Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Play It Again, Patriots and Broncos

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Play It Again, Patriots and Broncos

Article excerpt

When the lights were flipped on at Gillette Stadium for a prime- time game Nov. 24, the Patriots and Broncos had yet to win much of anything. Despite leading their respective divisions, neither knew what the future held, either in the hours or weeks to come. All they shared, as the clock ticked down toward a much-anticipated regular-season game, were short-term focus and long-term goals.

Some details from the game might be forgotten -- Brandon Bolden led the Patriots in rushing, for example - but what happened on that Sunday night in Foxborough seems relevant now, only because of what's happened since.

As expected, the Broncos won the AFC West, and the Patriots won the AFC East. Both received byes into the divisional round, and each took care of business at home over the weekend, setting up a Sunday rematch. The winner of the AFC Championship game at Denver's Sports Authority Field advances to Super Bowl XLVIII.

Nobody knows how Sunday will play out. If the first Broncos- Patriots game is any indication, there will be big plays, wild swings, and surprises. New faces, too, since both teams are missing key parts that played Nov. 24. The Broncos actually get one back, since tight end Julius Thomas missed the first game with an injury.

If we're lucky, the second meeting will be just as entertaining as the first, which saw the Broncos bolt to a 24-0 halftime lead, thanks to fumbles by the Patriots on their first three possessions. The hosts responded with 31 straight points - aided by two Denver turnovers - to nudge in front.

After the Broncos forced overtime with a late touchdown pass, the teams seemed headed for a rare tie, until a Patriot punt bounced off Denver's Tony Carter with three minutes left in the extra session. The game's 11th fumble - and seventh turnover - allowed the Patriots to kick a field goal and win, 34-31. It was the largest comeback in franchise history.

"Obviously it's going to be a different game," Patriots safety Steve Gregory said. "Different situations, different things will come up in the game. It's a completely different game."

This one, like the last one, will feature a pair of star quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, leading their teams against each other for the 15th time. Brady leads, 10-4, including 2-1 in the playoffs.

Brady won't have tight end Rob Gronkowski to throw to this time. Gronkowski, who caught seven passes for 90 yards and a touchdown in the regular-season game, is out for the year with a knee injury.

But Brady also won't have Denver linebacker Von Miller chasing him - he's also out with a knee injury. He won't have top cornerback Chris Harris to avoid (knee injury). And he won't have to elude defensive end Derek Wolfe, who suffered seizure-like symptoms and was put on IR Tuesday. …

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