The Broncos' deconstruction of the Patriots yesterday hinged on precisely two factors. One was the complete inability of the Patriots pass rush to even ruffle Peyton Manning's thinning hair. (Seriously. Paint the guy green and he's the spitting image of The Leader from the old Hulk comics.) The other was Tom Brady.
The first point is obvious. Denver punted precisely once, and that was on their first drive of the game. If you are not punting and you are not turning the ball over, then you are scoring, and if you are scoring on every drive - particularly every seven-minute clock-munching monster of a drive - then the other team has to score every time down the field as well just to catch up. And the reason the Broncos were able to advance so relentlessly was that on any given play, Manning had enough time to read the latest Game of Thrones novel before calmly dumping the ball off on a slant route over the middle. Give a surgeon time and a knife, and he's going to cut you apart. Rush him, and you might get the knife out of his hands. And the Patriots most emphatically did not rush him well.
The other side of the coin is Brady, who was, to be blunt, bad. The chowder-head partisans can look at some of the raw numbers - 24 of 38, 256 yards - and the superficial closeness of the final score, but that's wishful thinking. Time and again, Brady overthrew open receivers in a way that would have gotten Matt Ryan or Tony Romo crucified. On a key 4th down play, he took a sack. He looked sluggish and indecisive at times, and at a time when he needed to be at his absolute best to match the clinic going on in orange, he was, at best, ordinary.
That's not to diminish anything Brady or the Patriots did this season. With a lineup decimated by injuries, with the horrific details of the Aaron Hernandez case looming over the season from the get-go, they put together a remarkable run. But in this one game, when a legendary quarterback had to be legendary once again to make up for his defense's frustration, he just couldn't pull it off.