Imagine Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" ending with a triumphant armpit fart. "Hamlet" ending with an alien invasion. "Citizen Kane" revealing that Rosebud was a Happy Meal toy. Now you're starting to see what Sunday night's Manning-Brady XIV showdown was like: a classic football game that ended on the worst of clunkers.
Granted, this wasn't a flawless game. New England looked lost and lifeless in the first half, Denver terrified and overmatched in the second. But both teams did what good teams do: they survived, they rallied, and they put themselves in position to win the game ... or at least keep the other guy from doing so.
Indeed, for 73 minutes of game time that looked like where this game was headed: a draw, see you in the playoffs for the rematch. With two minutes left in overtime, New England was punting to expatriate Wes Welker, and there was little expectation that Denver would be able to move the ball with enough effectiveness to win the game.
But then, fate, in the form of a nasty Foxborough wind, forced its way in. More properly, Welker didn't call off his blockers soon enough, and the swirling wind pushed the ball off the hand of charging Denver blocker Tony Carter. The Patriots fell on it, and moments later Stephen Gostkowski drilled an easy game-winning 31-yard field goal.
Per Football Outsiders, this marked the 19th comeback win from 24 or more points down. The last team to do it? The Broncos, last October against San Diego.
This will go down as a victory for New England and a loss for Denver, but the NFL ought to hang an extra loss on each team just for spite. Denver had a 24-point halftime lead that New England erased with 31 straight points, while the Patriots had opportunity after opportunity to deliver a knockout blow late and kept letting Peyton Manning squirrel his way to freedom.
Manning would finish with only 150 yards passing on 19 of 36 attempts, with two touchdowns against one interception. The Broncos instead relied on Knowshon Moreno, who had 224 yards and a touchdown on 37 attempts. On the other side of the field, Tom Brady threw the ball 50 times, connecting on 34 for 344 yards and three touchdowns. Both LeGarrette Blount and Stephan Ridley fumbled early for the Patriots; their current whereabouts are unknown.
And fumbles were the story of this game: a combined 12, six apiece, none more costly than Carter's. The takeaway here? When these teams are on their game, the only team that can beat them is themselves.