By Brendan Coughlin
The Tom Brady and Peyton Manning rivalry may be the most glorious of any two players in the history of the NFL.
Last Sunday, Brady outdueled Manning once again, throwing four touchdowns while leading the Patriots to a 43-21 defeat of the Denver Broncos in Foxborough.
The latest affair between the two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks gives Brady the 11-5 edge in the head to-head with Manning. Brady passed for 333 yards and connected with Julian Edelman, Shane Vereen, Brandon LaFell and Rob Gronkowski all for touchdowns.
Edelman muffed a punt, but gathered the ball and evaded the Bronco’s punt team for an 84-yard return for a touchdown as well.
After it was 7-3 in favor in Denver in the first quarter, the Broncos would never leave again. The explosive attack from Brady’s offense scored 24 straight points in the second quarter. The defense set up Brady with two interceptions.
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich came up with the first takeaway. The second came from first-year Patriots’ player Brandon Browner, former pro bowl safety in Seattle, when the ball deflected off of Wes Welker’s fingertips and Browner reached out to make the interception.
Browner returned the interception 30 yards, setting up an easy score on the very first offensive play, when Brady connected with LaFell from 10 yards out.
Manning, the new NFL all-time passing touchdown leader, threw for more yards than Brady as the Broncos trailed the Patriots for most of the contest. Manning passed for 438 yards and two touchdowns, along with the two interceptions.
Starting back Ronnie Hillman only amassed 16 yards on his 10 carries. With the lack of run game and defensive struggles throughout, the Broncos fall to 6-2 with the loss, and now trail only New England in the AFC.
The Patriots jump to an AFC best 7-2 with the victory. The latest NFL.com power rankings have New England claiming the top spot in the league, while Denver drops to third.
New England will sit on their first place record, as they have a bye week scheduled for Week 10. The Patriots remaining opponents following the off week will be Indianapolis, Detroit, Green Bay, San Diego, Miami, New York Jets, and Buffalo.
In the last five games, Brady now has thrown 18 touchdowns and only one interception. He is connecting more with his receivers as the season has progressed.
Lafell has learned the New England system, and is all of a sudden a serious weapon for Brady. Gronkowski has been looking more sharp as his injuries continue to hinder him less week after week. Gronk has risen back to his spot as the top tight end in the NFL. Edelman had a huge bounce back performance against Denver after recent struggles, where he was criticized for dropping the ball.
Stevan Ridley is on the season ending IR list after tearing his ACL. The Patriots rushing attack has now mostly fallen on Vereen and Jonas Gray. Gray has slightly impressed in the last two weeks. The undrafted Notre Dame product may be Coach Bill Belichick’s newest hidden gem that can produce, after being called up from the practice squad.
Someone will need to head the backfield if New England plans on a return to the top of the league with a Super Bowl trophy this season.
Brady has never been given the skills of players other quarterbacks are blessed with. Offensive skill position players are just simply not what the Patriots invest in.
The 37-year-old Brady, however, is on top of his game and has once again made some serious connections with his overall mediocre cast of weapons. Along with the strong defense, powered by the secondary, New England is poised to return the NFL Playoffs and make a serious contender to win Super Bowl XLIX.
Brendan Coughlin is a Comment staff writer.