Patriots' Secondary Facing Another Test

Pat CHung (US Presswire)

It used to be that stopping the Broncos run game was enough to defeat them. Now it's about stopping the pass too. New England's defenders understand Tebow and co pose a bigger problem than the last time they met.

Patriots say they won't underestimate Tebow

   Heading into Saturday's matchup with the Broncos, the Patriots know a lot more about Denver quarterback Tim Tebow now than they did prior to the teams' Week 15 showdown in Colorado.

   Tebow's heart and desire have never been a question, but his throwing accuracy and ability to play the position in a conventional manner have come under fire since the moment he took over for Kyle Orton.

   Some of those questions were answered in last weekend's playoff game when Tebow burned Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense for several big plays, including the 80-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in overtime.

   What Tebow has proven, albeit in a small sample size, is he can make big plays, which is a concern for a New England team susceptible not only to big plays but prolific passers in general. That will undoubtedly be a major focal point this week as the Patriots prepare for the teams' rematch in the AFC divisional playoffs.

   "They've made some changes, (as) you can definitely see with the last game," said Devin McCourty, who may split time at cornerback and safety Saturday. "Just taking more shots down the field, they threw some balls up there, and they got some guys that can come down with them and catch them. They definitely threw some more vertical passes."

   Along with everyone in New England's secondary, McCourty respects Tebow's ability to throw downfield, even pointing out the accuracy in Tebow's 30-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Royal in the third quarter Sunday.

   "That pass to Eddie Royal was a small window to get it in there, and it was a pretty good throw," McCourty said. "He does so many different things well -- running the ball, throwing the ball. He's just dynamic, and when he runs the ball, he's tough to bring down, so he's definitely a different type of quarterback."

   The Patriots have the upper hand based on the fact this game is in Foxboro, not to mention their 41-23 win over the Broncos in Week 15, but the majority of the players in New England's locker room feel as though this Denver team has improved drastically in a short amount of time.

   "I honestly feel they have," safety Patrick Chung said. "They're still in the playoffs, still winning games. That speaks for itself."

   The confidence stemming from last week's playoff win might be a factor, too. For what it's worth, most analysts figured Pittsburgh would win that game on the road despite its banged-up lineup.

   A win over the top-seeded Patriots in Foxboro would be the ultimate measuring stick, but keep in mind the Broncos couldn't stop New England's offense the last time the two teams meet.

   Generally, any playoff rematch results in slight overhauls for both sides of terms of game-planning and preparation, but the Patriots already know they can beat Denver. The key now is adjusting to whatever changes have been made and not falling victim to the Tebow hype spreading throughout the country.

   "I just think that any time there's anything new -- and (Tebow is) obviously new, he's done some incredible things this season -- I think the hype is justified," Patriots left tackle Matt Light said. "I think when you go out and lead a team like that, make the kind of plays that they are making, people are going to talk about you.

   "I think we've always done one good thing here, and that's staying within our own locker room, staying within the framework of what we have to do and not get caught up in all that stuff. Hopefully that won't be a factor."

   SERIES HISTORY: 45th all-time meeting. Broncos lead regular-season series, 25-17. Patriots have lost both postseason meetings (1986 and 2005) and are 8-9 against the Broncos in Foxboro, including 1-2 in Gillette Stadium.

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