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Kubiak may be headed home

DENVER -- It has been one of the worst-kept secrets in the NFL, but Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak could be spending his final season in Denver and soon be heading off to Houston, where he's expected to be named the Texans' head coach.

Broncos players commented throughout the week that Kubiak's likely departure didn't affect their preparation. Evidently they were right as Kubiak's Bronco career will extend to at least the AFC Championship game after the Broncos dispatched the Patriots, 27-13, last night. The Patriots went through similar talk last season with both Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, and it didn't stop them from winning their second straight Super Bowl.

Weis committed to Notre Dame long before the Patriots' season ended, but the deal he worked out with school officials allowed him to juggle both jobs.

Crennel was informed he'd landed the Cleveland Browns job just moments after New England beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. The taxing interview process didn't seem to affect Crennel's defenses.

The Patriots may go through the same situation with defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, who is scheduled to interview with New York Jets officials today.

''He was the same as he's always been this week," said Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer.

Kubiak, who has cut his teeth as Mike Shanahan's right-hand man the past 11 years (he's been a Bronco as a player or coach for 20 years), interviewed with the Texans during wild-card week, a bye week for the Broncos. He had a brief session with the Houston media after the interview per order of team owner Bob McNair.

After Kubiak returned to Denver, he did not speak at all to the local media about the interview.

Early warnings

Broncos safety John Lynch was all over the field at the start of the game as the Broncos tried to pressure Tom Brady. He would line up on either end, sometimes in a three-point stance, before blitzing. Lynch never sacked Brady but the two had a few run-ins on the first drive. Lynch hit Brady on a play where the Patriots were called for a false start. Lynch then pressured Brady on a third-and-11 pass that fell incomplete. As Lynch gyrated toward the crowd, Brady followed him doing a Lynch imitation. Lynch didn't blitz as much in the second half, but he sealed the game with an interception with 2:56 to play at the Denver 34 . . . The Broncos were held to 96 yards rushing, but that was deceiving: Their output was really worse than that. Denver had just 39 yards rushing through three quarters. Most of their yardage came after the game was decided. It was their worst rushing performance since the first two games of the season when they were held to 70 by Miami and 74 by Kansas City. The Broncos had 178 yards rushing in the season's first meeting with the Patriots . . . The victory was the first for the Broncos in the postseason since John Elway retired after Super Bowl XXXIII following the 1998 season . . . Going into last night's game, the Broncos had outscored opponents by 37 points in the first quarter and 82 points in the second quarter. Against the Patriots, the Broncos trailed, 3-0, in the second quarter until the Patriots hit the self-destruct button, which allowed the Broncos to score 10 points in the final 1:42 of the first half to take a 10-3 halftime lead . . . If the Pittsburgh Steelers upset the Colts today in Indianapolis, the Broncos will host the AFC Championship game a week from today. But if the Colts win, they'll host the title game. The Broncos are 9-0 at home. The last Denver team to finish a season unbeaten did it in 1998 at old Mile High Stadium. Broncos.

He's a tough guy

Todd Sauerbrun is a punter/kicker, but one very tough kicker. He forced a fumble of Ellis Hobbs's kick return late in the second quarter to set up Jason Elam's 50-yard field goal which gave the Broncos a 10-3 lead. ''I've made a lot of hits in my time, but I've never forced a fumble before like that," said Sauerbrun. ''I figured I was going to be aggressive. If I was the last line of defense, he would have beaten me. I just stuck my head in there and I was surprised the ball popped out." Shanahan wasn't completely sure who had forced the fumble immediately after the game. When told he broke into quite a smile and said, ''I like that. He had a lacrosse scholarship. He's not your typical punter." . . . The Broncos have now won both postseason encounters against the Patriots, winning in 1986. The Broncos have won 15 out of the last 18 games against the Patriots. Since 2001, the Broncos are now 4-1 against the Patriots. . . . Receiver Rod Smith caught six passes for 96 yards. Smith said the celebration won't last long as he watches the Indianapolis-Pittsburgh game today. ''You can celebrate for about a minute or maybe 24 hours, but I'm already worried about the next one. I've got to get terrible towels out to root for the Steelers so we can play at home. Nothing against the Colts, but I want to play at home." The Colts have eliminated the Broncos two straight years . . . Shanahan said he felt the crowd noise forced the Patriots into a few penalties and gave his defense the extra push they needed.

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