Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes and the New England Patriots matched their own AFC record with their 12th consecutive road victory, pummeling the Denver Broncos 41-16 on Sunday night.
These teams have represented the AFC in the last four Super Bowls, and the Broncos (3-6) were hoping a visit from their rivals would help shake them from their funk, one that included a 28-point loss at Philadelphia a week earlier. With a win, “the swag, the energy in this locker room, it’ll skyrocket,” suggested Aqib Talib.
Instead, the Broncos fizzled.
They saw their losing streak reach five games, their longest skid in seven seasons, and they lost back-to-back games to the Patriots (7-2) in Denver for the first time since 1966.
Avoiding Von Miller all night and throwing for 266 yards on 25-of-34 passing, Brady improved to 8-9 against the Broncos, the only team he has a losing record against, and won for just the fourth time in 11 trips to Denver.
His 86th regular-season road win broke a tie with Peyton Manning for most all-time.
“It’s always hard to win in the NFL, certainly on the road,” Brady said. “We found a way to do it last year and we’re off to a good start this year. We’ve got to go to Mexico this week and try to beat the Raiders.”
The Patriots also won a dozen consecutive road games from 2006-08. The NFL record is 18 set by the Joe Montana-led San Francisco 49ers from 1988-90.
Speaking of historic, the Patriots for the first time since 1979 had a special teams takeaway, a blocked punt and a kickoff return for a touchdown, a trifecta that fueled a comfortable 27-9 halftime lead.
The Patriots went three-and-out to start the game but rookie Isaiah McKenzie’s muffed punt — his fifth fumble of the year — led to Brady’s 14-yard TD toss to running back Rex Burkhead and set the tone for another head-scratching performance by the bungling Broncos, who fancied themselves contenders after a 3-1 start.
After kicking a 39-yard field goal, Brandon McManus failed on the ensuing kickoff to get in front of returner Dion Lewis, whose 103-yard return down Denver’s demoralized sideline made it 14-3.
Then, Burkhead sliced through the line to block Riley Dixon’s punt at the Broncos’ 30-yard line, leading to Stephen Gostkowski’s second field goal.
“I have not,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph replied when asked if he’d ever seen a worse special teams showing. But he quickly added that his defense and offense didn’t exactly excel, either.
“Obviously, the (special) teams were a glaring issue, but all three phases again,” Joseph lamented, promising again to consider personnel and scheme changes all around.
When the Broncos finally forced another punt in the fourth quarter, they were whistled for 12 men on the field, giving the Patriots a fresh set of downs. Brady took advantage of that gaffe by throwing a 6-yard touchdown pass to James White, making it 41-16.
That capped a 16-play, 94-yard drive that ate up 7 minutes, 31 seconds.
Brock Osweiler hooked up with Emmanuel Sanders five times for 114 yards in the first half but Denver stalled twice in the red zone and also at the Patriots 21, settling for field goals while the Patriots were scoring touchdowns.
Brady hit tight end Dwayne Allen from 11 yards out, Allen’s first catch of the year giving the Patriots a 27-9 halftime lead.
Even when the Broncos finally found the end zone on Demaryius Thomas’ 8-yard TD catch, the Patriots responded quickly with a 7-yard TD run by Lewis.
BENNETT’S BACK : Tight end Martellus Bennett was active — and productive — for New England just a few days after he saying the Green Bay Packers of pressuring him to play through a shoulder injury. Green Bay waived Bennett with the designation that he “failed to disclose a physical condition,” but Bennett said the Packers were aware of his balky shoulder when he signed him. He said it got worse during the season and he elected to have surgery. When the Packers waived him, the Patriots grabbed him.
His first catch covered 27 yards.
MILESTONE WIN: Patriots coach Bill Belichick moved into a third-place tie with Tom Landry on the all-time head-coaching list for wins, with 270. He trails only Don Shula (347) and George Halas (324).
INJURIES: Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater went out in the first half with a pulled hamstring.
Broncos tight end A.J. Derby was knocked out with a shoulder injury.
Umpire Jeff Rice was carted off in the third quarter after hitting his head on the ground when Patriots linebacker Trevor Reilly bowled him over on during a Denver punt.
Patriots: At Oakland Raiders at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca (elevation 7,280 feet). The Patriots are staying in Colorado all week, practicing at the Air Force Academy (elevation 6,621) feet to acclimate to the altitude.
Broncos: Host the Cincinnati Bengals.