It was the Tale of Two Halves, and the Tale of Two Quarterbacks. In terms of drama and high stakes, this 14th match between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady did not disappoint. In terms of out the final outcome for Denver Broncos, it did. Bitterly.
A game full of fumbles ended with one with three minutes left in overtime - Tony Carter touched the ball on a botched waved punt by Wes Welker, creating the last fumble, and the New England Patriots escaped with a win against the Denver Broncos.
Peyton Manning didn't even pass for 150 yards in regulation, but Knowshon Moreno rushed for over 200.
The Denver Broncos raced to a 17-0 lead behind three first quarter fumble recoveries- the most allowed in the first quarter in Bill Belichick's coaching career.
The first was forced by Wesley Woodyard and recovered by Von Miller. Miller took it back 60 yards for the touchdown to open up scoring early in Foxboro (nice tackle attempt, Tom Brady). The next was forced by Miller, recovered by Terrance Knighton, who proved less fleet of foot than the All Pro Miller but still brought the ball back deep into New England territory. Knowshon Moreno finished off the drive to give the Broncos a stampede-quick 14-0 lead.
Later in the first, Danny Trevathan recovered a LeGarette Blount fumble that set up the Broncos to extend their lead 17-0 behind a Matt Prater field goal. The Broncos would execute an 80-yard drive in the second quarter to go up big in the first half, Broncos 24, Patriots 0.
The wheels came off for the Broncos in the third quarter - it was all New England, as Tom Brady and company roared back with 21 unanswered points. In what felt like an instant - a hearbreaking, terrible instant that was really 25 minutes of football - the Patriots wiped away Denver's 24-point lead and took a 31-24 Patriots lead. Brady threw two touchdowns to Julian Edelmen and another to Rob Gronkowski as the pass rush that was so fiercely getting after Tom Brady in the first half all but relented in the second.
Then in the fourth... Finally, finally, FINALLY the Denver Broncos put together some offense, on a drive that featured some beautiful Manning throws (he hadn't even thrown for 100 yards to that point). It was Demaryius Thomas in the end zone, a clutch 11-yard pass from Manning that capped off a clutch 10-play, 80-yard drive to tie the game with three minutes left. Broncos 31, Patriots 31.
After failed two minute drives on both sides, the teams headed to overtime.
Overheard in the press box, @woodypaige, on this game: "This was not the way I wanted to die."— Joan Niesen (@JoanNiesen) November 25, 2013
Bill Belichick elected the wind at his back, which turned out to a be a fortuitous decision in the end.
The Broncos received the first kick in overtime and ultimately stalled after another fumble - this one by running back C.J. Anderson, who was able to recover it himself. But in a game where every play mattered, the lost down forced the Broncos to punt.
Denver's defense was able to step up and force the same against Tom Brady, and the clock kept winding down. The Broncos' next drive would turn out to be game-changing, as the Patriots stopped the Broncos at their 37-yard line. With the brutal 20 mile per hour wind blowing into their faces, the potential 54-yard field goal never would have been successful from Matt Prater. The Broncos were forced to punt, but it bears noting - had Belichick elected the ball instead of the wind, Prater would have had that wind at his back, and makeable field goal in front of him.
Disaster struck after the Broncos forced another Patriots punt. Wes Welker, who filled in for the fumble-happy Trindon Holliday on punt returns, was too late to wave off the ball, and it bumped into a full-speed Tony Carter running across the field. The second a Bronco touched the ball, it became a fumble, and Patriots recovered at their own 10-yard line to setup a game-winning field goal.