There was a lot of hype surrounding the return of the annual Brady/Manning showdown, but I, for one, was not all that excited for the reunion. At this point in his career, Peyton Manning, with his bionic neck, just isn't on the same level as Brady. The Broncos, as the 31-7 3rd quarter score would suggest, aren't on the same level as the New England Patriots. The names on the backs of the jerseys may have been the same, but a 2003 Colts/Pats matchup this was not.
Well, until about mid-way through the 4th quarter, that is. That's when Bill Belichick, up 31-14, decided to summon the ghost of Manning past, by going for it on 4th and 5 from the Pats own 40-45. I found this to be extremely questionable at the time. The Patriots were in no need of points. A punt may have netted them only 20 yards on a touchback, but a failure to convert would have left the Broncos with decent field position. Well, not only did the Patriots fail to convert, but Tom Brady fumbled the ball backwards about 20 yards, setting up the Broncos with supreme field position. Manning seized the moment and suddenly the Patriots found themselves up by a mere 10, with 5 minutes to go.
At that point, uneasieness set in, but was quickly erased as the Patriots steamrolled their way down the field. And then Stevan Ridley fumbled… And Manning drove his team down the field… And into the red zone… And then all that repressed post-traumatic stress came flooding back as we remembered Peyton Manning coming back from the dead, chainsaw in hand, ready to hack our dreams to shreds… The 2006 AFC Championship Game… 4th and 2… And then…
Rob Ninkovich drilled us all back to reality when he knocked the ball loose from Willis McGahee to seal the Patriots victory. No, this game was not a Brady/Manning classic of old. But it almost was.
– Gotta love the defense coming up with all of these turnovers. I have a feeling this is going to be huge for the Patriots moving forward. The Pats are making big hits and digging for the ball. I know it's a bit of a cliche', but they are literly forcing turnovers. This defense is a night and day difference from what New England rolled out in 2011.
– Late fumble aside, you also have to love the Patriots running game with Ridley and Bolden. The Pats had the run going against Tennesee, Buffalo, and Denver which were all huge wins. They struggled to run against Arizona and Baltimore. Coincidence? I think not.
– After the Baltimore game, I thought Danny Woodhead's days as a Patriot were numbered. Then he came up with a huge touchdown play to turn the tide last week in Buffalo. Today, he managed to come up with huge plays on 3rd and 14 and 3rd and 17 to keep New England drives alive. That was magical stuff.
– I wasn't a fan of the clock management at the end of the half. The Patriot had the Broncos reeling and called timeout on the goal line with 25 seconds left. At that point, with two timeouts and Denver's defense in complete disarray, I think the Pats should have run one more play and then called their timeouts. That timeout allowed Denver to settle down and the Pats had to settle for a field goal. It's picky, I know, and the play was ultimately meaningless, but I really disliked that timout call.