The tide has turned
Tom Brady is not perfect and Champ Bailey is not Leon Lett, writes Mike Klis of the Denver Post in todays game story on last nights 27-13 Broncos win over the Patriots, a game in which New England turned the ball over five times. The biggest turnover was Baileys 100-yard interception return, which earned him the game ball, according to the Rocky Mountain Newss Jeff Legwold.
The Posts Bill Williamson writes that Baileys play might give the Broncos hope if they have to face Indianapolis in next weekends AFC title game. Pat Rooney has Al Wilson of the Broncos talking about how uncharacteristic the turnovers were of a New England team. Bill Briggs of the Post has more from Broncos players discussing how fumbles and interceptions changed the game in Denvers favor.
The Newss Brad Byler says that this wasnt the type of post-game press conference the Patriots, back-to-back defending champs, are used to giving at the end of a season. Jim Armstrong of the Post looks at how Denvers punter, Todd Sauerbrun, got in on forcing a fumble.
Bernie Lincicome of the News says that this was destiny over dynasty. For the New Englanders, this is the way their world ends, he writes, not with a bang but with Jake Plummer taking a knee, with Patriots' coach Bill Belichick standing arms folded over his sweatshirt, staring out at an unkind world of ordinary men and ordinary teams. The Posts Amy Herdy talks to members of a jubilant crowd leaving Invesco last night.
The Broncos will face the winner of todays Colts-Steelers divisional playoff game. Its quite obvious the Broncos would rather face the Steelers and host the AFC Championship Game next weekend.
"I'm going to go buy my Roethlisberger jersey and go to the nearest bar and start rooting, Ashley Lelie told the Post. We really want that home field, because we're probably the toughest team right now in the NFL playing at home."
Emerging from the shadows
Denver quarterback Jake Plummer will try to escape the suffocating shadow of John Elway tonight, writes The Rocky Mountain Newss Lee Rasizer, when the Broncos face off against the Patriots in the NFL divisional playoffs.
Jeff Legwold of the News says that while other teams have had the same game plan as the Patriots should, keeping him trapped in the pocket, Plummer is not likely to be kept at a stand still. Pat Rooney adds that the Patriots hope to learn from their October loss to the Broncos, and remember their various scoring opportunities in preparation.
News columnists Dave Krieger and Bernie Liniciome both like the Broncos to win tonights matchup. Given my prognosticating record, this isn't necessarily good news for the Broncos, admits Krieger, but with playmakers like [Rod} Smith, understated and underestimated, they might prevail anyway. Liniciome, meanwhile, conjures how the game might play out.
With Denver offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and New England defensive coordinator Eric Mangini both possibly on the move to head coaching gigs with the Texans and Jets respectively, the Newss Jeff Legwold looks at the effect each has had on the Broncos and Patriots.
About 1,000 Broncos fans showed up for a pep rally in Denver last night, which included a Jake Plummer look alike contest. Watch video from the event on Denvers CBS affiliate.
'Ragged retreat from dynasty'?
Why will they play? We've already seen the game, apparently.
That's at least according to Rocky Mountain News columnist Bernie Lincicome, who writes, no matter that the Patriots are bringing an entirely different team to Denver this weekend than they did in October, a 28-20 Broncos win, "The Broncos are better than the Patriots. The Broncos are better than almost everybody.
"The Patriots are in that ragged retreat from dynasty," he continues, "an inevitable condition that comes to the best, as it came to the Broncos, to the Cowboys, to the 49ers, to the Steelers."
That's the hope of Broncos fans as it's now "orange frenzy" time in Denver, where The Denver Post's Bill Briggs writes Broncomania has taken full force in preparation for tomorrow's divisional playoff game against New England at Invesco Field. The Post's Bill Williamson and the News's Jeff Legwold both detail how the Broncos expect their fans to be at their loudest in order to give Denver even more of an advantage at a place that it was 8-0 this season.
Post columnist Mark Kiszla writes that Denver needs a new coat of orange madness in order to quit living in the past glory of the late '90s, when John Elway delivered back-to-back Super Bowls. Meanwhile, debates the veracity of Broncomania by wondering why Plummer doesn't have a theme song.
