FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- They were toast.
Burnt toast, bad toast, just throw-it-in-the-trash-cuz-it-can't-be-salvaged toast.
The Patriots' running backs couldn't hang on to the ball. Their vaunted offensive line, presumably one of the stronger units on this roster, did little to deter Von Miller from doing his level best to pulverize their quarterback.
Manning, whose gimpy ankles were so thoroughly taped he could have co-starred alongside Brendan Fraser in "The Mummy," surveyed the high winds and bitter cold and decided his most effective strategy was to hand the ball off to running back Knowshon Moreno, who already had churned out 107 yards by intermission.
The deficit was every bit as cavernous as it seemed.
According to the ever vigilant ESPN Stats & Information group, teams that trailed by 24 points or more at halftime were 5-485 heading into Sunday night.
Show of hands: Based on what they displayed, who truly believed the New England Patriots would find a way to be the sixth team?
"[We played] a terrible half of football,'' Brady admitted. "I don't even know what you coach at that point.''
Bill Belichick probably wondered himself. After Stevan Ridley coughed up the ball and Miller ran it 60 yards for a score on the Patriots' first possession, Ridley was benched. LeGarrette Blount replaced him, fumbled and was benched too.
The coach was running out of backs.
And yet, the message was simple: Do not be overwhelmed by the scoreboard. Keep trying to put points on the board, one play at a time.
"It's not like we're going to quit after 30 minutes,'' Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib said. "You keep fighting, keep clawing, keep scratching, keep trying to get back in it.
"We're grown men. We're not going to pout about it, cry about it."
According to the Patriots players, there was no tongue lashing from Belichick in the locker room, no rousing oration from Brady to rally the troops, such as David Ortiz did in the dugout during the World Series.
"It was just all business,'' Talib explained.
"No one came in and screamed or anything,'' Devin McCourty added. "It was, 'OK, let's go. One play, then the next play, then the next play.'"
In yet another stunning turnaround, the Patriots did just that. They chipped away and chipped away and chipped away until they dispatched of the Broncos 34-31 in overtime.
They did so by scoring 31 unanswered points fueled by a Brady- Julian Edelman tandem; by bearing down on Manning and preventing him from hurting them with a "home run" throw; and by benefiting from a fluke Denver special teams error in the game's final minutes that clinched it.