Fumbles doom Broncos in 31-21 loss to Patriots

The Denver Broncos’ opening drive ended when Demaryius Thomas

fumbled away a 43-yard reception at the New England 10-yard

line.

Their last one stopped when Willis McGahee coughed it up at the

Patriots’ 11.

”You’ve got to do better than that,” said McGahee, who also

dropped a pass on fourth and 1 in the fourth quarter. ”I think

that changed the game, and I take full credit for that.”

Peyton Manning threw for 345 yards and three touchdowns Sunday,

but he was also strip-sacked in the third quarter as the Patriots

forced three fumbles to open a 24-point lead and win 31-21. Thomas

caught nine passes for 188 yards, and McGahee had 51 yards rushing

and 51 more receiving, but each also had a key turnover deep in New

England territory.

”Any time you turn the ball over, it hurts you,” Broncos coach

John Fox said. ”You go on the road tonight, against a very good

football team and particularly offensively in their tempo and their

skill set, makes for tough slugging. I mean, our guys hung in there

and fought back, but at the end of the day, it is still minus-two

(in turnover differential). That usually relates in a point

differential.”

In the 13th meeting between the star quarterbacks – and first

since Manning joined the Broncos – Brady directed four scoring

drives of at least 80 yards. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 223

yards and one touchdown and ran for another while opening a 31-7

lead in the third quarter.

”This is not a team you want to fall behind to,” said Manning,

who was 31 of 44 while falling to 4-9 in his career against the

Patriots. ”We had a couple of chances in the first half to score

some points. … You have to be able to convert opportunities when

they present themselves.”

Manning’s fumble led to Stevan Ridley’s 8-yard run that put the

Patriots (3-2) ahead 31-7 with about five minutes left in the third

quarter. Ridley led the Patriots with a career-high 151 yards

rushing.

Manning then threw touchdown passes of 2 yards to Eric Decker

and 5 yards to Brandon Stokley but Denver (2-3) lost the ball on

McGahee’s fumble with 3:42 remaining.

The Patriots set a franchise record with 35 first downs as they

kept their offense rolling one week after gaining 580 yards, 247 on

the ground, in a 52-28 rout of the Buffalo Bills. The Broncos

sputtered after beating the Oakland Raiders 37-6.

Brady and Manning first faced each other in the third game of

the 2001 season. The Patriots won 44-13 in Brady’s first career

start.

There were plenty of close games in subsequent regular-season

matchups with six of the previous seven decided by seven points or

less. Sunday’s outcome was different, although Manning brought the

Broncos back from a 24-point deficit in the second half.

His scoring pass to Stokley followed a fumble by Brady on a

sack.

Ridley then lost a fumble on New England’s next possession and

Manning seemed poised to keep the comeback going. A 28-yard

completion to Demaryius Thomas put the ball at the Patriots’ 14 but

two plays later McGahee fumbled and Jermaine Cunningham recovered

at the New England 11.

The Patriots led 17-7 at halftime and 31-7 after three quarters.

Brady and his runners kept slicing through the Denver defense with

a balanced attack. They went ahead to stay, 14-7, midway through

the second quarter on a 14-play drive (seven pass plays and seven

runs) capped by Shane Vereen’s 1-yard run.

Ridley had the third 100-yard rushing game of his career, all

this season. Wes Welker, the NFL’s leading receiver last year with

122 catches, had 13 for 104 yards.

The Broncos wasted an excellent opportunity on their first

series. Manning hit Thomas with a 43-yard completion to the

Patriots 10-yard line, but Sterling Moore stripped the ball and

recovered the fumble. The Patriots went four-and-out on the ensuing

possession then the Patriots scored on their next three possessions

– 84 yards to Brady’s 8-yard pass to Welker, 80 yards to Vereen’s

touchdown and 93 yards to Stephen Gostkowski’s 23-yard field

goal.

Denver did tie the game 7-7 on Manning’s 1-yard pass to Joel

Dreessen but didn’t reach the end zone again until Manning hit

Decker to end a 90-yard march, cutting the lead to 31-14 with 1:08

left in the third.

The Patriot even got key plays from their backup running backs.

Brandon Bolden had a 24-yard gain on the series leading to

Gostkowski’s field goal. On that same drive, Danny Woodhead gained

25 yards on a pass from Brady on a third-and-14 play from the

Broncos’ 11.

Woodhead kept another drive going in the third quarter with a

19-yard rush on third-and-17 at the Patriots 43. That series ended

with Brady’s touchdown dive.