Brady, who went 23 of 31 for 223 yards and two touchdowns (one rush), lead a potent Patriots attack that included a powerful running game from Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden. The duo combined again this week for over 200 yards on the ground.
The offense was awfully efficient from the very start as well, even going on to break the franchise record for first down with 35 on the day. With 223 yards through the air and 251 on the ground, including Ridley's career-best 151 yards, helped maintain some consistency and dominate in the win.
Rob Ninkovich and Jerod Mayo led the way for the defense as they forced three fumbles and sacked Manning three times en route to the 31-21 win. Vince Wilfork and even rookies Tavon Wilson and Alfonzo Dennard also made big contributions in the effort.
Fourth Quarter, 3:27, Patriots 31-21: Stevan Ridley's fumble looked like it was about to cost the Patriots this lead, but Willis McGahee bailed them out again.
Earlier it was a dropped pass on fourth down and now the fumble, it's like McGahee wants the Pats to take this.
Fourth Quarter, 4:43, Patriots 31-21: Stevan Ridley had been the workhorse all afternoon, but that was just a brutal return to reality with that fumble.
The fumbilitis that forced Ridley off the field in 2011 was on display once again and it could be costly for the Patriots as Manning excels in these situations.
Fourth Quarter, 6:43, Patriots 31-21: Manning does it again, and the Broncos are quietly within 10 points.
Manning just led a 6-play, 43-yard drive down the field in under two minutes, something the Patriots can't afford to allow any more of.
While Alfonzo Dennard continues to impress at the corner position, Tavon Wilson has appeared to get burned on a number of occasions against Manning.
The young secondary still needs to find an anchor, though to be McCourty but that hasn't quite panned out yet. And with the quiet comeback, this game could get real interesting very, very fast. Brady needs to put them away here.
Fourth Quarter, 10:50, Patriots 31-14: The Patriots rotation at the left cornerback continues, as Moore was replaced by Dennard again on that drive.
Dennard has looked good in coverage, at least much better than Moore, and the Broncos haven't been able to beat him over the top for any big gains. This could be a big breakthrough in terms of reps moving forward
End Third Quarter, Patriots 31-14: Tom Brady led the Patriots to some more second-half success here against Denver. But it still all comes back to Ridley.
The Riddler continues to dominate the line of scrimmage and is well over 100 yards now, with 21 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown run to cap it off. Brady has been sharp — per usual — and his hookup with Welker has been unstoppable.
The defense hasn't gotten enough credit for holding Manning and Broncos to just 14 points through three quarters, though. Plus the two turnovers have been key to this offensive surge.
Third Quarter, 4:40, Patriots 31-14: Peyton got his groove back. Would be a good 90's movie title?
Manning just cut his way through the Patriots secondary, mainly Sterling Moore actually, and eventually led the Broncos on a 10-play, 90-yard scoring drive to get back within a more reasonable 31-14 — eek.
That is the sort of Manning that frightens a defense, and a fan base. Manning's precision and ability to dip and dunk, not to mention Thomas' unbelievable catches, are a danger and should have the New England defense zoning in on the sidelines because that was ugly.
Third Quarter, 4:40, Patriots 31-7: This is getting ugly. But Vince Wilfork and the Patriots are eating it up — literally.
A strip-sack from Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones had Manning put the ball on the ground and for the second week in a row, Wilfork was there to gobble it up for the Patriots. He might figuratively and literally be the biggest play-maker in the NFL.
That turnover was key as Brady led another scoring drive, quickly I'll add, and Ridley punched it in for the score as Pats get out to 31-7 lead of Broncos. Yikes.
Third Quarter, 5:00, Patriots 24-7: Stevan Ridley has been an absolute monster out of the backfield, but other players continue to get the glory.
Tom Brady gets the 1-yard score on yet another double-digit play drive to give the Pats a 24-7 lead. All four scoring drives have been 12-plus plays.
No matter, though. Ridley has now rushed for 106 yards on the afternoon, marking his second straight game and third time this season to achieve the feat.
