BOSTON (CBS) — The picture was not pretty for the Patriots at halftime on Sunday night, as three first-quarter fumbles allowed the Broncos to build an easy 17-0 lead before Peyton Manning stretched the lead to 24-0 with a second-quarter touchdown pass. On a cold, windy night, some fans had seen enough, and cars exiting the parking lot could be seen from Gillette Stadium.
Yet the Patriots didn’t quit, charging back to score 28 unanswered points and eventually coming out on top 34-31 in an overtime thriller.
“That was definitely up there, man. What a crazy game,” a still out-of-breath Rob Gronkowski said afterward. “It was uneblieveable, it was a lot of fun to be a part of, and it was a great team win overall.”
Gronkowski caught seven passes for 90 yards and a touchdown, and he said the message at halftime was simple.
“Just take it as a new ballgame. Take one play at a time,” Gronkowski said of the message to the team at halftime. “You can’t do anything to the scoreboard. The only thing we can do is take it one play at a time, just keep on driving, don’t think there’s going to be a miracle where you can score a touchdown that counts as more. So just take one drive at a time, one play at a time, and don’t worry about anything else. The message got across, and it was a great second half on both sides of the ball.
“That was a pretty brutal first half, maybe one of the worst I’ve ever been a part of. I’m not really sure about that, but it was bad. That’s what halftime is for — adjustments. Go out and play the second half.”
Tom Brady, who once again came out on top in a head-to-head duel with Peyton Manning, finished the night with 344 passing yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He said the team showed its mental toughness in responding the way it did in the second half and in overtime.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Brady said. “You’ve got to put a lot of the stuff aside. You’ve got to forget about what happened in the first half because it was a terrible half of football. I don’t even know what you can coach at that point, you know? So we came in and we talked about some of the things they were doing that we needed to do. We needed to put together some good plays, which would make a good drive and if that happened to be a few good drives, we’d be back in the game, which ended up happening.”
For the Patriots to be able to force overtime after facing such a large deficit against the AFC’s top team was an impressive sight, but when overtime began, Bill Belichick risked it all. He elected to choose the wind rather than the football after winning the toss, forcing Manning to drive into the steady 20 mph breeze that had caused problems in the passing game all night. If the Broncos scored a touchdown, the Patriots would have lost, but it was a risk Belichick was willing to take.
“Great decision,” Gronkowski said. “He’s our coach. We’re behind our coach with everything, especially Coach Belichick. Whatever he has, we’re behind him. So it was a great call, because we won.”