The Sunday Night Football viewers were in for a treat to close out the weekend. The primetime slot featured two of the NFL’s elder statesmen, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, going head to head as the Denver Broncos came to New England for the future Hall of Fame pair’s 14th dual. It was Broncos’ receiver, Wes Welker’s first game back in Foxborough, the place he called home for six years as one of Brady’s favorite weapons. Because of their resume, we all expected the game to come down to a game-winning drive in the fading moments of the fourth quarter. And we got it, just not the kind we had in mind.
The Broncos’ muffed a punt when cornerback Tony Carter inadvertently made contact with the ball. Welker, awaiting the punt, waited too late to warn Carter to get away. The Patriots regained possession on the Denver 13-yard line, which led to the 31 yard game-winning field goal by Stephen Gostkowski in overtime.
How did this happen, especially after the Broncos went up 24-0 at halftime?
The Denver Broncos were doing everything right. The defense had shut out the Patriots’ offense in the first half, forcing 3 turnovers. The Broncos’ offense scored a touchdown after each change of possession, adding a field goal and a second quarter touchdown to go into the half. They got their run game going too as Knowshon Moreno finished out the night with 224 yards on 37 carries.
But when you have Tom Brady, trailing in the second half of a football game, significant offensive output is expected. Ironically, the Broncos’ offense, led by Manning, was known to explode offensively in the second half of games earlier this season.
The Patriots bounced back with 28 unanswered points in four of their five second half possessions. Julian Edelman scored twice, Brandon Bolden and Rob Gronkowski each scored once. Stephen Gostkowski provided the last three points with a 31 yard field goal, coincidentally the same distance of the field goal that won the game. Brady finished the night with 34-50 passing for 344 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The Denver defense absolutely crumbled in the second half. So did the offense. Manning finished the game with a pedestrian 19-36, for 150 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.
This was Manning’s tenth loss against Brady in fourteen tries. It was the fifth time Manning lost to Brady by seven points or less in eight tries. It added to the notion that Peyton performs poorly in cold weather conditions. It is worth pointing out Manning’s other loss this season came against the Colts in Indianapolis. The roof was left open as it was cooler outside. (I believe the temperature played no part in the loss but still wanted to put that out there). Brady is accustomed to the elements, dating back to his days at the University of Michigan. He has secured many victories at Gillette Stadium deep in the playoffs.
Even though Manning and Brady were the headlines, the Broncos, as a team, still suffered a loss. Interim coach Jack Del Rio and Carter took blame for the play. It really falls on Welker for waiting too late and he knew it.
“I’ve got to get to him earlier, and tell him, and get those guys out of the way if I’m not going to make the catch. I was a little bit in between and you can’t be that way.”
Welker joined the team in 2007, serving as a go-to receiver for Brady. He amassed five 1,000+ receiving yards during his time in New England. Welker had a relatively quiet night. Unable to reach the end zone, he unfortunately impacted the game’s outcome with the muffed punt.
Even though the game’s ending was disappointing, it seems fitting considering the night’s events. The teams combined for 11 fumbles, six of which went to the other team. The belief is the elements played a role in the team’s misfortune. If it did, both teams better improve their play in these conditions if they want to win a championship. This year’s Super Bowl is in MetLife Stadium, home to the New York Giants and New York Jets, and there will be snow.
The game will serve as a huge factor in the AFC fight for home field advantage. New England is 8-3, Denver is 9-2, and Kansas City is 9-2 (including a loss against Denver). The Broncos and Chiefs are in the same division so it is safe to say the top two seeds and a wild card is this trio’s makeup come the playoffs. It is amazing that one of these teams will be a wild card, having to go on the road in the wild card round against a team with a noticeably inferior record. Outside of these three teams and division leaders Cincinnati and Indianapolis, no one has more than five wins in the AFC.
Peyton can shed a little of that poor-play-in-cold-weather thought next week as the Broncos face the Chiefs in Kansas City. The winner inches closer to an AFC West title and a first round bye.
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