FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- "I've got to play better. That's pretty plain and simple. When the quarterback stinks, usually you're not going to win too many games."
Fair or not, that is how Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning felt after his team was shellacked by the New England Patriots, 43-21, on Sunday.
Despite putting up fine numbers, despite being let down by his receivers (including a brutal bump-set interception courtesy of Wes Welker), Manning felt he didn't do enough.
This is the seriousness with which Manning and his opposite number, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, takes this game. In the 16th meeting between the two, Brady's team came out ahead, but it's still a long season.
"It's back to work tomorrow to see what we can improve," Brady said after the game as his team headed into a bye week. "We can always improve."
It was a sentiment shared by left tackle Nate Solder.
"We have to continue to improve because we didn't do everything the way we wanted to," he said post-victory.
Never being satisfied is the mark of a good team. It's one thing to be unhappy when you lose, as Manning was. It's entirely different when you win, and win handily. It's a special sort of madness which makes great players great and carries teams to championships.
The chess match between Brady and Manning is really just a sideshow. We can talk about how this is a measuring stick for either team (Brady shrugged that question off) and what a win or loss truly means, but for the players, they are motivated either way. Especially when we're talking about two of the greatest quarterbacks in history.
But it's the small things for both quarterbacks that impress the most.
Take the second quarter flag which Denver linebacker Nate Irving drew. The penalty came on a shallow cross by running back Shane Vereen, and was a surprising throw as Brady didn't wait to see if there was a receiver downfield despite having plenty of time. He read the hold as it was happening and threw the ball just to draw the penalty. It's on plays like that one where the veteran's savvy really stands out.
Meanwhile, the conditions at Gillette Stadium absolutely impacted the game early, as Manning appeared to have a lot of problems setting up his offense at all in blustery, cold conditions. The Broncos downplayed the homefield advantage -- defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said, "It's 11 on 11 and their 11 played better" -- but the Broncos offense looked much like it did in their loss to Seattle, when the crowd at CenturyLink Field was on its feet.
In fact, the entire team looked out of sync. From punter Britton Colquitt fumbling the snap, to the coverage team's utter breakdown on the return to the numerous penalties to the interception off of Wes Welker's hands, nothing seemed to go right.
And for the Pats, nothing went wrong.
Brady had his 22nd career game with four or more touchdowns, moving past Dan Marino on the all-time list and passing John Elway on the list for all-time passing yards. Rob Gronkowski caught his 50th career touchdown, tied with Randy Moss as the second fastest to reach that mark behind Lance Alworth.
Meanwhile, tight end Julius Thomas became the first Broncos tight end to have back-to-back 10 touchdown seasons -- but the loss overshadowed that. The next two weeks bring the Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams, both on the road, so there is no time to wallow in self-pity.
"I wouldn't call it a step backwards," said safety T.J. Ward told us. "We need to look in a mirror and see some of the imperfections we need to improve upon, and I think we get a lot better for this."
For the Patriots, they head into the bye week on a five-game win streak but aren't going to be resting on their laurels.
"Yeah, you never have it down," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick told reporters.
When asked about Julian Edelman's 84-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter, he said "We should have blocked the punt. Colquitt dropped the snap. We just didn't finish the play on the front end of it."
Obsessiveness or perfectionism at its finest?