FOXBORO -- The Patriots allowed 300-plus passing yards for the third-straight game on Sunday. This time, it was Peyton Manning doing the damage.
Manning also threw for three touchdowns. And while the end result is really all that matters, the spotlight was once again on cornerback Devin McCourty, who failed to make the big plays when those big plays came his way.
McCourty didn't speak to the media after the game. But if he did, the questions would have been mostly about the plays he didn't make, regardless of the outcome.
It helps, of course, that the Patriots won. But that's because any comeback that the Broncos were attempting in the second half was stopped by Rob Ninkovich and his two forced fumbles.
Before that, the finger could be pointed at McCourty for Denver's first two touchdowns.
The first tied the game at 7-7, nearly a minute into the second quarter. It was a one-yard play-action pass to Joel Dreessen. But it was set up with the help of a Devin McCourty pass interference call, as he covered Eric Decker deep down the right sideline. McCourty has tight coverage in the back-right corner of the end zone, but he never turned around to make a play on the ball, forcing the official to throw the flag, and give the Broncos a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
Had McCourty turned and made the play cleanly, the Broncos would have had to kick a field goal on fourth down. But Denver's touchdown instead tied the game at 7-7.
The Patriots took a 31-7 lead in the second half, but the with a minute left in the third quarter, Manning went to Decker once again in the right corner of the end zone. This time, Decker made the catch, as McCourty once again didn't turn around to play the ball.
The result was a 31-14 game, with plenty of time left.
Denver added another touchdown in the fourth quarter to cut new England's lead to 31-21, and Manning wasn't done picking on McCourty.
With under five minutes left in the game, the Broncos were driving. And on 4th-and-1 from the Patriots 42-yard line Manning went deep down the right sideline to Demaryius Thomas, who was being covered by McCourty.
Thomas came back to make the catch at the Patriots' 14-yard line, mainly because McCourty out-ran the route. Fortunately for the Patriots, Ninkovich forced his second fumble of the game two plays later, essentially ending the game.
"Obviously, you never want to give up big plays," said Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo after the win. "But at the end of the day, it's all about winning the game."
As the end result shows, the Patriots' secondary wasn't all bad on Sunday. Rookie safety Tavon Wilson made his first career start, as Steve Gregory was held out with a hip injury.
Wilson held his own, for the most part, along with fellow rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who made his NFL debut, and made a couple big plays himself.
"Those guys came in and played well," said Mayo. "And it's always good to see that. Those guys practice hard each and every week. They put the extra film time in. They do a good job for us."
Sterling Moore also can't be overlooked for his contributions in the patriots' secondary on Sunday against the Broncos.
Moore got burnt by Thomas deep down the left sideline during Denver's opening-game possession. Manning found Thomas for a 43-yard completion, and the only thing in sight after the catch was the end zone.
But Moore never gave up on the play, and used a right-handed uppercut to punch the ball out of Thomas' hands for the fumble, which Moore also recovered, preventing an early Denver touchdown.
"It was a big play for them that turned into a big play for us," said Mayo. "And that's always huge. We strive to get turnovers. And any time we get the ball back over on that side, it's a good thing."