the second quarter, in which he once again failed to turn around to see the football, led to a Manning to Joel Dreesen touchdown to tie the game at seven.
The Patriots were also extremely lucky in the first quarter, on the Broncos first drive, when Sterling Moore made up for getting beat downfield by Thomas by punching the ball loose after the catch. New England recovered the fumble and escaped having Manning gain any early momentum.
Josh McDaniels got revenge on his former employer as the Patriots offense posted 31 points in the first three quarters.
In fact, New England broke a team record with 35 first downs in the game.
McDaniels used an extremely quick pace, even by Patriots standards, to throw off the Denver defense early in the game. Brady hit Wes Welker for an eight-yard touchdown to give the Pats a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
For the second time in two weeks, Brady had a short rushing touchdown, this one coming in the third quarter as the Patriots separated themselves from the Broncos with a 24-7 lead.
The Pats posted a whopping 251 yards rushing as they continued to change up looks with an already deadly offensive attack.
Defense a work in progress
Though the defense once again allowed an opponent to creep back into the game (New England was up 17-7 at the half), there were plenty of positives.
Rob Ninkovich forced a pair of fumbles, including a strip of Willis McGahee with 3:42 left in the contest and Jermaine Cunningham came up with the ball as the Pats were then able to ice the contest.
Manning was also pressured early by the Patriots defense as Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes both disrupted No. 18’s timing.
The Patriots, led by Chandler Jones and Spikes, also stuffed Lance Ball on a key third down at midfield to start the second half. It was another good sign that out of the locker room the Pats defense didn’t allow a team to find it’s offensive flow.