|01.13.14 at 6:53 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The odds are not overwhelming.
The 14-3 Broncos are favored by just 4 1/2 points heading into Sunday’s AFC championship against the 13-4 Patriots at Sports Authority Field in Denver. Take out the home field advantage and that’s less than a field goal separation according to the odds makers.
The Patriots under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have advanced to the Super Bowl twice by winning the AFC championship on the road, both times in Pittsburgh. Those experiences are stored deep in the memory banks of the brain trust.
But that won’t keep the Patriots from playing the underdog role to the hilt, at least in public. Brady already told Dennis and Callahan Monday morning that “no one” expects the Patriots to win. Danny Amendola reiterated that mantra Monday afternoon as the team began their preparations for the Broncos.
“I like to think that way,” Amendola said. “In our room, I can speak for our room, we play with a chip on our shoulder and we like to play that way, so just looking to have a good week of preparation so far and go about it that way.
“[We] go about it like every other week and just prepare as hard as we can and get ready to play.”
How different might the Broncos look from their Nov. 24 match-up at Gillette?
“We still have to break down a lot of film,” Amendola said. “They are a good team, obviously, playing this deep in the playoffs. We’re really excited to play them.
“They’ve had some moving parts since then [but] still a quality ball club so we got to prepare well.”
The biggest moving part is Monday’s announcement that cornerback Chris Harris is lost for the season with a torn ACL. But the Broncos should have veterans Champ Bailey and Quentin Jammer in their secondary. Bailey did not play in the Nov. 24 Patriots’ win.
“You know, Champ has been in the league for a very long time, playing at a very high level, Quentin Jammer too, so we have a task on our hands and we’ll definitely be preparing well for them this week,” Amendola said.
As for the 74,000 screaming fans at Mile High that will be cheering for the Broncos, Amendola said he’s ready to embrace that challenge.
“I’ve played there a couple of times,” Amendola said. “It’s a great stadium to play in and it will be a live atmosphere and it will be fun.
“You win you go on, you lose you go home. That’s the name of the playoffs, so we’re definitely going to do our part and prepare hard this week.’
The key, says Amendola, is not to get overwhelmed with any aspect of Sunday’s game.
“It’s a big game,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s football and you’ve got a job to do when you’re playing so that’s what we focus on. It’s just our mentality. We don’t think any differently, like I said, playing with that chip on our shoulders. That’s how we are.”
|01.13.14 at 1:08 pm ET|
According to multiple reports out of Denver, an MRI on the knee of starting cornerback Chris Harris revealed a torn ACL that will sideline him for the rest of the postseason, including Sunday’s AFC championship game against the Patriots.
Harris left Sunday’s win over the Chargers in the third quarter with that the team described as knee and ankle injuries. After Harris departed, San Diego mounted a comeback with 17 fourth-quarter points.
Harris, who joined the Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2011 out of Kansas, played more defensive snaps than any other Bronco this season and led the team with three interceptions. He becomes a restricted free agent after the season.
The injury comes three weeks after Denver another key starter to a torn ACL in linebacker Von Miller.
|01.13.14 at 12:48 pm ET|
Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich and defensive back Devin McCourty checked in with Mut & Merloni on WEEI’s Patriots Monday to discuss Saturday’s win over the Colts and the upcoming AFC championship game against the Broncos. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
“This week is going to be huge, this being the third straight AFC championship game we’ve been in,” McCourty said. “Last year was the worst feeling, to lose that game. I think it’s going to be key for all of the guys just to make sure as a team we understand this is a very important game. I know everyone knows that it’s a chance to go to the Super Bowl and all that. But not everyone is going to understand being on the other side of that, that we had to sit on last year. So, we’re going to prepare hard this week and be ready to go. I think it all starts with practice this week, and making sure we’re prepared, especially going against their offense, the top offense in the league this year, broke many records for NFL history. So, we’re going to have to really be ready.”
