Here are five things we learned from the 13th installment of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning.
1) New threads, same Peyton Manning
Sunday afternoon was the first time the Patriots would get the chance to take on Peyton Manning since his arrival in the Mile High City. Despite the change of uniform and a whole new offense, Manning still looked like himself. Good ol' 18 completed 31 of his 44 pass attempts on Sunday for a total of 345 yards, a trifecta of touchdowns and zero interceptions, posting an otherworldly 116.2 quarterback rating. If not for a pair of ill-advised miscues by running back Willis McGahee, Manning may have led his team into position to tie or even beat the Patriots on Sunday. It was shades of November 2010 at Gillette Stadium when the Pats held a 31-14 fourth quarter lead over Manning and the Colts, but nearly saw it all completely evaporate before being bailed out by a James Sanders' interception. Make no mistake about it, Manning has still got it, and don't be surprised if you see his Broncos back in the playoff hunt this winter.
2) Devin McCourty (still) can't cover
Well, I think I've harped about this one enough for now, though it was definitely deserving of a spot on this list. I'll just let you decide. You watched the game, you saw the blown coverages and the pass interference penalty that led directly to Denver's first touchdown. Now, I'm not saying he's not a useful player, because Devin McCourty is quite the athlete and could be used in lots of special teams situations. Also, perhaps they should give him another try playing safety where he wouldn't be relied upon in man-to-man coverage, which quite clearly isn't one of his strong points.
3) Wes Welker remains an invaluable weapon in the Patriots' offense
For the first few weeks of the season, fans across New England began to fret when it seemed like their favorite wide receiver was being "phased out" of the offense, in favor of the younger and less expensive Julian Edelman. However, after both Edelman and playmaking tight end Aaron Hernandez were beset by injuries, Welker has seen his number of catches increase significantly. His thirteen grabs for 104 yards were the biggest part of the New England offense on Sunday, firmly assuring everyone that he can -- and should -- be a major part of this offense as the season moves forward.
4) Offense gets the job done late to seal victory
Despite Stevan Ridley's costly late-game fumble, the Patriots were lucky enough to be given the ball back after Rob Ninkovich stripped McGahee on a redzone run just as the Broncos were looking to cut into a 10-point New England lead. When the Patriots took over with about three and a half minutes left on the clock, they only needed a couple of first downs to secure a much-needed home field victory. Fortunately for the near-70,000 screaming fans in attendance, the Patriots were able to put away the Broncos with a series of first down plays, capped off by a Wes Welker reception on third down and four. This is most definitely a great sign for the Patriots, who have had trouble closing teams out late in games. In fact, its been one of the largest common denominators in all of New England's losses over the past few seasons. If they can build off their momentum from Sunday's winning effort, the Patriots should be in good shape, moving forward.
5) Bravo, Indianapolis. Colts shock Packers 30-27
Yes, I know that this has nothing to do with the events that transpired down at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, but figured that an amazing story like this was most certainly worth telling. After head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia early in the week, the world of the Indianapolis Colts was absolutely rocked. On Sunday afternoon, with their new "Chuckstrong" slogan firmly in tow, the Colts toppled one of the NFL's greatest teams, the Green Bay Packers, overcoming what looked to be an insurmountable 21-3 deficit. While a victory on a football field will never reach the paramount importance level of the battle coach Pagano is currently fighting inside the walls of an Indianapolis hospital, perhaps it was enough to bring a smile to his face in a time where moments of joy are few and far between. It was an honorable effort by the Colts, one that they should certainly be proud of. Bravo, Indianapolis, bravo.