The Patriots will take the field here Sunday night to face the Indianapolis Colts with a chance to move a game in front of the Broncos in the competition for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. The Patriots also hold the tie-breaker advantage over the Broncos after beating them two weeks ago.
The Broncos also fell into a first-place tie with the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West, with identical 7-3 records. But the Broncos hold the tie-breaker advantage over the Chiefs at this point after beating them in Denver in Week 2. The rematch in Kansas City comes in two weeks.
Manning and the Broncos suddenly find themselves with two losses in their past three games, and with issues to address.
The Denver offense was left shorthanded Sunday after wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, tight end Julius Thomas and running back Montee Ball exited the game with injures. Ball limped off the field with a groin injury. Thomas left with an ankle injury. Sanders was evaluated for a concussion after absorbing a jarring hit by Rams safety Rodney McLeod.
Manning and the Broncos couldn’t compensate. He threw for 389 yards and had a touchdown pass to Sanders. But Manning also threw two interceptions and the Broncos were stopped by the Rams three times on fourth-down gambles. The Broncos were held to their lowest scoring output with Manning as their quarterback.
The Rams have been formidable lately, especially at home. They have home victories over both of last season’s Super Bowl teams, the Seattle Seahawks and the Broncos, within the last month. The Rams also won at San Francisco and had a fourth-quarter lead at Arizona before being overtaken by the Cardinals.
Still, this was an alarming performance by the Broncos. They’re only 2-3 on the road this season. Manning mentioned the need for the Broncos to play better on the road following the Nov. 2 defeat in Foxborough, Mass. They bounced back with a win at Oakland last weekend against the winless Raiders, but it was back to struggling Sunday in St. Louis.
Manning threw 54 passes Sunday as the Denver running game managed only 28 yards on 10 rushing attempts against a St. Louis defense that had given up 124.2 rushing yards per game coming into Sunday, a figure that ranked the Rams 25th in the league. He was sacked twice and put under pressure often by the Rams. The Broncos worked out controversial guard Richie Incognito last week without signing him, but a deal with Incognito could be revisited soon with the offensive line seemingly in need of help. Manning had his third straight two-interception game.
Manning is having a season worthy of him being in the league most valuable player conversation. But he already has five MVP awards. This season is all about him attempting to secure a second career Super Bowl triumph.
Increasingly, it appears the road to another Super Bowl appearance for Manning and the Broncos will include having to win a postseason game at New England. That will be more than the Broncos can manage if they don’t pick up their level of play.
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