GAME RECAP: In a rematch of the 2011 AFC Divisional Round game, Denver struggled in the early going, falling behind 17-7 at halftime as New England found the end zone once through the air and once on the ground.
The Patriots appeared to break the game open with a pair of third-quarter touchdowns that made it 31-7, but the Broncos responded with back-to-back touchdown passes to cut the lead to 10 points. A fumble by running back
It was a long afternoon for the defense, which surrendered 251 yards rushing as the Pats won the time of possession battle 35:49-24:11, mitigating a stellar performance by quarterback
TURNING POINT: Two Broncos touchdowns followed by a New England turnover had Denver driving for a score that would have made it a one-possession game. But with less than four minutes to play, McGahee’s fumble turned the ball over to the Patriots, who were able to run out the clock for the win.
KEY STATISTIC: New England moved the chains with alarming success, establishing a then-franchise record with 35 first downs.
QUOTABLE: “We worked on everything they did to us. There weren't any surprises. They just hit us in the mouth and we didn't hit back hard enough."
Denver 35, San Diego 24
But the Broncos stormed back, starting with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Manning to wide receiver
TURNING POINT: Halftime. What transpired in the locker room between the first and second halves separated the best and worst 30-minute stretches of the season for the Broncos, who not only erased a 24-point lead, but did so early in the fourth quarter before winning going away.
KEY STATISTIC: The Denver defense forced six turnovers by San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers -- four interceptions and two fumbles. Two of those turnovers became defensive touchdowns, and three of the interceptions occurred in the fourth quarter.
QUOTABLE: “We were facing adversity, dropping us below .500 and giving San Diego the lead in the division. We were able to rally back, it was an overall team effort. Offense made plays, defense made plays, guys stepped up. That may not be the last time that we face adversity, so it was good that we got that experience in.”
- Defensive end
Denver 34, New Orleans 14
GAME RECAP: Denver kept the momentum from the win over San Diego throughout the bye week and into the following game against New Orleans in a dominant victory. The Broncos led 17-7 at halftime and went up by 27 points with five minutes remaining as the Saints failed to slow down Denver’s offense.
Manning and the offense racked up 530 total yards in a balanced effort that saw the quarterback throw for more than 300 yards, McGahee run for more than 100 and Thomas go over 100 yards receiving. The Broncos were as effective running the ball as they were through the air, piling up 225 yards rushing and more than 35 minutes in time of possession.
The defense was also on top of its game, holding New Orleans to just 252 yards of total offense and limiting the Saints to a 1-for-12 performance on third down.
TURNING POINT: Already up 10 points at halftime, the Broncos made it clear that there would be no second-half letdown when Manning found Thomas for a 1-yard touchdown on the team’s first possession after halftime.
KEY STATISTIC: Denver more than doubled New Orleans in total yardage, outgaining the Saints by 278 yards in one of the most complete all-around performances of the season.
QUOTABLE: "It's what we're looking for offensively, defensively and special teams -- kind of feeding off one another.”
- Quarterback Peyton Manning
Denver 31, Cincinnati 23
GAME RECAP: The Broncos travelled to Cincinnati and struck first on a 43-yard field goal by kicker
But Denver kept the winning streak alive as Manning completed a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to turn a 3-point deficit into an 11-point lead with less than four minutes remaining in regulation.
TURNING POINT: The Broncos’ quick response to the Bengals’ go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter was a pivotal response to the only deficit of the afternoon.
KEY STATISTIC: Holliday’s 105-yard kickoff return for the touchdown was the longest kick return in franchise history.
QUOTABLE: “Nobody blinked. We kept moving. We just kept grinding. That’s all you can really do. That’s a good football team. When you come into their house, they’re not going to let you just come in and win easily.”
- Cornerback Champ Bailey