Foxborough, Mass. • This was not a game for the weak of kidney.
To have grabbed a beverage from the fridge was to have missed multiple plays, at least one of which no doubt went for a New England first down.
The New England Patriots and Tom Brady defeated the Broncos and Peyton Manning 31-21 on Sunday in a high-tempo exercise at Gillette Stadium that was not so much an AFC football game as a track meet of rush into the blocks, short sprints, hurry back to the blocks, sprint a few more yards.
The Patriots built a 24-point lead by playing Road Runner to Denver’s frustrated Wile E. Coyote.
“That was fast,’’ said Broncos veteran safety Mike Adams. “They must have had two plays called before they went to the line. That allows them to get up to the line and call the play they want. They had two plays and we started doing that too in the second half when we started to slow it down. But I have to admit, that was pretty fast.’’
The Broncos made it a game late, thanks to their own no-huddle attack that produced two of Manning’s three touchdown passes. But the Broncos never approached the warp speed the Patriots’ offense played. “We can go pretty fast at home if we communicate really well,’’ Brady said.
How fast were the Patriots’ going? So fast that they were able to get off an astounding 89 plays. So fast that they were able to register a team-record 35 first downs.
Brady-Manning XIII wasn’t a quarterback duel. It was two guys playing the point, dishing passes on the fast break.
Brady is 9-4 in head-to-head meetings with Manning; 1-0 since the Broncos were brought into this quarterback rivalry.
For the second time in two games, Demaryius Thomas wasted a long pass play from Manning by fumbling the ball away. The Broncos were moving the ball on their first possession against the Patriots when Thomas snatched a Manning pass and was approaching the Patriots’ 10 with a 43-yard gain when cornerback Sterling Moore swatted the ball loose from behind. Moore recovered, and the Broncos’ only chance to dictate the game’s tempo was gone.
Brady controlled the game from there. He was 17-for-20 in the first half. He destroyed the Broncos’ secondary in two games last year with tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. With Hernandez missing this game because of a bum ankle, Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels decided to isolate slot receiver Wes Welker against Broncos nickelback Chris Harris and others.
Welker had nine catches at the half, including an 8-yard touchdown reception that opened the scoring, and finished with 13 receptions.
For a while, it appeared Manning would be able to keep up. Early in the second quarter, he finished off an 80-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Joel Dreessen that tied the game 7-7.
But between the Patriots’ relentless offensive tempo wearing down Denver’s D and the Broncos’ offense losing rhythm as it stood helplessly watching on the sidelines, Dreessen’s score marked the start of New England’s dominance.
With the season nearly one-third gone, how to best define the Broncos? They are 2-3, 0-3 against teams with a winning record. That says the Broncos are not yet good enough to beat real good teams. They need to hurry because they’re playing the AFC West-leading Chargers in San Diego next Monday night.
“We need a big win to prove to everyone we’re a legitimate contender,’’ Adams said. “These are teams we need to beat in order to get to that next level. These are all playoff teams.’’
P Houston at N.Y. Jets6:30 p.m., ESPN