With Ridley in the backfield, powering through the front seven consistently, Brady has become even more effective and dangerous. The semblance of a running game has been absent for years in New England, but it looks like that could well be what helps this offense move onto an even more threatening territory.
Third Quarter, 11:24, Patriots 17-7: An exciting first half hasn't quite lived up to the billing during the early going of the second so far.
Brady and the offense had a chance to really step on the throat of the Broncos with another scoring drive, but instead they just went a quick 3-and-out.
The Patriots have had a tough time knocking teams out all season. It started with the missed field goal against Arizona and just continued with the missed opportunities in Baltimore. There has to be a concern, even after the rout in Buffalo, that maybe this offense needs a boost in crucial situation.
6:05 p.m.: With Manning in town and such a big game for the Patriots, there must have been plenty of excitement for tailgaters out on the lots at Gillette here on Sunday.
Well, if you've got any great tailgating photos, or just want to take some, send them on in to NESN and we might profile you and your tailgating experience.
End Second Quarter, Patriots 17-7: Tom Brady may get the credit for a successful first half on offense, but even with his razor-sharp precision it's been Ridley whose really spurred the attack.
Brady ends the first half 17 of 20 for 165 yards and a touchdown. But Ridley has pounded the Broncos defense with a brutal rushing attack, banging out 13 carries for 70 yards and forcing Denver to stack the box more often.
Wes Welker has also been a story on his own, grabbing nine balls for 71 yards and a touchdown. But the stats don't show how important he's been as cornerback Chris Harris has just been burned time and again as Welker continues to take advantage of the mismatch.
On defense, the secondary has been mediocre but with Jerod Mayo leading the attack up the middle there hasn't been much success for Manning and company to find.
Manning did slice his way downfield on a few drives, but the Patriots continue to shut down the Broncos on third downs and have kept Denver from making due on much of their offense success. With Sterling Moore now on the sidelines, or at least he was at the half, and the rookie Dennard and maybe even Dowling taking some of his snaps maybe the secondary will turn around as well.
Second Quarter, 0:02, Patriots 17-7: Stephen Gostkowski may have had a tough go of it lately, but that field goal gives the Patriots a 17-7 lead.
A chip shot, but an important one as the Patriots will take a 10-point lead into the locker room.
Second Quarter, 2:00, Patriots 14-7: The Bolden bus is leaving the station, but that's a good thing if you're the Patriots.
Since his explosion for 137 yards last week in Buffalo, Bolden has been the talk of Patriots Nation. While Ridley is still, clearly, the feature back, Bolden is quietly carving out a consistent role in the New England backfield.
So much power from these Patriots backs, and having a legit running game — a rarity in New England — is a sweet delicacy.
Second Quarter, 5:07, Patriots 14-7: Alfonzo Dennard suited up for his first NFL game on Sunday, and he didn't disappoint in his first action.
Replacing Sterling Moore on the outside, Dennard looked solid in run protection and had a big pass breakup to force the Broncos to punt.
It's not an easy task for a late-round rookie, albeit undervalued in the draft, to come in and make an immediate impact. But it's even harder to do it against one of the best QBs and most physical receivers in the league. Big kudos.
Second Quarter, 7:57, Patriots 14-7: Stevan Ridley's got the Broncos by the ankles and is just shaking them for all their lunch money. But Shane Vereen — yes, that Vereen — is the one to collect the dough after all.
Vereen saw his first goal-line action of the season and the result is a one-yard touchdown score. Big news for a guy that can't seem to stay on the field.
Vereen and Ridley, combining for nine carries and 51 yards so far, may be the big story after that score, but it was the connection between Brady and Lloyd that really made that drive go.
Lloyd made a number of adjustments at the line during that series and was able to get inside of Bailey on routes, not an easy feat. This is great to see, not only for now, but long term.
Second Quarter, 14:05, 7-7: Manning was cutting through the Patriots defense some more, but it was Devin McCourty that truly helped the Broncos get their first points of the day.
Joel Dreessen caught a one-yard touchdown from Manning, but a brutal face-guarding pass interference penalty on McCourty made the different on that series.
