FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The familiar showdown had a new twist: Peyton Manning in a Broncos uniform. It ended as it usually does, with Tom Brady winning the matchup of marquee quarterbacks.
But not before Manning nearly pulled off a fourth-quarter comeback in a career filled with them.
In their 13th meeting, and first since Manning left the Colts this year, Brady directed four scoring marches of at least 80 yards and the Patriots won 31-21 on Sunday. He is 9-4 all time against Manning.
"Nobody I'd rather have than Tom Brady," New England coach Bill Belichick said, "but Manning's a great player."
Manning had led his teams in the fourth quarter to 36 comeback wins. And the Broncos rallied from a 31-7 deficit with about five minutes left in the third quarter on Manning's scoring passes of 2 yards to Eric Decker and 5 yards to Brandon Stokley.
The Patriots lost the ball on Stevan Ridley's fumble on their next possession, and Manning completed a 28-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas to the Patriots 14-yard line. But two plays later, Denver's comeback hopes faded when Willis McGahee fumbled and Jermaine Cunningham recovered at the 11 with 3:42 left.
"We can build on that" ability to whittle a big deficit, Manning said. "I do think that will help us win a game at some point."
Brady downplayed his meeting with Manning.
"It's Patriots-Broncos," he said. "It was a great team win. We got some turnovers from our defense and I thought offensively capitalized at times. There were a few lulls in there, which I wish we had executed a little bit better, but for the most part it's a good day."
Brady completed 23 of 31 passes for 223 yards and one touchdown, and ran for a touchdown, operating much of the game out of a no-huddle offense.
"It's not new," Denver coach John Fox said. "They've been doing this for a long, long time. They just have a good group of guys together doing it. … Our guy (Manning) did an outstanding job as well."
Manning was 31-of-44 for 345 yards and three touchdowns but lost a fumble on a third-quarter sack. That led to Ridley's 8-yard run that made it 31-7. Ridley led the Patriots with a career-high 151 yards rushing. They totaled 251 yards on the ground.
"It's awesome," Ridley said. "It takes a lot of pressure off Brady. And that's our leader."
The Patriots set a franchise record with 35 first downs.
"This is not a team you want to fall behind to," Manning said. "We are working on things and building things. It doesn't happen right away."