Third-and-5 from the Denver 47: Hoping to sustain the Broncos’ opening drive, quarterback Peyton Manning targeted wide receiver Demaryius Thomas deep downfield. The third-year receiver made the catch and took the ball all the way to the New England 18-yard line, but was stripped from behind. The Patriots recovered the fumble, ending the Broncos chances of taking the lead right out of the gates.
Third-and-5 from the Denver 47: Facing the same down and distance from the same line of scrimmage as its opening possession, the Broncos offense looked to extend its second drive of the game. This time, Manning was sacked, forcing Denver to punt the ball over to New England. This time, the Patriots capitalized and marched down the field for their first score of the game.
Third-and-1 from the New England 25: Needing just one yard for the first down, Manning handed to running back Willis McGahee. The veteran charged through the line and extended the ball forward as he was being tackled near the first-down mark. The play was ruled a first down on the field, but the Patriots challenged the spot. After a replay, the call stood and four snaps later, Manning found tight end Joel Dreessen for a 1-yard touchdown to tie the score at 7.
Third-and-10 from the New England 20: After the equalizing touchdown, the Broncos defense had the Patriots in a third-and-long situation. Instead of a three-and-out, quarterback Tom Brady hit wide receiver Wes Welker for a 14-yard gain to give the drive life. The Patriots wound up scoring on a 1-yard run by Shane Vereen to take a lead that they never relinquished.
Third-and-5 from the New England 35: The Broncos responded with another sustained drive into Patriots territory. However, the drive stalled when Manning’s third-down pass intended for Brandon Stokley was knocked away, forcing Denver to punt.
Third-and-17 from the New England 43: Trailing by 10 points midway through the third quarter, Denver’s defense forced New England into a third-and-long. Brady handed the ball off to running back Danny Woodhead, who found a hole and carried for a 19-yard gain to pick up the first down. Instead of having to punt the ball back to the Broncos, the Patriots were able to pad their lead with a Tom Brady rushing touchdown that made the score 24-7.
Fourth-and-1 from the New England 47: With the Broncos offense looking to narrow the gap in the fourth quarter, the team needed one yard on fourth down to extend its promising drive. Manning targeted McGahee out of the backfield, but the running back couldn’t hold on to the ball and the Patriots took over on downs.
Second-and-10 from the New England 14: Late in the game, Denver had a chance to cut the deficit to one score, but McGahee was stripped of the ball and the Patriots recovered at their 11-yard line with 3:42 remaining in the game. New England was able to run out the clock to come away with the 31-21 victory.