FOXBORO, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked after Sunday's 31-21 win over the Denver Broncos about the latest matchup of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
"They're both great," the Patriots coach said. "Nobody I'd rather have than Tom Brady, but Manning's a great player."
Both were able to pretty-much have their way with the other's secondary, but it was Brady's long drives that led him to his ninth win in 13 head-to-head meetings with Manning (7-3 regular season), the first with Manning playing for Denver.
Brady, carving Denver up out of the no-huddle, led the Patriots on four straight lengthy scoring drives in the second and third quarters, giving New England (3-2) a 24-7 third-quarter lead. It was 31-7 before the second and third touchdown passes of the day by Manning.
"It's Patriots-Broncos," Brady said of his matchup with Manning. "It's a team win ... It's a good win against a very good team. The Broncos have got a very good team in all three phases and I thought we stood up to them."
Brady finished 23 for 31 for 223 yards, throwing for one touchdown and running for another, while Manning finished 31 for 44 for 345 yards, the 66th 300-yard game of his career, extending his NFL record.
"I've played here a number of times but under different circumstances," said Manning. "We are working on things and building things. It doesn't happen right away."
Wes Welker, who had been a forgotten man opening the season after a contract dispute, caught 13 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, while Stevan Ridley ran for a career-high 151 yards and the score that made it 31-7 with 4:42 left in the third quarter (the Patriots have had two straight 200-yard rushing games).
"He is a bad dude," safety Rahim Moore said of Welker.
The Patriots, who broke a franchise record with 35 first downs, scored on drives of 84, 80, 93 and 80 yards, totaling over 22 minutes and running 58 plays on the four drives, Brady capping the fourth with a TD dive.
Manning was 13 for 18 in the first half and the Patriots did little covering, but the Broncos (2-3, with losses to the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and Patriots) were conservative in the first drive after the break. Manning also fumbled and lost the ball at his own 14 after a sack by Rob Ninkovich on Denver's second second-half possession.
Welker registered his 15th double-digit catch game, tying him with Andre Johnson for third place on the NFL's all-time list. Ridley had his third career 100-yard rushing game, all of them coming in this, his second season in the NFL.
"It's awesome, man," he said of the improving run game. "I just have to say it takes a lot of pressure off Brady."
Shane Vereen also scored for New England, while Manning hit Joel Dreessen with a one-yard touchdown pass that tied the game 7-7 55 seconds into the second quarter. Manning also threw short TD passes to Eric Decker and Brandon Stokley.
By the time Manning took his new team 90 yards down the field and hit Decker with a 2-yard TD pass in the third quarter, the game was out of reach. Brady's fourth-down fumble led to Manning's TD throw to Stokley.
Demaryius Thomas caught nine passes for 188 yards, including a pair of great catches, for Denver. But he also lost a fumble at the end of a 43-yard reception as the Broncos were headed in for a score on the first drive of the game. It was his fifth career 100-yard game.
Willis McGahee ran for 51 yards and caught three passes but dropped a fourth-down pass and fumbled the ball away at the New England 10 late, after Ridley had fumbled the ball back to Denver, which could have made it a game.
Notes: Former Patriots center Dan Koppen (now with Denver), in his first season not with New England, got a nice hand as he left the field after chatting with old teammates. ... Brady has eight touchdown passes and one interception in five games, while Manning, who missed all last season with neck surgeries, has 11 TDs and three picks so far. ... Ninkovich forced the two fumbles lost by the Broncos. ... The 31 points by the end of the third quarter gave the Patriots 76 points in their last five quarters, dating back to the previous game against Buffalo. ... Welker's first catch of the game gave him 99 straight games with at least one catch, while Brady's touchdown pass to Welker gave Brady a TD pass in 37 straight games, third all-time behind Drew Brees and Johnny Unitas. ... The game was a matchup of Gronkowskis, tight end Rob for New England (four catches, while playing with hip pain) and fullback Chris for the Broncos. ... Denver visits San Diego next week while New England travels to Seattle for its third road game in the last four. ... New England tight end Aaron Hernandez, who practiced twice during the week, missed his third straight game with an ankle sprain. ... Vereen's touchdown was the second of his career. ... Denver linebacker Keith Brooking left with a concussion and did not return, while Pats offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer and Logan Mankins left with late injuries. ... Rain fell before the game but stopped right at the start.