"I stunk," Peyton Manning said.
That's how one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history described his performance Sunday.
In a game billed as the 16th installment of the Manning-Tom Brady rivalry between the AFC's top two teams?
The NFL's top-ranked quarterback did throw for 438 yards, but most of those came after the New England Patriots rolled to a 20-point halftime lead on their way to a surprisingly lopsided 43-21 win over the favored Denver Broncos.
"The quarterback stinks, usually you're not going to win many games," Manning said, repeatedly shaking his head while criticizing his play. "I was talking to (Broncos radio announcer) Dave Logan and he said, 'I've never heard you say you stink before.' I said, 'Well, I don't usually stink. But I stunk today.' I don't make any excuses."
The leader of the defense also was pretty harsh on himself.
"I'm disappointed in myself," said Von Miller after his streak of six games with at least one sack ended. "I could have played better."
He didn't because Brady, knowing the pass rushing ability of the Broncos improved defense, made quick passes. He was sacked just once, by DeMarcus Ware.
"He gets rid of the ball quick," Denver coach John Fox said. "He's a sharp cookie. I mean, he's been around a little bit."
Brady threw four touchdown passes and his first interception in five games when a high pass off Danny Amendola's hands was picked off by Bradley Roby.
Manning completed 34 of 57 passes and his passer rating of 80.9 was his lowest of the season. He also threw two interceptions, both leading to touchdowns. The first, by Rob Ninkovich came after Denver went ahead 7-6 and led to Brady's 5-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman just over three minutes into the second quarter.
"That was a critical play," Manning said of the interception, "a really bad decision by me."
The Patriots (7-2) took over the top spot in the AFC from the Broncos (6-2). Denver still leads the AFC West over Kansas City (5-3) and San Diego (5-4).
"It was a big game because it always goes down to the playoff picture," Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "We are going to be disappointed about the way we played today, but we're still good in the rankings."
And their next game is against the winless Oakland Raiders.
"We've been executing on Sundays and making some plays and doing what we've been taught to do," Manning said, "but you've got to do it every week."
Brady sure did it on Sunday.
With 8 1/2 minutes remaining in the game, the Gillette Stadium crowd chanted: "Brady's Better."
Brady improved to 11-5 against Manning and is unbeaten in their last four meetings in Foxborough. In 200 career starts, Brady is 155-45.
After Denver led 7-3 after the first quarter and New England scored the next 24 points on the way to winning its fifth straight, halting the Broncos four-game winning streak. Manning fell to 2-7 at Gillette Stadium, but, with two touchdown passes, he has at least that many in 14 consecutive games, an NFL record.
After the touchdown pass to Edelman, Brady threw scoring passes of 5 yards to Shane Vereen, 10 yards to Brandon LaFell and 1 yard to Rob Gronkowski.
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.
After Edelman's touchdown catch, he scored on a sensational, weaving 84-yard punt return for a 20-7 lead.
Manning did hit Julius Thomas for an 18-yard score early in the third quarter after Roby's interception. 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.
NOTES: The Broncos rushed for just 43 yards, led by 18 from C.J. Anderson. ... It was the first game in NFL history matching quarterbacks with more than 150 regular-season wins. ... Gronkowski had nine catches for 105 yards, Edelman nine for 89. Emmanuel Sanders led Denver with 10 receptions for 151 yards and Demaryius Thomas caught seven balls for 127.
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