January 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (94) reacts to a tackle in the second half against the New England Patriots in the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
It’s once again New England Patriots week for the Denver Broncos, a team they’ve seen plenty of over the last decade. The Broncos have entered into some epic battles with New England since Peyton Manning came aboard, only one of which has ended in a positive outcome for the Broncos.
Thank goodness, it was the most important.
The Broncos crushed the Patriots in last year’s AFC Championship game after a regular season matchup in New England That saw the Broncos squander a 24-point halftime lead. It was as ugly as they come.
This time around, the Broncos are much more stout defensively even than they were in the AFC title game. Denver’s pass rush is better, and they’ve got Aqib Talib, who knows a little something about the Patriots and Tom Brady.
The Broncos also have Wes Welker, who is due for a big day after a slow start back this season following his early suspension. For the national media, this game is going to be all about Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, and perhaps rightfully so. Those are the two living legends of the NFL, guys that are at the forefront of the discussion of who is the best quarterback of all-time.
Anytime it’s Brady vs. Manning, that’s all anyone wants to talk about, but this game is so much more than that. The Patriots are 4-0 in the last month, largely due to the resurgence of Brady after a woeful start to the season. His weapons are developing and none more so than tight end Rob Gronkowski, who just shredded the Chicago Bears for three touchdowns on Sunday.
The Broncos’ problem has always been their (in)ability to cover Gronkowski, at least since he came into the league in 2010, and that remains the case this time around. Can Denver limit Gronkowski in this game and force the Patriots and Tom Brady to beat them in other ways?
This game has the makings of a shootout, but the Broncos need to do everything they can to force the Patriots to beat them vertically. The Broncos have been susceptible to short area passes and the Patriots have guys that can make plays after the catch and are sure-handed in clutch situations. Julian Edelman and Gronkowski lead the pack, but Brandon LaFell — a Broncos free agent target — is really coming into his own in this offense and Josh McDaniels is finding ways to get him the football.
The Pats played a dominant game against the hapless Chicago Bears on Sunday, a team that doesn’t know what coach or player it’s supposed to follow. The Broncos don’t have that problem, but they — along with every other team in the AFC — have problems going into New England and coming away with a win.
The home team typically wins in the Brady-Manning matchups, but the Broncos are set to buck that trend. This team is uniquely built, very strong in all facets of the game, and clicking right now. The Patriots are as well, which is why this has the makings of an ‘immovable object’ meets ‘unstoppable force’ type of game.
The Broncos had the Patriots right where they wanted them last year, and had stopped them in overtime of their loss before Tony Carter foolishly got in the way of a punt that set up the Pats for a chip-shot, game-winning field goal.
Even with a second-half collapse, it was a game the Broncos should have at least had the last chance to win, but the Patriots dominated the third and fourth quarter and perhaps the Broncos deserved to lose that one.
Whatever the case, the Patriots present a tough challenge for the Broncos again this year. Hopefully they are not taking this game lightly or feeling over-confident after their impressive string of wins lately.