I’m not the type who likes to go around talking about quarterback win-loss records because they really aren’t that meaningful. However, because there are pundits that will talk about them, and particularly talk about them when comparing this week’s AFC title game quarterbacks to one another, I figured I’d explore one guy’s stat.
The talk, of course, centers around Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, but I wanted to look at something different, and that’s Brady performance when playing the Broncos in Denver. You may have heard that Brady is 2-7 when playing the Broncos on the road, but let’s set that aside for the moment.
It may not have seem liked it, given that we’ve focused so much on recent Brady vs. Manning history, but the truth is, in games with Manning as the Broncos’ starter, the Broncos and Patriots have played each other three times in New England and just once in Denver. Were it not for Manning missing the regular-season matchup this year, that would have been the first time Brady and Manning played opposite each other in Denver in the regular season. Sunday’s AFC title will mark the second time the two played each other in Denver, but both were playoff games.
But what exactly has happened the last nine times Brady has come to Denver? Let’s examine each of those games, find out what made the difference, how good the Patriots and Broncos were in those seasons, and how good Brady really was. We’ll start with the most recent games and work our way back, or to put it another way, start with the one we remember because of recent memories and work back to the ones that have mostly become faded memories.
I will start each game with who the opposing quarterback was, the stat lines for each, and which team did better in time of possession, turnovers and penalties. And since we are looking at Brady, the scores will be listed based on whether the Patriots won or lost.
2015: Regular season, Nov. 29, L 30-24 OT
The opposing quarterback: Brock Osweiler
Brady’s stat line: 23-42-280-3-0
Opposing QB’s stat line: 23-42-270-1-1
Who won time of possession: Denver (36:31 to 25:57)
Who won the turnover department: Neither (tied at one apiece)
Who had fewer penalties: New England (five for 47 vs. six for 46)
We all remember what happened here: The Broncos and Patriots each entered the game with players who were injured and lost key players during the game to injuries. The Patriots held a 14-7 lead at halftime and extended it to 21-7 by the start of the fourth quarter, thanks to the Broncos failing to cover Brandon Bolden, who took a short pass from Brady and ran it 63 yards to the end zone. The Broncos had to punt on their next drive, but Chris Harper muffed the punt and Shaquil Barrett recovered it for the Broncos, who converted the fumble into a touchdown. The Broncos followed that with a field goal, sandwiched in between two unsuccessful Patriot drives. Denver added a late touchdown with 1:15 left, that being Osweiler’s first TD pass of the game. And despite the Patriots being thin at wide receiver and tight end (Rob Gronkowski left the game with 2:53 left), Brady completed three of four passes for first downs and gained another thanks to a Broncos’ defensive holding penalty, to set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 47-yard field goal. In overtime, the Patriots got the ball first, but went three and out and Denver responded with the game-winning 48-yard touchdown by CJ Anderson.
If you look solely at the QB numbers, Brady outperformed Osweiler. As for what made the difference in the game, each team committed a turnover that gave the opposing offense great field position. Osweiler’s interception in the second quarter gave the Patriots the ball at the Denver 15-yard line, and of course Brady will capitalize on that field position. Harper’s turnover gave Denver the ball at the New England 36-yard line, so the Broncos had more field to cover for a touchdown, but Harper’s turnover came at a bad time, because the Patriots had a chance to put the game away. But if you look at the numbers above, time of possession played an important role, too, and the Broncos dominated that category.
We all know the story about what happened after this game: The Broncos dropped games to Oakland and Pittsburgh and put themselves in a position where two wins would give them the division and a first-round bye, but just one loss could push them to a wild-card berth or even out of the playoffs entirely. Yet they managed to win both games, while the Patriots regained control of the top seed, then lost it after dropping games to the Jets and Dolphins. We’ll find out this Sunday who goes on to the Super Bowl, but let’s continue our look back at past outings.
