FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — This is why you love the New England Patriots. And simultaneously hate them.
This is why you can’t wait to sit down and watch them play. And why you have to walk away at times.
They are exhilarating. They are exasperating.
The New England Patriots and Tom Brady beat the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning 34-31 in overtime Sunday night at frigid Gillette Stadium in a game that was both great theater and bad football at times.
The Patriots looked lost in the first half, falling behind 24-0 mainly because they lost three fumbles in the first eight minutes of the opening quarter.
The Patriots scored 31 consecutive points in the second half because they forced two turnovers that led to touchdowns.
The frozen fans who stayed after the first half were treated to one of the Patriots’ best halves of the season.
It was supposed to be a showdown between Brady and Manning. The 14th meeting between the two came down to which team could execute best.
New England was horrific in the first half. Fumbles by Stevan Ridley (which are becoming a problem), Brady and LeGarrette Blount led to 17 Broncos points. Ridley’s miscue was returned 60 yards by Von Miller for a touchdown. Brady was strip-sacked by Miller, leading to a 2-yard run by Knowshown Moreno, who rushed for 224 yards.
Blount’s fumble led to a 27-yard field goal by Matt Prater.
Ridley and Blount never played again Brady did, which was good. He threw three touchdown passes in the second half to lead the Patriots to 31 consecutive points.
Fans who were silent in the first half screamed in the second.
What they saw in those two quarters was a combination of a lot of things, but mostly it was the leadership of the veterans in the locker room.
They didn’t let the younger players panic. They made some adjustments. They kept their cool.
And the Patriots’ defense, which was being gashed on the ground, came up with two huge turnovers.
Brandon Spikes recovered a Montee Ball fumble, and that led to a Brandon Bolden touchdown run that made it 24-14. After forcing a punt, Brady found Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown.
Then rookie Logan Ryan intercepted Manning. That led to another touchdown, this one from Brady to Julian Edelman, who faked out one defender and leaped over two others. And the Patriots led. They increased the lead to 31-24, but that wasn’t enough, because Manning was on the other sideline.
All Manning did, with everyone knowing what he had to do, was drive Denver 80 yards for the tying touchdown.
But in the end, Manning’s teammates let him down. And Brady’s didn’t.
With both teams struggling in overtime, the Broncos blinked.
Denver’s Tony Carter had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the right time for the Patriots. Ryan Allen’s punt hit him when he wasn’t looking, and the ball dropped at his feet. New England’s Nate Ebner recovered — easily the biggest play of his two-year career.
And Stephen Gostkowski kicked the 32-yarder to win the game.
The Patriots stress that every man on the roster has a purpose. And Sunday’s win showed that.
Brady has also said that this team is still finding its way.
Sunday night, the Patriots showed they were still learning.
And at the same time, they still have a long way to go.
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at:firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: MikeLowePPH