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Patriots crush Broncos, take over first place in AFC

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A surgical Tom Brady tossed four touchdowns to lead the New England Patriots to a 43-21 victory over the Denver Broncos in Sunday's matchup of AFC superpowers. Our takeaways:

1. It's fitting that Brady and Peyton Manning combined for the most pass attempts ever in a non-overtime game. With a lot of help from Bill Belichick's creative defensive schemes, the former outplayed the latter in their 16th career matchup. The Broncos entered the game with the NFL's second-best defense, according to Football Outsiders' metrics. They couldn't slow down the league's hottest offense, as Brady overcame a handful of drops by his wide receivers to convert a series of key third downs and pull through in the red zone. The Patriots have averaged 40 points per game since the Week 4 blowout at Kansas City while Brady has entered the MVP discussion.

2. The wind seemed to affect Manning's throws more than Brady's. Both of Manning's interceptions led to quick Patriots touchdowns. The second was the result of a Wes Welker drop, preventing a potential comeback in the third quarter. Welker took a shot to the back on the play and was later ruled out for the game. It's been a rough season for the slot receiver.

3. Rob Gronkowski continued his torrid play, turning in one of the plays of the season with a one-handed, "Bionic Arm" catch to set up his own 1-yard touchdown. Gronk became the fifth player in NFL history with 50 touchdown receptions in his first five seasons. His 516 yards in the last calendar month are the most over any five-game stretch of his career. He's as dominant as ever.

4. Whereas the Broncos have already escaped the toughest portion of their schedule, the Patriots have just begun a grueling stretch. Following the Week 10 bye, their next five games are at Indianapolis, vs. Detroit, at Green Bay, at San Diego and vs. Miami. They are lucky those opponents weren't on the early-season schedule.

5. Julian Edelman's 84-yard punt return moved him past Devin Hester for the highest career average among active players. Edelman's 12.58 average ranks third in NFL history, behind only George McAfee and Jack Christiansen. He would have added a third touchdown Sunday had he not dropped a pass in the end zone.

6. Both teams abandoned the run after being shut down early. Pass-catching specialist Shane Vereen dominated playing time in the Patriots backfield, with between-the-tackles runner Jonas Gray as an afterthought until it came time to kill the clock. Ronnie Hillman tweaked his ankle early in the game, but still found the end zone twice.

7. Julius Thomas became the first tight end in franchise history with double-digit touchdowns in back-to-back seasons. He has 22 scores in his last 22 games.

8. Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are the only players in the NFL with five 100-yard receiving games this season.

9. Broncos linebacker Nate Irving was immediately ruled out for the game after suffering a knee injury in the fourth quarter.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Sunday game from an action-packed Week 9. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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