2013: AFC title game, Jan. 19, L 26-16
The opposing quarterback: Peyton Manning
Brady’s stat line: 24-38-277-1-0
Opposing QB’s stat line: 32-43-400-2-0
Who won time of possession: Denver (35:44 to 24:16)
Who won the turnover department: No turnovers
Who had fewer penalties: New England (two for 15 vs. four for 34)
Both teams entered this game with multiple starters lost for the season to injury. Broncos players who were out included Von Miller, Chris Harris and Ryan Clady, while Patriots who didn’t play include Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer and Tommy Kelly. Most people remember this game for when Wes Welker (then with the Broncos) laid a hit on Aqib Talib (then with the Patriots) that sidelined Talib for the rest of the game. The Broncos, of course, saw Manning set new passing records for a single season, but the offense wasn’t exactly churning out first-half points, as Denver led 13-3. The second half, though, saw the Broncos finally break through with a third-quarter touchdown catch by Demaryius Thomas and an early fourth-quarter field goal. The Patriots battled back, though, getting two scores in the fourth quarter, countered by another Denver field goal. New England attempted an onside kick with 3:13 left, but Eric Decker recovered it and Manning completed a 23-yard pass to Jacob Tamme that helped the Broncos put the game away.
Brady had a solid but not spectacular outing, while Manning was good but didn’t put up that many touchdown, though the edge did go to Manning. Where Denver really won this game was on time of possession, though. It also helped that the Broncos never gave up a sack, while Brady was sacked twice.
Again, we know how the story unfolded. The Broncos went on to the Super Bowl and lost a lopsided affair to the Seahawks.
2011: Regular season, Dec. 18, W 41-23
The opposing quarterback: Tim Tebow
Brady’s stat line: 23-34-320-2-0
Opposing QB’s stat line: 11-23-194-0-0
Who won the time of possession: New England (33:41 to 26:19)
Who won the turnover department: New England (no turnovers, Denver had four)
Who had fewer penalties: New England (four for 30 vs. seven for 39)
This would be known as the game in which Brady became the party pooper for Tebowmania. The Broncos actually started with a 16-7 lead, but the Patriots scored 20 unanswered points to close the second quarter and the Broncos never recovered. Tebow was sacked four times and fumbled twice. The Broncos had four fumbles, three recovered by New England.
There’s no other way to put it: The Patriots dominated the second through fourth quarters and rolled to a win and Brady was superior to Tebow. From there, the Broncos slipped into a division win, won the wild card round, then promptly got demolished by the Patriots in the divisional round. New England went on to the Super Bowl, losing to the Giants.
2009: Regular season, Oct. 11, L 20-17 OT
The opposing quarterback: Kyle Orton
Brady’s stat line: 19-33-215-2-0
Opposing QB’s stat line: 35-48-330-2-1
Who won time of possession: Denver (36:29 to 28:22)
Who won the turnover department: New England (one vs. two)
Who had fewer penalties: Denver (three for 20 vs. four for 46)
This would be the first time Brady and Josh McDaniels were on opposing sides. Sticking to the game, Brady played reasonably well and gave the Patriots a 17-7 lead at halftime. The Broncos already had a lost fumble courtesy of Knowshon Moreno, which gave the Patriots the ball at the Denver 43-yard line, which New England converted into a field goal. Also, Orton threw his first interception of the season, but it came on a Hail Mary to close the first half. Things changed in the second half as the Broncos scored 10 unanswered points and Brady was sacked late by Vonnie Holliday, losing the ball and Elvis Dumervil recovering it. The Broncos got the ball at the Patriots’ 45-yard line but couldn’t answer with a score. In overtime, though, the Broncos, who won the toss, drove to the New England 22-yard line and got the game-winning field goal from Matt Prater. (Remember, this was before the new OT rules.)
Once again, the Broncos won time of possession, and while they had more turnovers, Brady’s came at the worst possible time, with 1:49 left in the game. For that day, the edge went to Orton over Brady, although Brady played well enough to win. After this game, the Broncos went from 6-0 to 8-8 and missed the playoffs, while the Patriots went on to win their division, but lost to the Baltimore Ravens 33-14 in the wild card round.