In Saturday’s game, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck completed 20-of-41 passes for 331 yards and two touchdowns, but he had four interceptions. The Patriots also shut down his scrambling, limiting him to one carry for five yards, while sacking him twice.
“Going into the week that was one of our biggest areas of concern, was just him being able to extend a play with his legs — coverage does their job and then he pulls it down for a first down,” Ninkovich said. “When you go against a guy like that — any scrambling quarterback — you have to dial it down as far as your pressure and your rush.”
Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins had a stellar game, including a sack, an interception and solid coverage on Colts tight end Coby Fleener while playing every defensive down.
“Throughout the whole season you see glimpses of him with good athletic ability, coverage, stop the run,” Ninkovich said. “I’m happy that he was able to go out there and just make plays and help the team win. That’s what it’s all about.”
Added McCourty of Collins: “He’s a confident guy. I was so happy because we’ve been able to see that athleticism all year. Now we’re getting towards the end of the season and you get to see him put it all together and come out and have a game like he had Saturday night, I think it’s great. I think he’s going to continue to stay on that page because he’s working hard, he’s understanding the defense a lot more. He knows what he can do on that field, and he’s going out there and doing it.”
|01.13.14 at 10:46 am ET|
The Patriots punched their ticket to Denver for the AFC championship game on Sunday, but fans in the New England area may not have the same opportunity.
At 10 a.m. Mountain Standard Time Monday, the Broncos will release a limited amount of tickets through Ticketmaster. Those seats, however, are only available to individuals with a billing address in the Rocky Mountain region, according to the Broncos website. The tickets will range in price from $90-$600.
Due to Denver’s stipulation, only individuals with a billing address in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, South Dakota and Western Kansas will have the chance to purchase tickets when they are first released.
While fans from outside of that region can attempt to purchase tickets Tuesday when the Broncos ticket office opens, the team cannot guarantee that any seats will remain.
Patriots fans are not alone in their inability to purchase tickets online or by phone for Sunday’s game. The Seahawks also have limited which fans can purchase tickets to the NFC championship, stating on their website that fans with billing addresses in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii as well as the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta in Canada are eligible.
|01.13.14 at 10:39 am ET|
ESPN’s Adam Schefter joined Dennis & Callahan on Monday to discuss his Super Bowl predictions and the legacy of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Schefter said that while he thought Seattle had the advantage in the NFC, the AFC was a bigger challenge to predict.
“In the AFC, boy, I think both those teams are flawed,” Schefter said. “For as good as they are, for as much as they’ve accomplished and as impressive as they’ve been, what they’ve done is really incredible in their own ways, especially New England.
“You look at the lineup … it is hardly its most talented unit, but the one thing about this Patriots team that the organization believes, they believe that these guys are tough, they believe these guys play hard and they believe these guys are the essence of a team and so that gives them a chance, but they’re missing so many key players in so many key spots, and Denver is, too.”
When asked about the legacy of Sunday’s matchup between Brady and Manning, Schefter said it was a “great way to start the championship weekend.”
“It’s just one of those, I don’t mean to sound Pollyannaish, but it’s just one of those games you should sit back and enjoy, period,” Schefter said. “It’s a rare thing. It’s a great thing.”
Added Schefter: “It’s not like they’re not going to play again, and if they play again next year, assuming that Peyton does play next year and Tom does play next year, there’ll be a lot of hype surrounding that game again, and we’ll be talking about legacies again.
“This very well could be the last time they meet in the postseason. There are certainly no assurances they’ll be in the postseason beyond this year, certainly no assurances they’ll meet in another conference championship game.”
|01.13.14 at 10:27 am ET|
With the Patriots and Broncos set for an AFC championship game matchup Sunday, quarterback Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on Dennis & Callahan to preview the game and recap Saturday night’s victory over the Colts. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
The Patriots relied on a strong ground game to defeat the Colts, rushing for 234 yards and six touchdowns.