McCourty has been struggling to cover in one-on-one sets this season, and while he had great positioning he just doesn't ever seem to turn to the ball to make the play. That has become a trend and a big issue, one that needs to be fixed or else it will continues costing New England valuable yards and leads.
End First Quarter, Patriots 7-0: Manning-Brady has lived up to the hype, thus far. But a lot of the reasoning has been the porous play out of both secondaries.
Manning looked methodical going down the field on each of the Broncos drives, cutting up the Patriots for 10 of 12 completions and 126 yards. The only positive for New England is that the Broncos have coughed the ball up and haven't yet been able to get on the board.
Meanwhile, Brady looked razor sharp in his own right with 7 of 8 for 58 yards and that sweet toss to Welker for the score.
As key as Brady has been, though, Stevan Ridley has been just as if not more important. His running has been hard, downhill and very powerful. More of that and we'll be talking about his third 100-yard game of the season before this one is done.
On defense, the linebackers and front four have looked stellar, but Sterling Moore and Tavon Wilson have looked overmatched by Demaryius Thomas's speed and size. Really need to step it up.
First Quarter, 3:08, Patriots 7-0: Wes Welker's demise was really overplayed earlier this season. Now, the murmurs just seem absurd.
The Patriots offense was pushing the tempo throughout that entire drive, and with the perfect combination of Stevan Ridley's running and Brady's slinging, a 7-0 lead was all but on the scoreboard.
Welker's eight-yard grab changed that. Brady hit Welker four times, including the score, on that drive and found his favorite target for the score in the end.
With the most targets here on Sunday, and on the season for the Patriots rumors of Welker's demise have been vastly overrated. Let's get real, people.
First Quarter, 7:51: In Patriots' news, Jerod Mayo is a beast.
Manning, once again dialing it down the field, gets himself flipped up and table topped by Mayo and Rob Ninkovich. The sack was impressive but it's even more impressive to see the type of effort and leadership Mayo has been displaying this year… it's contagious.
4:44 p.m.: How 'bout them Colts?
After head coach Chuck Pagano took a leave for six to eight weeks to battle cancer, the Colts responded by not only talking the talk but also beating the crap out of Green Bay.
The 30-27 win was a close one, but geez was that an impressive comeback. Reggie Wayne is the man and boy does Bruce Arians have some go-nads.
First Quarter, 11:11: Rob Gronkowski was uncertain for the Patriots heading into Sunday. But with an early grab and run he doesn't seem to be hurting from any lingering hip problems.
That's a good sign for the Patriots offense, too, as it means Daniel Fells likely won't be relied upon as originally thought — not that he couldn't suffice.
First Quarter, 12:22: Peyton Manning had the Broncos offense rolling down field on the Patriots, but with one swift swipe of the arm New England's got the ball back.
Sterling Moore hasn't been the most consistent corner for the Patriots this season, but that sort of heady play is exactly what they're looking for out of this secondary.
Now, Tom Brady and the offense get the ball back thanks to Moore's opportunist nature,
4:15 p.m.: Breast cancer survivors, all decked out in pink, line the field outside of the big helmet in front of Patriots entryway.
A really nice gesture for the Patriots and a show of grace as the pink warriors will be welcoming the Pats players out on the field as they charge from the inflatable helmet.
Everything is pink in the NFL in October, something I actually look forward to every year, and this is just another great moment for the Patriots and the NFL as a whole. Gotta feel good about moments like that.
4:00 p.m.: Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning may be the story on the tip of every fans' tongue today, but there are plenty of other plot lines to keep an eye on in this one.
Rob Gronkowski's health, the Broncos defense's ability to slow down Brady and even the Patriots questions on defense all come to mind.
So, with all that in mind, why don't we take a peek at some of the keys to the Patriots and Broncos showdown here on Sunday.
1.Tavon Wilson's effectiveness in secondary — With Steve Gregory out of action here on Sunday, a lot of his responsibilities are likely to fall on the shoulders on rookie safety Tavon Wilson. While Wilson has developed a reputation as a ball hawk through his first four games in the NFL, it will be interesting to see how he can adapt to more reps and a bigger responsibility in the defense, especially against the best in the business.