Turnovers could be key, writes the Post's Joseph Sanchez. New England quarterback Tom Brady has not tossed a postseason interception since Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Carolina Panthers. Mike Klis of the Post reasons then that the matchup of the game will be Brady against defensive back Champ Bailey, while Legwold points out the Patriots are only 1-3 against Denver since the start of the 2000 season, the News Lee Rasizer writes that the Patriots' secondary is a much-improved unit than the one that was torched repeatedly in October. That was a mismatch that Broncos coach Mike Shanahan exploited last time, and the Post's Mike Klis writes that preying on other team's weaknesses, while disguising their own, has been what has made Shanahan and Patriots coach Bill Belichick so successful over the years. The Post's Anthony Cotton adds that, "It's not that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick considers himself a contrarian, it's just that he doesn't really think like you do."
Lynn DeBruin of the News looks at how the dominance of the AFC in recent years can be attributed to the quarterbacks. Rasizer examines how some former Cleveland Browns have reestablished Denver's defensive line.
Legwold takes a look at the differences between Brady and Denver quarterback Jake Plummer. In the ultimate sign that game time must be imminent and the story lines have run out, Pat Rooney writes that Plummer's backup, Alex Van Pelt, is ready for the call of duty if needed.
Like a fine cognac
Broncos running back Mike Anderson sums up his previous playoff experience in five words, according to Lee Rasizer of the Rocky Mountain News, "Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Terrible."
Get the picture? The Broncos still haven't won a postseason game without John Elway as their quarterback, a string of three losses dating back to Anderson's rookie season in 2000. But it is Anderson's presence in the Denver backfield that helps give the Broncos so much balance, a major concern for Patriots coach Bill Belichick, writes the Denver Post's Anthony Cotton.
Cotton also writes that one of New England's primary concerns at Invesco Field will be to control the Broncos' attack by not allowing quarterback Jake Plummer extra time to effectively handle Denver's run/pass combination. When the Patriots have the ball, the Broncos expect to see a heavy dose of tight ends Ben Watson and Daniel Graham, writes the News's Jeff Legwold, while the Post's Thomas George reminds Denver readers that Corey Dillon's running game can still be potent.
Praise is also being heaped in the direction of both quarterbacks. Denver defensive back Nick Ferguson tells the Post's Joseph Sanchez that if New England quarterback Tom Brady were a drink, "he'd be some fine cognac because that's how smooth he is." Meanwhile, former Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe tells Mike Klis of the Post that his view on Plummer has changed dramatically.
Defensively, Plummer tells Legwold that he is fully aware of the seemingly omnipresent New England linebacking corps. But the Denver defense can handle the load too, according to the Post's Bill Williamson, allowing a total of 37 points to finish the season with a four-game win streak.
A feel-good story
As expected, the Patriots' secondary, torched in their 28-20 loss at Denver in October, begins to take center stage as the Patriots and Broncos prepare for their divisional playoff game Saturday night at Invesco Field.
The Denver Post's Mike Klis talks to Denver wide receiver Ashley Lelie, who points out that it is the front seven who make the secondary. "In pro football, it really is hard for a corner to cover a receiver, one-on- one, when the quarterback has a bunch of time. If your front seven puts pressure on the quarterback, then you have him throwing off the back foot, things like that." In that regard, New England has turned into the NFL's feel-good story, according to the Rocky Mountain News's Legwold, who points out that the return of veterans Richard Seymour and Tedy Bruschi should make this a different game.
The Post's Anthony Cotton writes that New England quarterback Tom Brady is aware at just how quickly Denver's offensive attack can get out to a commanding lead, as it did against the Patriots, leading 28-3 at the half last time these two met. The Patriots rebounded in that game's second half, thanks to a Denver defense that let up in part because of Champ Bailey's exit from the game, his first back from a hamstring injury. Brady and the Pats will face a healthy Bailey this time around, says the Post's Bill Williamson, which will be a major challenge for the Patriots receivers. Bailey is ready for the challenge, he tells the News's Jeff Legwold, aware that the Pats amassed the second-most passing yards in the NFL this season. Bailey also tells the News's Lee Rasizer that the Patriots' plus-21 advantage turnover ratio during their postseason run of three Super Bowl wins in four years is "sick."
Anthony Cotton of the Post, looks into the added input that Brady has been depended upon for this season. On the other side of the field, Jake Plummer has enjoyed his best season in the NFL, and Post columnist Mark Kiszla writes that it is time for the underachieving Plummer to end his role as NFL slacker.
Broncos rookie cornerback Domonique Foxworth says in his weekly diary for the Post that a game of this magnitude is well worth the wait.