For most of the country, Sunday night was cold. It’s the gateway to a big holiday week and, with the Denver Broncos blowing out the hapless New England Patriots on Sunday night, why not just turn in early?
Here’s the abbreviated version of what happened while you were sleeping: Trailing 24-0 at halftime, Tom Brady and the Patriots scored 31 points in the second half, the Broncos scored to tie it and, with Bill Belichick making another of his unusual coaching decisions, the Patriots won 34-31 on a field goal that came off a turnover on a muffed punt with time running out in overtime. But it was a decision by Belichick that set up the Patriots. After winning the OT coin toss, he chose to take the wind — a stiff, brutally cutting wind — in a move that even his captains questioned.
“We all looked at each other like he was crazy — then we all asked again and again and again,” Logan Mankins told Comcast SportsNet’s Postgame Live. “And we just wanted to make sure we were doing exactly what he wanted.”
Manning was having no success throwing into the wind, raising questions about just how well he will fare outdoors as the season and postseason progress (the Super Bowl is, after all, in New Jersey). Throwing into the wind, Brady completed 17 of 23 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns (he finished with 34-of-50 completions for 344 yards and three TDs), ESPN’s Trent Dilfer pointed out. Manning, via Dilfer, was 6 for 16 for 40 yards and an interception when throwing into the wind; on the game-tying drive, he completed 5 of 7 for 53 yards. He finished with 19-of-30 completions for 150 yards and two TDs as the Broncos went with Knowshon Moreno (37 carries, 244 yards) and the running game.
“The wind, it was a strong wind,” Belichick said in his postgame press conference. “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.”
Unlike a certain fourth-and-2 decision that backfired in a Manning-Brady game four years ago, this decision worked beautifully as the Broncos, with Wes Welker waiting for the ball, messed up a punt.
Brady, now 10-4 against Manning, is a master at adapting; he completed 59 percent of his passes in the first half, 81 percent in the second. The Patriots, who were coming off a tough, controversial Monday night loss to the Carolina Panthers, are 8-3, the Broncos 9-2 after the game that ended early Monday morning. And when it mattered most, their coach made the right decision.
“Great decision,” Rob Gronkowski said in a WEEI interview. “He is our coach [and] we’re behind him with everything, especially Coach Belichick. Whatever he has, we’re behind him. So it was a great call because we won.”