Broncos see Patriots as big barometer
The Denver Broncos haven’t been to the playoffs since 2006, so
they’re in no position and certainly no mood to judge the quality
of the opponents they’re dispatching with all this last-minute
They’re 7-1 since Tim Tebow took over and started engineering a
series of outrageous second-half comebacks. Those opponents,
though, have a combined record of 39-52.
With Tom Brady and the powerful New England Patriots (10-3)
coming to town Sunday, the Broncos (8-5) see this as a chance to
prove they’re not just a curiosity but a contender.
”Yeah, well, we need to prove it to ourselves,” star
cornerback Champ Bailey said. ”We’ve played against some teams
that were kind of struggling. We’d like to go put it together
against a top-quality quarterback like Brady.”
It’s not just Tebow who’s facing what could be his toughest test
since he started the final three games last season and then
supplanted an ineffective Kyle Orton in October after a 1-4
Denver’s dominant defense, which has two hiccups – against the
multifaceted Lions and Packers, faces another formidable challenge
in the Patriots, led by Brady, who’s thrown for 33 touchdown
passes, 15 of them to big tight end Rob Gronkowski and nine to Wes
Welker, who already has 100 catches.
”He’s getting them all the ball,” said Broncos safety Brian
Dawkins. ”Nobody’s really starving for catches.”
And so, the AFC East-leading Patriots are feasting on opponents,
putting up an AFC-best 31 points a game.
That kind of firepower means the AFC West-leading Broncos’
notoriously slow-starting offense will have to keep pace, and given
New England’s defensive shortcomings, this game could turn into a
Only twice have the Broncos piled up points since Tebow took
over in October. They put up 38 at Oakland and 35 at Minnesota. But
six times they’ve failed to even score 20 points with Tebow
That’s why so many see this game as the Broncos’ best barometer
The Patriots have the pedigree the Broncos used to have when
they, too, were a perennial playoff team. But Denver hasn’t punched
its ticket to the postseason party since losing to Pittsburgh in
the AFC championship game following the 2005 season.
”Obviously New England has been a team that’s been in the
playoffs for the last decade or whatever. So they’ve got a lot of
players who’ve been there,” Broncos pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil
said. ”They’re the team that’s always been in the playoffs. We
want to establish ourselves as that team. This is a good challenge
The Broncos have long been Brady’s bugaboo, beating him five
times in six tries, including a 27-13 win on Jan. 14, 2006, when
Bailey returned a game-changing interception 100 yards, helping
hand Brady his first playoff loss and ending New England’s 10-game
postseason winning streak and a shot at an unprecedented third
straight Super Bowl title.
”Considering how much they won the previous years, they were
pretty much unbeatable,” Bailey said. ”To get a play like that
and to change the game, to get a win against a team like that, yes,
it’s a special moment.”
With the Patriots going in for the go-ahead score, Bailey
stepped in front of Troy Brown in the end zone for the pick and
sprinted down the sideline, only to get knocked out of bounds at
the 1 by hustling tight end Ben Watson.
”Yeah. I thought my guy Nick Ferguson – we all remember him – I
thought if he looked inside and blocked that guy coming across the
field, then I would have scored,” Bailey cracked. ”But we still
ended up scoring on the next play.”
This game doesn’t hold nearly as much significance, but in many
ways it’s the most intriguing matchup at Mile High in years.
The Patriots could clinch a playoff spot and inch closer to
home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which could prove the
best salve for their defensive troubles.
The Broncos could take a lot of pressure off themselves over the
final two weeks of the season, with games against Buffalo on the
road and at home against Kansas City.
Bailey, the perennial Pro Bowl cornerback, will have his work
cut out for him, covering either Welker in the slot or the
Patriots’ two big tight ends in Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
”What makes them so tough is their size,” Bailey said. ”I can
keep up with them with my feet, but it’s just the pushing and the
shoving and the ball placement. It’s tougher when you have a
quarterback like Tom Brady, because he puts the ball where nobody
else can get it.”
Then, he might have to chase around Welker, the 5-foot-9 dynamo
who’s putting up big numbers himself.
”It’s like night and day, but they’re all productive,” Bailey
said. ”We’ve got some tools that we’re going to use and hopefully
Notes: Dawkins (neck) and CB Andre’ Goodman (concussion)
practiced Friday and are listed as questionable for the game. …
Tebow on the two 17-year-old boys in New York who were suspended
for organizing ”Tebowing” kneel-downs at their high school, where
the superintendent said the tribute posed a safety hazard by
blocking others from getting to class: ”You have to respect the
position of authority and people that God’s put as authority over
you, so that’s part of it, and just finding the right place and the
right time to do things is part of it, too. But I think it does
show courage from the kids standing out and doing that, and some
Reach out to AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on