The New England Patriots upended the Denver Broncos 34-31 in utterly improbable overtime fashion in Foxboro Sunday night.
The Patriots win sets up the likelihood of another epic, Brady-Manning XV, in January for the right to go to Super Bowl XLVIII.
The miraculous comeback victory turned Brady-Manning XIV into an instant classic and helped ratchet up the potential of a Brady-Manning XV rematch in the AFC title game on January 19.
The Broncos raced out to a 17-0 first-quarter lead on the back of three consecutive New England lost fumbles on their first three drives of the game. Denver then took a seemingly insurmountable 24-0 lead into intermission.
Tom Brady and the Patriots stormed back with 31 straight points in the second half to turn a rout into a 31-24 lead and nailbiter that went almost a full quarter into overtime. Peyton Manning capped an 80-yard drive with a 11-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas late in the fourth quarter to send the game in overtime.
Stephen Gostkowski kicked the game-winning 31-yard field goal in the wake of a muffed punt return opportunity by the Broncos put New England in easy range.
It stands as the biggest comeback win in Patriots history and puts Brady and the Patriots at 10-4 all time (and 9-4-1 against the spread) in the unrivaled Brady-Manning rivalry, the greatest of all time.
The New England victory sends shockwaves through the AFC playoff race, opening the door for the Patriots to grab the No. 1 seed and for Kansas City to reassert itself into the bye-week chase.
Here’s what the AFC leaderboard looks like right now:
- AFC West leader – Denver 9-2
- AFC East leader – New England 8-3
- AFC North leader – Cincinnati 7-4
- AFC South leader – Indianapolis 7-4
- Wildcard No. 1 – Kansas City 9-2
- Wildcard No. 2 – six teams tied at 5-6 (Jets, Dolphins, Steelers, Ravens, Titans, Chargers)
The division champions are far from certain, but the Bengals and Colts each enjoy two-game leads in their respective divisions. It seems likely that the Chiefs and the five leaders listed above will all end up playing in the postseason, barring a Sunday night Denverian-style collapse by one of them.
Big wildcard race
The big race right now is in that jumbled spot for the No. 6 seed and final wildcard spot. Traditional AFC contenders Pittsburgh and Baltimore have now inserted themselves into the playoff picture with strong Week 12 wins on Sunday.
Steelers-Ravens Turkey Day tussle
The Steelers beat the Ravens earlier this year and travel to Baltimore for what is now a huge Thanksgiving day battle between the hard-hitting rivals.
Meanwhile, the Colts travel to Cincinnati in Week 14 in what shapes up as a pivotal game for seeding in the AFC. Indy has lost two of its last three, including a poor performance Sunday at Arizona (40-11 loss). They still have a very losable visit to Kansas City on the list.
Tight AFC West showdown
Denver controls its own destiny, but must now go into Kansas City next week and make it two wins in three weeks over what was a 9-0 team just two weeks ago. The Chiefs, however, have now lost two straight, including 41-38 vs. the Chargers on Sunday.
So the AFC West is still far from certain.
Patriots sitting pretty
The Patriots, in the wake of the Sunday night comeback win, are in the most comfortable spot, with a three-game lead in the AFC East with just five to play.
They now control their own destiny when it comes to earning a first-round bye, but need help from Denver, at least one loss, to earn the No. 1 seed. However, if both the Broncos and Patriots end the year tied, say 13-3, the Patriots have now assured the head-to-head tiebreaker over Denver – which means an AFC title game in New England instead of Denver.
Soft Patriots stretch run
The Patriots certainly have the softer schedule down the stretch: @Houston (2-9), vs. Cleveland (4-7), @Miami (5-6), @Baltimore (5-6), vs. Buffalo (4-7). Combined record: 20-35. Each game is winnable.
Denver’s road is a little more challenging: @Kansas City (9-2), vs. Tennessee (5-6), vs. San Diego (5-6), at Houston (2-9), @Oakland (4-7). Combined record: 25-30. Each game is winnable, but the Chiefs, Titans and Chargers are all playoff contenders right now and each will be desperate for a win.
Book it! Brady-Manning XV in January
However your measure it, Sunday night’s outcome adds up to an instant classic in the epic Brady-Manning rivalry, and helps assure the fact we get a Brady-Manning XV in January.
That's a win for football fans everywhere.