Patriots 31, Broncos 21

Mike Shalin, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

FOXBORO, Mass. -- Tom Brady won his latest battle with Peyton Manning and the New England Patriots held off a late charge by Manning and the Denver Broncos to win 31-21 Sunday.
Brady, carving Denver up out of the no-huddle, led his team on four straight lengthy scoring drives in the second and third quarters, giving New England (3-2) a 24-7 third-quarter lead and it was 31-7 before the second and third touchdown passes of the day by Manning.
The win raised Brady's all-time record against Manning and the Indianapolis Colts/Broncos to 8-4, 7-3 in the regular season.
Wes Welker, who had been a forgotten man opening the season after a contract dispute, caught 13 passes for 104 yards with 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, 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.
Brady finished 23 for 31 for 223 yards, throwing for one touchdown and running for another.
Manning (31 for 44 for 345 yards), his NFL-record 66th 300-yard game, was 13 for 18 and the Patriots did little in the way of pass coverage in the first half, but the Broncos 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.
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 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 two-yard TD pass, 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. 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 late, after Ridley had fumbled the ball away.
Notes: Linebacker Rob 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 (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 games. ... 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.

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