What it means. The Patriots held on for the victory, their second in a row, in a performance that looked decisive through three quarters before they made it interesting in the fourth quarter. It was almost a replay of the last time they faced Peyton Manning with the Colts in 2010, where they needed a late turnover to seal the result. The Broncos put on a solid late charge, but with losses to the Texans and Patriots in two of the past three weeks, they don't look ready to join the teams considered the elite in the AFC.
Brady improves to 9-4 vs. Manning. Quarterback Tom Brady turned in a stellar performance (he was 17-of-20 at the half) in operating an up-tempo no-huddle attack that dictated the action. Each team had just four possessions in the first half -- the Patriots led 17-7 at the break -- so it was the type of game where the margin for error was thin and mistakes were magnified. Brady didn’t make many, if at all, in the first half as the game turned in the second quarter. He is now 9-4 against Manning, who wasn’t bad, but didn’t match Brady’s level. Brady finished 23-of-31 for 223 yards and one touchdown.
Offense rings up record 35 first downs. The Patriots set a franchise record with 35 first downs in the game. The offensive attack was highlighted by an up-tempo, no-huddle approach that put stress on the Broncos’ defense and required impressive synergy from the New England offense. While the offense didn’t close out the game as it would have desired, it was still impressive.
Nickel defense change sparks Patriots. After having some coverage struggles in their nickel defense, a personnel change helped the Patriots produce better results in the second quarter, when the game turned. Rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was inserted into the game in place of Sterling Moore on the Broncos’ fourth drive, and was credited with a pass breakup on third down to force a punt. The Patriots also went to a lighter defensive front on the drive, which produced the stop and ultimately helped the Patriots open a 10-point lead. In a low-possession game for each team, a stop like that is crucial. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich also produced two big turnovers (strip sack, forced fumble).
Ridley and running game delivers again. After churning out 247 rushing yards against the Bills, the Patriots went over the 200-yard mark again. This marked the first time since 1978 that the Patriots have had back-to-back 200-yard games. Second-year running back Stevan Ridley led the way (career-high 151 yards), while the team’s other three backs -- Danny Woodhead, Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen -- also contributed.
Injury situations to monitor. Patriots left guard Logan Mankins (hip) and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (knee) left the game in the fourth quarter and did not return. Also, veteran linebacker Tracy White (left foot) left the game in the third quarter and did not return.
What’s next. The Patriots travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks. They are scheduled to leave on Friday for the Sunday game, and one of the themes figures to be how loud it can get in Seattle, which will put stress on the team’s offense. The Broncos play a Monday night game in San Diego in Week 6.