New England outlasted the Denver Broncos 31-21 on Sunday in a game that looked familiar for these 2012 Patriots. New England won the turnover battle, it ran the ball like crazy, and Brady was very sharp despite numbers that didn't light up the box score.
The game also reminded us a little of the early themes to the Brady-Manning rivalry. Manning had the better fantasy stats with 345 yards and three touchdown throws. But a series of punts during the middle of the game let the Patriots run a fast-break offense, grab a big lead and ultimately hold on for dear life during a wild fourth quarter.
Manning lost a fumble on a sack, but his teammates let him down to kill three other drives. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas lost a fumble early, and Willis McGahee ended two promising late fourth-quarter drives with a fourth-down drop and a fumble.
Denver's defense wasn't any better. New England set a franchise record with 35 first downs. That's what happens when you throw the ball 31 times and run it 54 times. Yes, the Patriots ran for over 240 yards for the second consecutive week. Stevan Ridley had 151 yards alone.
This Patriots squad is more complete than their No. 1 seeds of the last two years. Their defense isn't great, but the pass rush exists. The running game is improved. Brady doesn't have to carry the team every snap, but he has hit all the key third-down plays when needed.
When the Patriots needed one more first down to kill the clock late in the game, Brady looked to the same guy he did all day. Wes Welker made a diving catch, his 13th grab of the game, and the Patriots moved to 3-2.
Manning looks better than we expected early this season, but Brady is the one with a championship-level team around him.Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.