Broncos look to avoid free fall with win vs Patriots
DENVER — As the Denver Broncos head into Sunday night’s game against the New England Patriots, they’re trying to pull out of a tailspin.
They switched quarterbacks, they are struggling with injuries all along their offensive line and they only averaged a little more than 10 points per game during a four-game losing streak that has dropped their record to 3-5 at the season’s midway point.
“Definitely sick and tired of losing,” Broncos running back C.J. Anderson said. “There’s a sense of urgency. We know what time it is. We have a chance to do something special.
“We have a chance to do something really special that only us in that locker room believe we can do. That’s where it starts. If everyone can change their minds … to believe that we can do it, we can definitely make it happen.
“We have the players to do it. We have the roster to do it. It’s not like it can’t be done or it will never be done. It’s been done before with a lot of other teams with a lot less talent. We have the talent.”
But they face a daunting challenge in trying to pull off a turnaround of their season against New England (6-2), which has won 11 straight road games in addition to having extra preparation time because it is coming off its bye.
Coach Vance Joseph said the Broncos are going to have to be ready for the Patriots mentally as well as physically.
“When you’re playing the Patriots, you have to have a great week of detail,” Joseph said. “It’s a smart team. It’s a detailed team. They play with great focus and detail, I should say. We have to match that.
“If our football IQ is not high enough to match it, we cannot beat this team. It’s about us and doing what we do, but also about matching the Patriots football IQ because it’s high.”
The Broncos and Patriots are meeting for the seventh straight year in the regular season. New England has a 5-1 edge, with the only Denver win in 2015, when the Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl and beat Carolina.
Brock Osweiler was under center for the lone Broncos’ victory in that span, and after a meandering journey with stops at two teams, he’ll be back as the quarterback on Sunday night, making his second consecutive start since replacing struggling Trevor Siemian.
A win against a formidable team like the Patriots could go a long way toward salvaging the Broncos’ season, Osweiler added.
“It is the perfect opponent,” he said. “I think any time you find yourself in a losing streak like this and not playing good football, you want to play a great opponent because if you can go out there and play a good football game and find a way to get a win, it’s going to create a ton of momentum for your football team.”
A reshuffled offensive line could complicate matters, though.
The Broncos lost right tackle Menelik Watson to a season-ending calf injury earlier this week and Donald Stephenson, one of the candidates to replace him, just returned to practice this week in limited fashion after missing several games with a calf injury of his own. Allen Barbre and Elijah Wilkinson also are being considered as possible replacements for Watson.
Meanwhile, right guard Ron Leary (elbow) and center Matt Paradis (back) missed practice time this week and their availability remains in question.
All things considered, this still might be one of the best chances for the Denver offense to show some signs of life, considering New England is giving up an average of 417 yards per game, most in the league.
Coach Bill Belichick said the Patriots’ defensive issues are being addressed.
“We’re just trying to improve every week — fundamentals, overall execution and techniques,” he said. “We’re trying to coach better. Just a lot of little things, probably.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said the Broncos’ defense can’t be overlooked. Denver has the league’s second-ranked defense, though it was overrun in last week’s loss to the Eagles, hurt by two offensive turnovers that set up short fields for Philadelphia.
“There’s little margin for error when you go out there,” Brady said. “They have a great defense. They have great players on both sides of the ball. You can’t go out there and make a bunch of mistakes and expect to win.”
Brady may be without one of his key wide receivers. Chris Hogan (shoulder) missed practice time this week. Also missing time on the practice field or taking part on a limited basis were defensive tackle Malcom Brown (ankle), tackle Marcus Cannon (ankle) and cornerback Stephen Gilmore (concussion).