FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The chant began midway through the fourth quarter with the latest matchup between the all-time great quarterbacks long ago decided:
On this day, Tom Brady and his New England Patriots certainly were the superior team, routing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 43-21 on Sunday to grab the best record in the AFC.
Brady outdueled Manning in the 16th installment of their rivalry and is 11-5 against Manning. 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.
“He has always set a real high bar for how to play, and I have tried to do the same through my efforts with my team,” said Brady, who owns three Super Bowl rings to one for Manning. “The only thing I really care about is the respect from my team, going out there and trying to earn it. “
After 15 seasons that almost certainly will earn him Hall of Fame recognition, Brady, 37, has that respect. He also has that mastery over Manning, who 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.
“Well, I don’t usually stink, but I stunk today,” said Manning, 38, who broke into the NFL in 1998, two years before Brady. “I don’t make any excuses. “
The two touchdown passes increased Manning’s total to 515. He broke Brett Favre’s record of 508 earlier in the season.
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.
Brady connected with Edelman and Shane Vereen on 5-yard scoring passes in the second quarter, with former LSU standout 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.
“The quarterback stinks, usually you’re not going to win many games,” Manning said.
Even with the two great QBs 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.
“Minitron can do so many things, he’s so quick,” Brady said of Edelman. “What he did on the punt return was incredible.”
Edelman tied a team record with his fourth career punt return score. He later had a drop in the end zone that hardly mattered because Vereen got wide open for a 5-yard pass from Brady with 8 seconds 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.
“We wanted to be the aggressor,” cornerback Kyle Arrington said. “Throw the first punch. Keep swinging. If we were going to go out, we were going to go out, swinging.”
Instead, the Patriots scored the knockout.
Manning did hit Julius Thomas for an 18-yard score early in the third quarter after rookie Bradley 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.
Nineteen seconds later, Brady hit LaFell for a 37-14 lead. Manning had been betrayed on the previous play by former Patriots standout Wes Welker — the receiver Edelman ostensibly replaced in New England. Manning’s pass bounced off him into the air to Brandon Browner, who scooted 30 yards to the 10.
A despondent Welker sat on the ground listening to the crowd’s cheers, then left with a back injury.
Manning connected with Ronnie Hillman on a 15-yard pass to give him at least two TD throws in 14 straight games. But 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 it.