The 16th contest vs. Tom Brady was another match that Peyton Manning would like to forget.
Brady-Manning XVI was a perfect storm against the Denver Broncos Sunday. A cold, swirling windy day. The Mr. Hyde version of the Broncos that is prone to mistakes reared its ugly head. The Broncos were without Virgil Green to help in the running game, and the dinged-up Ronnie Hillman couldn't find his rhythm.
But the far, far most important element of this perfect storm: a road game against a ferociously hot team. There was not a team in the NFL that could have gone into Foxboro and defeated the Patriots Sunday, and New England rolled over the Broncos 41-23 in Week 9.
Manning did not play terribly, but his and the coach's decision-making deserves to be called into question. Just look at the Denver quarterback's targets on this crucial red zone series with Denver down 44-23 early in the 4th quarter.
1st and 9 at NE 9 - (12:12) (Shotgun) R.Hillman right end to NE 8 for 1 yard (R.Ninkovich; D.Jones).
2nd and 8 at NE 8 - (11:33) (No Huddle, Shotgun) P.Manning pass incomplete short middle to J.Tamme (P.Chung).
3rd and 8 at NE 8 - (11:28) (Shotgun) P.Manning pass incomplete short right to E.Sanders.
4th and 8 at NE 8 - (11:25) (Shotgun) P.Manning pass incomplete short left to J.Tamme.
The Broncos had four downs to get nine yards, yet they went to one of their premiere playmakers just once. With Wes Welker on the sideline (back), the two targets to Jacob Tamme stand out.
You have Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Julius Thomas... and you target Jacob Tamme twice?— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) November 3, 2014
It was the first time in 61 trips to the red zone that the Broncos didn't come away with points. Overall, Manning and company were 0 for 4 on 4th downs on the night. They were a not-much-better 3 of 11 on 3rd downs, and they didn't convert a 3rd down in the first half.
Meanwhile, the Broncos defense had easily their worst game of the 2014 season. Tom Brady abused Denver's secondary, picking on Aqib Talib in particular and finding Rob Gronkowski with free-release ease. Brady found Gronk, Edelman, Brandon LaFell, and Shane Vereen for touchdowns throughout the contest, throwing for 324 yards as the game's final minutes drew to a close. Gronkowski, ever-dangerous, has eight catches for 96 yards, but it was the 12-yard average that was particularly damning.
The Broncos had a promising first quarter, taking a 7-3 lead following a Ronnie Hillman's one-yard rush after Hillman was able to find the edge to run into the end zone. This followed a 3-point drive from the Patriots gifted by a Broncos mistake, when Kayvon Webster interfered with Julian Edelman's ability to field a punt, giving the Patriots' a 15-yard penalty and premiere field position.
That small mistake was a sign of things to come in the second quarter, when all hell broke loose for the Broncos. Edelman returned one Britton Colquitt punt 84 yards for a touchdown, giving the Patriots a lead they wouldn't relent. Denver's defense couldn't stop Brady on two other drives in the second quarter and also relented a field goal. The Patriots scored 24 points in the second quarter - yes, more than the Broncos scored in four.
It was a complete team win by Bill Belichick and the Patriots. They dominated field position, kept the Broncos off the field while they enjoyed a big lead, and kept the pressure on Denver - even attempting a weird fake punt up 22 points in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots improve to 7-2 with the win and move into first place in the AFC. The Broncos fall to 6-2 and second place. The good news is that the Chargers lost this week, too (and in worse fashion than Denver), and the Broncos maintain their top spot in the AFC West.