Tom Terrific did it again.
The NFL hype machine was on full drive last week, touting the epic Sunday night battle of future Hall of Famers. Manning versus Brady. Who would walk away the victor in yet another meeting of the two most talented quarterbacks of this generation? And if that wasn't intriguing enough, former Patriot fan favorite Wes Welker, would be making his first return visit to New England after he and the team could not come to contract terms last off season.
For the first half of the game, it looked like it was going to be a stinker. The Broncos were up 24-0 going into halftime. Besides, Brady wasn't having a great season, while Manning was having a season for the ages. There was no way that the team could mount a comeback, not in those freezing conditions, not when everything that could have gone wrong for the Pats in the first half, went wrong.
So, many football fans went to bed early thinking the game was over. It was not. And those sleepy fans missed out on one of the most incredible comebacks in NFL history.
The winds picked up even more during the second half as the temperatures reached North Pole conditions. Then, momentum began to swing in the other direction. Brady opened up the first half with an 80-yard march down the field. The drive was capped with a 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver rookie Julian Edelman. Perhaps the (second) biggest play of the game came next when Bronco running back Monte Ball fumbled. The turnover led to a 1-yard touchdown run for Brandon Bolden which cut the Denver lead to 24-14. The third quarter wrapped up with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Patriot tight end Rob Gronkowski, which made the game 24-21.
Denver still had the lead starting the fourth quarter. However, Manning threw a pick at the Denver 30-yard line. Brady wasted no time in reconnecting with Edelman on a 14-yard touchdown pass that gave the Pats a 28-24 lead. Patriot kicker Stephen Gostkowski hit a 31-yard field goal later in the quarter to put New England up by a touchdown.
Manning hadn't scored a single point in the second half. But unwilling to accept defeat, he led his team on its first sustained drive of the half, which resulted in an 11-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.
The epic battle would be decided in over time. Coach Belichick won the coin toss but opted to go against conventional thinking by electing to kick the ball knowing that a Denver touchdown would end the game. Why take the risk? The genius coach explained his thought process in the post game press conference. "The wind, it was a strong wind. We just had to keep them out of the end zone, obviously. I just felt like the wind would be an advantage if we could keep them out of the end zone on that first drive. We were able to do that. The wind was significant in the game, it was definitely significant."
The two sides traded OT possessions, neither team could get a drive together to put up any points. Then with just minutes left to play, Wes Welker went back to receive a punt. New England fans began chanting, "Wel-ker, Wel-ker." Maybe the derisive crowd got to him? Because instead of catching the ball, Welker called it off, and let it bounce. Unfortunately for the Broncos, the ball hit the unsuspecting Tony Carter who couldn't get out of the way. He tried to explain what happened after the game, "I was blocking my guy to try to spring Wes for a return. I heard the 'Peter' call which means everyone get out of the way. I tried to get out of the way, but the ball bounced right into me. Tough bounce."
— NFL (@nfl) November 25, 2013
The turnover put the Pats in field goal position. Gostkowski kicked the game winner with just 1:56 left to play. Interim Denver head coach Jack Del Rio knows the team needs to move on after the tough loss. "Regardless of how it goes down you've got to put it behind you quickly in this business. You learn your lesson and go forward."
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