The surging New England Patriots wiped the slate clean with the Denver Broncos Sunday afternoon at Foxborough in a battle between two AFC titans.
The always memorable meeting between future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning put the Patriots star in one light and Manning in another. Brady shined, throwing four touchdowns as New England raced to a 27-7 halftime lead, scoring more points in two quarters than the Broncos had previously allowed in a game all season.
Equally as impressive was the Patriots’ defensive effort. Darrelle Revis, who replaced Aqib Talib, who fled from New England to Denver in the offseason, along with fellow corner Brandon Browner, led the charge in silencing the prolific Broncos offense until the game was out of reach.
But as monumental of a win as it was for New England, and despite all the praise one team will get this next week and the criticism endured by the other, this regular-season classic means nothing when it comes to the playoffs.
With the win, the Patriots are on the fast track to taking the No. 1 seed in the AFC, leaving Denver to settle for No. 2. However, that’s assuming both teams win out. Up ahead for New England is matchups with AFC South-leading Indianapolis, NFC North contenders Detroit and Green Bay, and a a showdown in San Diego against a Chargers team that will be making a push for a Wild Card spot.
The Broncos face a much less competitive slate. They take on non-playoff teams in Oakland and St. Louis before a pack of Wild Card contenders in Miami, Kansas City, and Buffalo. The team’s toughest two tests come in the form of a grudge match with the Chargers, who they cruised past in their previous meeting, and Cincinnati, which could still be battling with Pittsburgh for the AFC North crown.
Overall, the Patriots’ next seven opponents own a combined 32-26 record, with the Jets being the lone team not in the playoff hunt. Two of those teams currently lead their divisional races, while three are within a half-game of earning a Wild Card.
The Broncos’ schedule, on the other hand, features opponents with a combined 28-36-1 mark, including two showdowns with the winless Raiders. Two showdowns with the Wild Card contenders will be held at Mile High Stadium.
Of course, one more glaring factor was the fact that the Patriots’ convincing victory Sunday was played at Gillette Stadium, where Manning is 2-8 in his career. Maybe it’s something to do with the frigid winter temperatures or the swirling winds that plague the future Hall of Fame quarterback, but Manning cannot find a rhythm in that stadium.
There are no excuses being made here, only reminders that a week ago after Denver shellacked San Diego for a fourth consecutive win, we anointed Manning the league’s MVP, yet again, and considered the Broncos defense to be among the league’s elite. Those players are still the same, and if anything, Manning will grow more hungry after coming up short against his arch-nemesis.
Right now, only seeding was on the line in that game, and as pointed out by the difficulty of schedule for the second half of the year, there’s still a lot of football to be played. We can be prisoners of the moment for so long before we have to take a good, hard, realistic look at what has happened in the past and what still lies ahead.
For now, Brady bested Manning, and maybe en route to lifting the Patriots — who were pronounced dead in the water at the end of September — to the top seed in the AFC. It’s the Patriots’ spot to lose. But because Brady defeated Manning in his backyard Sunday, let’s not throw away the other eight weeks of the season.