Broncos have to improve around Manning

Peyton Manning threw for three touchdowns but could not overcome a litany of Denver miscues. Greg M. Cooper/US Presswire

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have long maintained that it is not all about them.

The Denver Broncos proved that theory correct Sunday. Despite a brilliant performance by Manning, the Broncos were handled 31-21 by the New England Patriots.

If this was simply Manning versus Brady, Manning would have prevailed instead of dropping to 4-9 lifetime against New England. Manning completed 31 of 44 passes for 345 yards. He threw three touchdown passes and did not throw an interception. Brady threw for 223 yards with one touchdown.

“If you would have told me before that game that [Manning] would throw for 345 yards and three touchdowns, I’d say we would have easily won the game,” Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said. “But you can’t give up over 250 yards rushing and expect to win. We just have to play better.”

Is it to the point where the rest of the Broncos have to elevate their play to match Manning's?

“Yeah, basically, it is,” Bailey said. “I agree with that.”

The good -- potentially great -- news for Denver is Manning, 36, is every bit the superstar quarterback the Broncos hoped he’d be when they signed him. In his past two games, Manning is 61-of-82 passing for 683 yards with six touchdown passes and no interceptions. He hasn't thrown an interception in his past 15 quarters since throwing three interceptions in the first quarter at Atlanta in Week 2.

It was widely believed a healthy Manning would translate into Super Bowl contention for the Denver Broncos. Yet after five games, Denver is 2-3. This team just isn't doing enough things well around Manning. Too many mistakes are being made around Manning on offense and too many big plays have been allowed on defense.

Denver receiver Demaryius Thomas, who otherwise had a terrific game with 188 yards on nine catches, fumbled deep in New England territory on the first drive of the game, completely killing momentum for Denver. In the fourth quarter, Denver failed to convert on fourth down when running back Willis McGahee dropped a pass from Manning. McGahee then lost a fumble in the red zone with less than four minutes remaining and Denver trying to pull within a field goal.

Defensively, Denver allowed New England to convert 11 of 17 attempts on third down. The Patriots converted a team-record 35 first downs and they rushed for 251 yards.

That is how you nullify great quarterback play.

“[The Broncos] competed hard and they certainly fought right to the end,” New England coach Bill Belichick said. “Our guys just made a few more plays than theirs did.”

That’s what the great teams do. They make more plays.

Denver's losses this season are very similar. The Broncos fell behind early to the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans. In both games, they stormed back to get close, but couldn't pull out the victory. It’s admirable, but it’s a sign of a team not ready to win against good teams yet. It’s because of the mistakes.

The Broncos are growing tired of their own act.

“They hung in there all 60 minutes,” Denver coach John Fox said of his team. “We just came up short again and we’ve got to get out of that.”

Added Bailey: “It’s not winning. We have to get the wins.”

Not all is lost for Denver. There are some good things happening around Manning. Besides the fumbling issues, Thomas is becoming a big threat. Second-year linebacker Von Miller had a monster game Sunday. There is a lot to build on, starting with Manning.

But the Broncos need a complete team effort. Thus far, they have been unable to do what it takes to win. If the Manning Era in Denver is going to be successful, the product around him must improve.