2. Daniel Fells' role in offense — Daniel Fells hasn't seen all that much time on the field for the Patriots this year. But during his first real action of the season last week he actually looked pretty strong in the run game. Fells' ability to adapt to the passing attack and fill the hole left behind in Aaron Hernandez's absence will be huge. You can't expect Hernandez-like numbers, but just getting open and
3. Offensive lines success against Denver pass rush — In Buffalo, the Patriots offensive line looked about as good as they have all season. A tremendous rushing attack and allowing Brady plenty of time to pick apart the Bills' defense was essential to their success. But with guys like Elvis Dumervil, Joe Mays and Von Miller coming after Brady on Sunday, can the O-line, even with Logan Mankins, hold up?
3:21 p.m.: All the hype surrounding Aaron Hernandez's return to the practice field can now be settled, as the tight end won't be suiting up for the Patriots on Sunday. Neither will linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
While Hernandez was not expected to play for the Patriots here on Sunday, Hightower, who suffered an injury against the Bills last Sunday, was expected to suit up.
Although Hernandez and Hightower headline the list of guys that won't be playing against the Broncos, tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has been suffering from some chronic hip pain, will be in the starting lineup come kickoff. Shane Vereen, who has been on and off the injury list all season, will also be on the active roster for New England.
Check out the inactives for both teams below.
WR Julian Edelman
S Steve Gregory
TE Michael Hoomanawanui
LB Dont'a Hightower
C Matt Tennant
TE Aaron Hernandez
DE Jake Bequette
QB Caleb Hanie
RB Knowshon Moreno
SS Duke Ihenacho
LB C.J. Davis
TE Julius Thomas
DT Sealver Siliga
2:41 p.m.: With the halftime buzzer going off in the 1 p.m. games throughout the NFL, let's take a gander around the world of football.
Mike Vick, who seemed to find his rhythm in a win against the Giants last Sunday, is back to his unstable ways.
Following a week without turnovers, Vick has already fumbled twice against the Steelers and hasn't led the Eagles to any scores as of yet. It's ugly to see such a great quarterback struggling so mightily with ball security and makes you wonder if Nick Foles might actually be an option at this point.
Foles looked good in the preseason, filling in for Vick while he recovered from a few injuries. And although he's just a rookie, he has the talent and confidence to excel in the NFL — at some point.
In other news from Pittsburgh, Rashard Mendenhall has returned to the field and looks solid on the afternoon. He's already scored his first touchdown of the season, punching in a 13-yard run to give the Steelers the lead. The Steelers have a 10-0 lead into the half and it looks like Mendenhall and Vick might be on opposite sides of the coin on this Sunday.
2:22 p.m.: The rain seems to be holding off, for now at least, and the Patriots and Broncos should be taking the field here shortly.
Ahead of the players coming onto the field, there was a massive green tarp covering the field at Gillette Stadium. But now, the tarp is being taken off and the green grass is showing in preparation of kickoff.
Take a peek at the field as the tarp comes off ahead of game time.
Photo via Twitter/@LukeFHughes
12 p.m. ET: This should be a meeting to remember: an epic clash of two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. It's Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning.
One of the greatest player rivalries of our generation will be making a triumphant return to the field in Foxboro, Mass., here on Sunday, and it's shaping up to be another classic.
Manning leads his 2-2 Broncos into Gillette Stadium against a Patriots defense fresh off one of their best performances of this young season. A second-half surge, which included six total turnovers in Buffalo, has Devin McCourty and New England's secondary feeling quite confident in welcoming Manning to town.
As for the offense, Aaron Hernandez is the big story heading into Sunday afternoon. Hernandez practiced on both Thursday and Friday this week, and rumors have been swirling whether he'll actually see the field against Denver. But with Hernandez's ankle sprain still not fully healed, Bill Belichick likely won't chance the tight end's season status for just one game.
Tune into all the action starting at 4:25 p.m., but be sure to kick it here for all the news, notes and analysis you could ask for.