|Snap Judgments: Patriots hold on to beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos||10.07.12 at 7:30 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The anticipated duel between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning never materialized Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, as the New England defense held Manning in check through the early going while the Patriots offense built 31-7 lead and held on in the second half for the 31-21 win. Here are a few notes:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
• When it comes to slowing Manning, the game plan Sunday was the same as it was in 2003: keep him off the field. The Patriots executed that part of the game plan to perfection, as for the second consecutive week, the Patriots were able to run the ball consistently, grinding out the clock and controlling the tempo throughout the contest.
As a result, Manning spent large parts of the game cooling his heels on the sidelines as New England put together multiple scoring drives of 10-plus plays on the afternoon. (Between the 5-minute mark of the second quarter and the 5-minute mark of the third quarter, the Broncos ran six plays.) On the day, New England was 11 of 17 when it came to third-down conversions, and set a new franchise record with 35 first downs in the game.
• The Patriots got another impressive performance from their running game, as Stevan Ridley finished with 151 yards on the ground. (Sunday marked the first time since 1978 that the Patriots have had back to back 200-yard rushing games — they had 247 last week against the Bills.) Meanwhile, fellow backs Brandon Bolden (14 carries, 54 yards) and Danny Woodhead (7 carries, 47 yards) performed nicely in complementary roles.
• Again, with no Aaron Hernandez in the lineup, Brady and Wes Welker were in terrific sync throughout the afternoon. Welker — who was matched up on defensive back Chris Harris for much of the game — had nine catches in the first half alone, and ended up with 13 catches for 104 yards on the afternoon. The Patriots also got excellent performances in the passing game from Rob Gronkowski (4 catches, 35 yards) and Brandon Lloyd (3 catches, 34 yards). On the afternoon, Brady ended up 23 of 31 for 223 yards and one touchdown.
• Defensive star of the game? Let’s go with defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who has 10 tackles, three forced fumbles (two against the Broncos) and a pair of sacks (one Sunday against Denver) in his last two games. He talked after the win against Buffalo about stepping up and improving his game — he’s certainly done that the last two weeks.
WHAT WENT WRONG
• Even though it was fairly obvious for much of the afternoon the Broncos were all about passing the ball, there were a handful of occasions where the New England defensive backs struggled to contain Manning and the Denver receivers. Manning ended the day 31 of 44 for 345 yards and three touchdowns, with the bulk of the passes going to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (9 catches, 188 yards).
• One guy who did struggle at times in coverage was cornerback Devin McCourty, who yielded a touchdown pass on a nifty catch by Eric Decker in the third quarter, was flagged for a pass interference call that set up Denver’s first touchdown of the game at the start of the second quarter and allowed a big fourth-quarter pass play to Thomas that got the Broncos into the New England red zone.
• At various times, the Patriots lost the services of several difference players, including McCourty, linebacker Tracy White and offensive linemen Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer. None of the injuries appeared to be serious, but White and Mankins were among those who were unable to finish the game.
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