2006: Regular season, Sept. 24, L 17-7
The opposing quarterback: Jake Plummer
Brady’s stat line: 31-55-320-1-0
Opposing QB’s stat line: 15-30-256-2-0
Who won time of possession: Denver (31:45 to 28:15)
Who won the turnover department: No turnovers
Who had fewer penalties: Denver in total, New England in yards (D: six for 78, NE: seven for 52)
This one happened in Week 3, in which the Patriots didn’t get on the board until there was 9:13 left in the game, and prior to that, Denver led 17-0. The Patriots had a late drive with 3:36 left that could have allowed them a chance to make it a one-score game, but after getting to the Denver 20-yard line with fourth down and a yard to go, Brady’s short pass to Troy Brown fell incomplete and allowed the Broncos to kneel down and run out the clock.
On that day, Brady outperformed Plummer, even though the Broncos won. The story for the Broncos didn’t go so well after the game, though. Plummer was eventually benched for Jay Cutler and the Broncos missed the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Patriots advanced to the AFC title game before losing to the Colts in a high-scoring affair, 38-34. As for why the Patriots lost the game to Denver, they actually moved the ball well but came away with no points until the fourth quarter, which sealed their fate even though they didn’t let Denver score much, either.
2005: Regular season, Oct. 16, L 28-20
The opposing quarterback: Jake Plummer
Brady’s stat line: 24-46-299-1-0
Opposing QB’s stat line: 17-24-262-2-0
Who won time of possession: Denver (32:17 to 27:43)
Who won the turnover department: No turnovers
Who had fewer penalties: New England (eight for 55 vs. 11 for 82)
We’re getting out of my intended order here, but there’s a reason for that. The Patriots got on the board first, getting a field goal in the first quarter, only for the Broncos to score 21 unanswered points in the second quarter. They added another touchdown with 10:36 in the third before the Patriots scored again, and that came on another field goal. Brady then led the Patriots to two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The Patriots got the ball back with 5:02 left in the game, but on second and 10 at the Patriots’ 38-yard line, Brady was called for intentional grounding, which backed up New England 10 yards and they eventually had to punt. The Broncos were able to run out the clock from there.
In this game, the Patriots falling behind 28-3 had a lot to do with why they lost and Plummer definitely had the edge over Brady that day, although Brady had a good game overall. As for what happened after that…
2005: AFC divisional round, Jan. 14, L 27-13
The opposing quarterback: Jake Plummer
Brady’s stat line: 20-36-341-1-2
Opposing QB’s stat line: 15-26-197-1-1
Who won time of possession: Denver (31:48 to 28:12)
Who won the turnover department: Denver (one to five)
Who had fewer penalties: Denver (four for 24 vs. eight for 82)
This is the game that Broncos fans are most likely to give Brady grief for. The Patriots fumbled the ball three times, losing them all, while Denver fumbled once but recovered it. Brady’s two interceptions didn’t help and the one Broncos fans will never forget and Patriots fans want to forget is Champ Bailey’s 100-yard interception return, which wasn’t a touchdown thanks to Ben Watson hustling down the field. Bill Belichick challenged that Watson knocked the ball into the end zone and out of bounds from there for a touchback, but lost the challenge. At that point, the Broncos’ lead was just 10-6. After that, the Patriots never really recovered.
Not only was this a game in which the Patriots did everything they could to give it away, but Brady did not play well and Jake Plummer arguably outperformed him, even though Plummer put up a stat line that people may think more resembles a stat line that Peyton Manning may put up in this Sunday’s game. All joking aside, though, there’s no way to sugarcoat it: The Patriots made too many mistakes to have any chance of winning. As for the rest of the story, the Broncos lost the AFC title game to the Pittsburgh Steelers the following week.
