Patriots 18 Broncos 20
Brady v Manning.
Belichick v Manning.
Brady versus the best defense in the NFL.
This one would decide the AFC rep for the Super Bowl.
The sea of orange looked on as New England took the ball to start the game. I can see a class action lawsuit by New England fans who were shut out of the ticket buying process for this game. The Pats were in and out on their first possession, punting after little progress.
Denver and Manning took over and drove the length of the field to hit the red zone after a bit of help from a PI call on New England. Owen Daniels caught an easy one over the middle to put Denver up 7-0. Manning looking crisp and Daniels looking to be the x-factor.
The touchdown would be the first opening drive for a TD by Manning all year.
Edelman was targeted plenty in the first quarter as expected, but Brady was under pressure much of the time. The Pats would punt on their first three possessions.
New England caught a break on a lazy play by Denver’s’ Ronnie Hillman, who failed to scoop up a backfield pass by Manning. Belichick wisely challenged the play which gave the Patriots the ball deep in Denver territory. A couple plays later some fantasy players got a gift with Steven Jackson getting an unexpected score from close to the goal line. The PAT was missed though, and the Broncos still led 7-6, with Robert Kraft looking for a hypnotist for his kicker during the half.
Denver punted next but got the ball right back when Brady made a terrible throw intended for Gronkowski. Von Miller got the INT after sacking Brady on the precious play.
Manning started from the Patriots 16 and missed Sanders, in the end, zone, but found Owen Daniels on the next play with a perfect pass and route by the tight end. 14-6 Denver, their defense putting on a show.
New England would close the gap to 9-14 with a FG on their next drive after a big catch by Gronk and with a helpful penalty on the Denver secondary.
Denver would add to the lead as the first half neared an end. The Broncos drive consisted of a nice run by CJ Anderson, a great catch by Demaryius Thomas, and a catch from Anderson out of the backfield. That set up a 52-yard field goal attempt that was perfect, making the score 17-9 Denver still up.
The story of the first half saw the two QBs in opposite roles from their historic battles. Manning was being aided by his defense that was turning Brady into a punching bag and turnover factory. Brady probably damaged some property inside the locker room at the half after his disgust over two interceptions.
The second half saw Denver receive the kick but produce nothing from the possession. Both offenses had only combined for about 360 yards between them so far.
New England would end up with another three points after getting the punt. They moved the ball with Gronk catching a 32 yarder before coming out of the game the rest of the drive. The guy has to be able to get back in the game after a routine tackle on the sideline. Gostkowski made the 38-yard field goal to make it 17-12 Denver still in control.
After another Denver punt, New England took over as Malcolm Butler stuffed the third and one attempt by Denver. Brady was rocked on first down on another Von Miller sack as the Denver defense refused to give an ounce of hope to Patriots fans watching from well outside the Rocky Mountain Range.
At this point, this game had become a full on defensive struggle with neither quarterback likely to be the hero. Von Miller was Vontaze Burfict without the penalties in this game as he made it a miserable day from Tom Brady.
The Broncos managed just three points in the second half as McManus hit a 31 yarder in the fourth quarter to put Denver up 20-12, the missed PAT from Gostkowski looming large.
Denver’s defense came through time after time in the fourth as Brady was forced to target James White as opposed to his go-to receivers who are still in need of oxygen after being smothered by the Denver secondary.
The Patriots were just about out of time with a fourth and six at the Denver 14. They would turn the ball over on downs with Gronk in triple coverage begging for a flag that wouldn’t come. 20-12 Broncos still in the lead.
New England wasn’t done yet as Denver gave the ball right back with their offense struggling late.
Brady would start at the 50 after a decent Edelman punt return.
A prayer to Gronkowski on fourth and ten went for 40 yards to extend the season of New England. It would take another fourth down pass to Gronk with just 17 seconds left for the Pats to threaten Denver’s lead.
The best tight end in the game made an incredible snatch in double coverage to make the score 20-18, and the Pats needing a two point conversion badly.
This game was billed as another super fight between Manning and Brady, but it was a defensive showcase that proved defense still wins championships.
Cliches be damned. The Broncos defensive unit carried this franchise to its eighth Super Bowl appearance. A missed PAT from the opposing kicker didn’t hurt either.