Masters

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady came into the NFL two years apart, but they’ve been linked together it seems forever.

In what was their 13th head-to-head meeting at Gillette Stadium, New England’s 31-21 victory overDenverlast Sunday was more about running the football than throwing it.

Brady has now been on the winning side nine times, has led the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles in five tries, and afterward the two shook hands while dozens of cameras recorded the moment.

CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz and color commentator Phil Simms made a point during the broadcast to mention this could be the final time these two giants meet on the gridiron.

Manning, who missed the entire 2011 campaign after neck surgery, and is the NFL’s only four-time Most Valuable Player, owns one Super Bowl ring in two attempts, and is in his first season with the Broncos.

When the history book is written, Manning and Brady will go down as two of the all-time greatest quarterbacks, and as expected the pair did what they do best, which is throw the football, but New England’s ability to move the ball on the ground by Stevan Ridley, who had a career-high 151 yards on 28 carries, Brandon Bolden (54 yards on 14 rushes) and Danny Woodhead (47 yards on seven carries) provided the difference.

Using a hurry-up offense,New Englandhad 251 yards rushing and was able to grind out a club-record 35 first downs, which controlled the clock and pace.

The Patriots (3-2) were able to get off 89 plays and finished with 444 total net yards, compared to the Broncos (2-3) running 66 plays for 402 yards, including 70 on the ground.

Brady’s eight-yard pass to Wes Welker (104 yards on 13 receptions) put the Patriots in front 7-0 with 3:08 left in the opening quarter, but Manning, who ended the day hitting 31 of 44 for 345 yards, answered with a one-yard throw to tight end Joel Dreessen (21 yards and four catches) early in the second quarter.

When Shane Vereen scored on a one-yard surge and just under eight minutes left before the half, the Patriots led 14-7.

Stephen Gostkowski’s 23-yard field goal with two seconds showing in the same quarter pulledNew Englandinto a 10 point lead.

Brady (23 of 31 for 223 yards) came out in the second half and directedNew Englandto two touchdowns, and also pushed the Patriots to four scoring drives longer than 80 yards.

Brady’s one-yard dive with five minutes remaining in the third quarter made it 24-7, and Ridley’s eight-yard explosion 18 seconds later gaveNew Englanda 31-7 edge.

Ridley fumbled late in the game, but it didn’t come back and haunt New England becauseDenverrunning back Willis McGahee (51 yards on 14 rushes) also fumbled.

Manning’s favorite target was Demaryius Thomas, who hauled in nine catches for 188 yards.

After a 90-yard, 10-play drive, Manning found Eric Decker (21 yards and four receptions) with a two-yard toss and 1:08 left in the third quarter, slicing New England’s advantage to 17 points.

New England’s lead shrunk to 10 points when Manning hit Brandon Stokley with a five-yard dart and 6:43 showing in the final quarter.

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net. 

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