FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — With 8 1-2 minutes remaining Sunday, the Gillette Stadium crowd delivered the message loud and clear: “Brady’s Better.”
On this day, Tom Brady and his New England Patriots certainly were the superior team, routing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 43-21 to grab the best record in the AFC.
Brady outdueled Manning in the 16th installment of the rivalry between the all-time great quarterbacks and is 11-5 against his rival. He threw for four touchdowns and Julian Edelman returned a punt 84 yards for a score.
In his 200th career start, Brady passed for 333 yards. He has won 155 of those, the most for any quarterback in that many starts.
The game wasn’t particularly competitive after the first quarter, which Denver completed in front 7-3.
New England (7-2) scored the next 24 points on the way to winning its fifth straight, halting the four-game winning streak for Denver (6-2) in emphatic fashion. Brady has 18 TD passes and one interception in those five victories.
Manning fell to 2-7 at Gillette Stadium even though he threw for 438 yards and two touchdowns. He has at least two TD passes in 14 consecutive games, an NFL record.
The two touchdown passes increased Manning’s total to 515. He broke Brett Favre’s record of 508 earlier in the season.
Brady connected with Edelman and Shane Vereen on 5-yard scoring passes in the second quarter, with Brandon LaFell from 10 yards and with Rob Gronkowski from the 1 in the second half.
Most of Manning’s yardage came well after the Patriots’ fourth straight home win over Denver in as many seasons was secured. When it was closer, Denver’s high-powered offense had little juice.
Even with the two great quarterbacks in the house, Edelman was a star. Not that New England’s defense took a back seat, befuddling Manning so often that the Broncos barely got the snap off on time on several plays.
Edelman’s first touchdown was set up by Rob Ninkovich’s interception and 11-yard return to the Denver 34.
That TD gave the Patriots a 13-7 lead and Edelman upped it with his sensational, weaving punt return. Catching the ball at his 16, he got a massive block from Tim Wright along the right sideline, then cut back diagonally across the field into the left corner of the end zone.
Edelman tied a team record with his fourth career punt return score. He later had a drop in the end zone — video review was used to overturn the original touchdown call. It hardly mattered because Shane Vereen got wide open for a 5-yard pass from Brady with :08 remaining in the second quarter to make it 27-7.
The rout was on.
Gillette Stadium has become Manning’s personal house of horrors. Whether it’s the elements — winds whipped around all game, from 19 to 26 mph, although snow had stopped falling well before kickoff — the Patriots’ defensive schemes or his teammates’ blunders, he’s rarely left Foxborough smiling.
Manning did hit Julius Thomas for an 18-yard score early in the third quarter after Danny Amendola tipped Brady’s pass into the air and rookie Bradley Roby intercepted. But New England came right back on Stephen Gostkowski’s 45-yard field goal into the wind, his third successful kick. He also hit from 49 with the wind and 29 against it.
Nineteen seconds later, Brady hit Brandon LaFell for a 37-14 lead. Manning had been betrayed on the previous play by former Patriots standout Wes Welker — the receiver Edelman replaced as Brady’s main target after Welker left for Denver as a free agent in 2013. Welker had Manning’s pass bounce off him into the air to Brandon Browner, who scooted 30 yards to the 10.
Manning could only shake his head as he walked to the sideline, while a despondent Welker sat on the ground listening to the crowd’s cheers. Welker then left with a back injury.
But Peyton being Peyton, he connected with Ronnie Hillman on a 15-yard pass to give him at least two TD throws in 14 straight games.
Still, Denver’s fourth-ranked defense had no answers for the Patriots, who went on a 14-play, 80-yard drive to Gronkowski’s 1-yard TD catch. That took up nearly seven minutes and clinched New England having the AFC’s best record through nine weeks.