The game was in the hands of two great quarterbacks.
Then a punting duel ensued and a live ball hit the leg of a backup cornerback.
Tony Carter ran into Ryan Allen's punt after it bounced, Nate Ebner recovered for the Patriots at the Broncos' 13-yard line, and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 31-yard field goal with 1:56 left in overtime to give the New England Patriots a 34-31 win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday night.
"What a crazy game, and what a fun finish," Gostkowski said.
The Patriots lost fumbles on their first three possessions, and they were booed several times in the first half.
But Brady threw for three touchdowns to lead the Patriots back from a 24-0 halftime deficit against the NFL's best offense for a 31-24 lead as New England scored on its first five possessions of the second half. Then Manning threw an 11-yard scoring pass to Demaryius Thomas for the Broncos, tying it at 31.
"You can't move the ball when you're losing it," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "You've got to hang on to it."
But Carter's gaffe was the third lost fumble for the Broncos in the second half.
"It was really a tale of two halves," Denver interim coach Jack Del Rio said. "We forced turnovers and jumped on them early. They forced turnovers and jumped on us at the end.
"We just had a fluke play at the end."
The game marked the return to New England of former Patriots receiver Wes Welker, who signed with Denver in the offseason. He was a nonfactor with four catches for 31 yards. The crowd even chanted "Wel-ker! Wel-ker!" when he went back to return the final punt. Then he waved his hands to warn his teammates to stay away from the ball when it bounced.
Carter didn't, and the Broncos (9-2) remained tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC West lead. The Patriots (8-3) lead the AFC East by three games.
"I was running to get away from the ball, and it took a bounce right into me," Carter said.
Welker said he has to do a better job of communicating with his teammates when he's in the game as a punt returner.
"I've got to get to him earlier, and tell him, and get those guys out of the way if I'm not going to make the catch," Welker told reporters, according to the Denver Post. "I was a little bit in between, and you can't be that way."
The early turnovers helped Denver to a big halftime advantage, but the Patriots took the lead when Brady hit Julian Edelman for a touchdown early in the fourth. Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal made it 31-24 midway through the fourth.
"We had some plays in the first half that didn't go our way, so it was nice to get a good bounce, and we needed it," Brady said.
But Manning, who had thrown for only 73 yards in the first 3½ quarters, led the Broncos on an 80-yard drive. Twice the Broncos were rescued by penalties: first when a defensive holding penalty negated an interception, and again when a pass interference on third-and-7 from the Patriots' 17 gave Denver a first down.
On the next play, Manning lobbed one to Thomas in the left corner of the end zone to tie it.