2003: Regular season, Nov. 3, W 30-26
The opposing quarterback: Danny Kanell
Brady’s stat line: 20-35-350-3-1
Opposing QB’s stat line: 16-35-163-1-1
Who won time of possession: Denver (31:24 to 28:36)
Who won the turnover department: Denver (one to two)
Who had fewer penalties: Denver (four for 30 vs. 14 for 85)
Jake Plummer was the starting quarterback for the Broncos that season, but an injury sidelined him and the first meeting between he and Brady would have to wait. Even though the Broncos played their backup, Denver still had its chances to win because the Patriots didn’t play particularly well and trailed most of the game, their only lead coming with 5:57 left in the third (20-17). In fact, the Patriots trailed 26-23 after a high snap on a punt attempt led to punter Ken Walter knocking the ball out of the end zone for a safety. Walter’s punt on the free kick, though, put Denver on its own 15-yard line and the Broncos couldn’t move the football. They punted with 2:26 left and Brady promptly drove the Patriots to the Denver 18-yard line, where he completed a touchdown pass to David Givens. The Broncos got the ball back with 23 seconds left, but Kanell’s long pass was intercepted by Asante Samuel.
The Patriots did get outplayed by the Broncos in most areas, but Brady was mostly sharp that day and outplayed Kanell, even if you take away the game-winning drive, and credit definitely goes to Brady for finding a way to win. As for the fate of both teams, the Broncos lost in the wild card round of the playoffs, while the Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl.
2001: Regular season, Oct. 28, L 30-21
The opposing quarterback: Brian Griese
Brady’s stat line: 25-39-203-2-5
Opposing QB’s stat line: 19-30-283-2-2
Who won time of possession: New England (30:51 to 29:09)
Who won the turnover department: Denver (two to five)
Who had fewer penalties: Denver in total, New England in yards (D: 6-66, NE: 7-53)
The Patriots opened with a 10-0 lead and were up 20-10 with 10:59 left in the third quarter, but then the Broncos took over. Griese completed a 65-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith, then led a drive that ended with a 6-yard score to Dwayne Carswell. The Patriots were still in it, trailing 24-20, but Brady was intercepted by Denard Walker, who returned it 39 yards for a touchdown with 2:24 left that put the game away.
We’ll start with the quarterbacks: Griese outplayed Brady that day and, while Brady wasn’t that bad, the bulk of his interceptions came at the worst times. He didn’t turn the ball over in the first quarter, but threw his first interception with 12:54 in the second and was fortunate the Broncos got the ball at their own 2-yard line (although Denver drove the length of the field for a field goal). He had a chance to give New England the lead with 13:12 left in the game, but Walker intercepted a pass in the end zone. Then he had a pass picked off by Deltha O’Neal at the 19-yard line with 8:03 left, then came the crucial pick six. New England got the ball back with 2:14 left, but on fourth down, Brady’s pass was picked off by O’Neal to end the game.
What happened after that, though, is another story. The Broncos finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs, while the Patriots went on to the Super Bowl and beat the Rams to begin the Brady legacy.
So it’s been a decidedly mixed bag for Brady in games he’s played in Denver, even though he’s lost far more than he’s won. In several of the losses, Brady actually played well enough, but other factors — ones that weren’t under his control — came into play. The first two games in Denver were the only games in which the team who won time of possession didn’t win the game, but the others were different. Brady’s play did help the Patriots overcome mistakes in the 2003 outing, but wasn’t enough to do it in others, even those in which the mistakes weren’t on Brady. On the other hand, Brady faced several quarterbacks who weren’t better than him in terms of an overall career, but he didn’t outperform them in every matchup.
I think the full picture of Brady’s nine games in Denver show there’s not much to read into as far as the win-loss record is concerned, either way. But while the Patriots come to town with a healthy offense, they will have to face the top defense in the NFL this year. And while some might think this year’s Peyton Manning is the equivalent of Danny Kanell, the Broncos played well enough to win that 2003 game and lost because they couldn’t stop Brady on his final drive. But with that said, I’m not sure enough evidence exists to suggests that the deciding factor will be Brady’s stat line against Manning’s stat line, unless one or the other posts a terrible line. If that doesn’t happen, it’s other factors and stats that will do more to affect the final outcome. Furthermore, whatever the outcome, I believe it’s going to be a close game.