Denver even appeared to have the Pats’ (and Belichick’s) number when virtually no one else in the NFL did. Champ Bailey’s 100-yard interception in 2006 divisional round seemed, at the time, to be a punctuating mark signaling the end of New England’s rise to prominence in the early 2000s, with the Broncos poised to return to their rightful place among the AFC’s elite.
Two years later, however, and Belichick was marching an undefeated Patriots team into the Super Bowl while Denver would suffer its second losing season (at 7-9) during the Mike Shanahan era, missing the playoffs for a second consecutive year. It would be another four years before Denver, thanks to a combination of Tebowmania and Mile High Magic, would return to the playoffs.
But last year’s divisional round tilt with New England showed Denver just how far it had to go in its pursuit of its third Super Bowl title. The 45-10 massacre in Foxboro tied for the most lopsided loss of the season (the other by the same score at home vs. Detroit) was the second time the Broncos had allowed 40+ points to the Patriots in 30 days and the fifth time they had done so on the season. It was also the third time in four meetings that New England had posted such a total against Denver.
Since 2008, Belichick and the Pats appear to be on a mission to make up for all those years of futility against the Broncos. New England hasn’t just beaten the Broncos in three of their last four meetings – they’ve beat them down.
The 2008 tilt in Foxboro saw Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis rush for a combined 253 yards and two touchdowns while Tom Brady punctuated the effort with 185 yards passing and three touchdowns, two of 27 yards to Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Denver, meanwhile, turned the ball over five times, including two interceptions by Jay Cutler and two fumbles by Andre Hall.
Denver stole a win in 2009 under first-year head coach Josh McDaniels, an overtime thriller at Mile High that had Broncos fans thinking Belichick’s wunderkind would quickly set things right again. It was McDaniels’ only head-to-head matchup with the man who would eventually employ him again after he was run out of both Denver and St. Louis for lackluster performances as head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively.
In 2011, with Denver on a miraculous six-game win streak behind Tim Tebow, New England marched into Mile High and laid down a beating, whose effects would be felt for a full month. The Broncos actually led in this game, 16-7, early in the second quarter. But back-to-back fumbles by Lance Ball and Tebow led to a 20-point quarter for New England and the game quickly got out of reach for Denver. By game’s end, Brady had carved up the Denver secondary for 320 yards passing and two touchdowns. Three rushing touchdowns, one by Brady himself, marked the second time in three meetings that New England had crossed the goal-line five times against Denver. Final score: 41-23.
Less than a month later the two teams met again, this time in New England, following yet another miraculous Denver win. Tebow and the Broncos had knocked off Pittsburgh in the wild card round, winning a shocker with the Tebow-to-Demaryius Thomas 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play in overtime, the week prior.
The 18-point drubbing the Broncos suffered in Denver in week 15 seemed like a victory compared to the thumping they took in Foxboro in January. Brady and the Pats eclipsed the five-touchdown mark this time, scorching Denver for 363 yards passing and six touchdown throws. Tebow was sacked five times to Brady’s zero, and though Denver forced two turnovers they went three-and-out on five possessions. The 45-10 loss was the largest margin of defeat to New England in franchise history.
Those three losses, by a combined 87 points, occurred with two quarterbacks under center for the Broncos who now find themselves in backup (and punt protection) roles elsewhere. Today, Denver returns to the scene of last year’s playoff massacre with Peyton Manning under center.
Manning and Brady, arguably the two greatest quarterbacks of the passing era, have gone head-to-head a dozen times. Brady has emerged victorious twice as many times in those games, going 8-4, including 2-1 in the playoffs. But their past four meetings, including Manning’s only playoff win in 2007 (en route to his only Super Bowl win), have all been nail-biting affairs.
Entering today’s matchup, the margin of victory between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in their last four tilts is an aggregate 12 points.
Since Manning’s Colts bested Brady and the Pats 38-34 in the 2007 AFC Championship game, no more than four points have separated the future Hall of Fame quarterbacks at the final whistle. Manning owns a 2-2 record over those closely contested matches.
Brady managed New England to a 24-20 win at the RCA Dome in 2007 in one of the most-evenly matched contests between the two. Manning’s 16-27 for 225 yards with one TD and one INT were balanced by Brady’s 21-32 for 255 with three TDs and two INTs. But it was the 14 unanswered points Brady posted in the fourth quarter that were the ultimate deciding factor.
Their last meeting, a 31-28 New England victory in 2010, ended with Brady taking a knee after a Manning interception with less than a minute on the clock and a chance to win the game. The interception was Manning’s third of the day, marring his four touchdowns and 396 yards passing on the day. Brady had a pedestrian 186 yards passing and two touchdowns, balanced by a 168-yard, two-touchdown rushing effort by New England.
Before that, in one of the most-scrutinized coaching decisions of Belichick’s career, Manning capped a 21-point fourth quarter with a one-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne after New England failed to convert a fourth-and-two at their own 28 with just over two minutes on the clock. Belichick’s logic was that Manning would score on him one way or the other, so better to give him a short field and hope for the ball back with time left on the clock. But with no way to stop the clock, Belichick’s plan backfired and Manning left Brady and the Pats just nine seconds. Manning and the Colts escaped with a 35-34 victory.
With both teams sitting at 2-2 and facing west coast road trips next week (Denver in San Diego and New England visiting Seattle), fans should expect another closely contested Brady vs. Manning contest. McDaniels is back in New England as offensive coordinator and has convinced Belichick that a balanced run-pass attack will be enough to win the AFC East, while the Manning and Willis McGahee combination has kept Denver in every game, even in their two losses to the league’s only remaining undefeated teams.
Denver faces a gauntlet of a schedule this year, including today in New England. But Broncos fans can rest a little easier as they face yet another test against the NFL’s elite; with Manning under center now, this shouldn’t be another lopsided affair.