Denver Coach John Fox (US Presswire)
The 8-5 Denver Broncos are on a winning streak, but some wonder if it's because they're not playing elite teams. This Sunday marks a game most Broncos consider a true test, the Patriots.
Broncos see Patriots as big barometer
ENGLEWOOD, COLO. (AP)
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 magic.
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 start.
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.
Broncos safety Brian Dawkins 11/27/2011 (Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE)
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 shootout.
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 starting.
That's why so many see this game as the Broncos' best barometer yet.
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 for us.''
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
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.
Watch The Replay of Watson's Play
''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 they
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 boldness.''
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