“That’s been one of our strengths here for the last six weeks, is our ability to run it,” Brady said. “I think our offensive line, the way they’ve played down the stretch has been incredible. And certainly with LeGarrette [Blount], Stevan [Ridley] and Shane [Vereen] and what they’ve done, it’s been really just huge for our team. That’s going to be a part of every game plan, and then when we got out there and we started to really become more efficient in the running game we just kept running it and running it. Then you get those big long runs where LeGarrette broke out and ran for whatever, 70-plus yards.
“It’s been just a great thing for us, to be able to control the tempo of the game. To really be a physical football team is what coach [Bill] Belichick has talked about all year. That’s really come out here really since Thanksgiving.”
Added Brady: “Over the last month we’ve been exceptional in our efficiency. All of the backs are running hard. Like I said, it starts with the offensive line and what they’ve been able to do and what they’ve been able to contribute. I know how satisfying it is for them. When you talk about rushing stats at the end of the year and where our team stands, it’s very gratifying when you’re able to run the ball like we’ve run it. Like I said, the backs do a great job finding the hole and finding what’s there, they’re running really hard, they break tackles. But the offensive line gets those guys started. They deserve so much credit.”
With the emphasis on the running game, the offensive lineman have had a chance to go on the offensive.
“It’s nice to be, for an offensive lineman, for you to be able to be aggressive,” Brady said. “Rather than, when you pass it all day, you’re really just trying to defend the spot. As a run blocker you can really enforce your will upon the other team. That’s where the basic fundamentals of football will never change: You’ve got to be able to stop the run; you’ve got to be able to run the football. Those things don’t ever change. That’s how you get to this point in the year. You’ve got to be able to win different ways, and certainly the way we’ve been able to win for a while now has been critical to our success.”
The Patriots rallied to defeat the Broncos, 34-31, in overtime on Nov. 24, but Brady put little emphasis on that game.
“There’s nothing that’s happened in the past that’s going to help us try to win this game on Sunday,” Brady said. “This game is going to come down to who plays the best. We’ll be able to take some things from the game we played and study them and prepare for them. But we’ll have different things to do, they’ll have different things to do. Their team is different than from when they played us, and we’re pretty different from when we played them.
“We’ll get our preparation going this morning and try to put together a great game plan and prepare as hard as we can, and then go out there and you let it rip. I’m excited. It’s everything you could ask for as an athlete. We’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us. It would be as satisfying a victory as we’ve ever had to go to Denver and win this game.”
|01.13.14 at 6:15 am ET|
In the wake of Sunday’s divisional playoff win over the Chargers, the Broncos acknowledged they were going to take a few hours to enjoy the moment before moving on to prepare to host the Patriots in Sunday’s AFC title game.
‘Well, I think I’m just going to enjoy this one first,” said Denver coach John Fox of the 24-17 victory over San Diego. “It hasn’t sunk in. We’ll dig into [the Patriots] tomorrow. We’ll enjoy it tonight for what it is. We’re very honored and pleased to be in that position.’
‘We’re going to address [the Patriots on] Wednesday,” said quarterback Peyton Manning. “We’ll certainly talk about them plenty on Wednesday. But, we’ll enjoy this one. You’re supposed to enjoy these wins. They’re hard to come by, and we’ll start working on the Patriots tomorrow.’
Two Denver players who have a history involving the Patriots are Manning and wide receiver Wes Welker — Manning because he’s so connected to Tom Brady (this will mark the 15th time they’ve squared off against each other), and Welker because of the fact that he spent six seasons with New England before signing with the Broncos this past offseason.
“Tom Brady has just been an outstanding quarterback for such a long time, but the game next week is the Broncos versus the Patriots,” Manning said. “I know there will be some individual matchups that will get headlines, but it will be a battle between two good teams. Teams that have been through a lot, that have overcome a lot to get to this point, and that’s where my focus will be — trying to help the Broncos get a win against the Patriots.”
‘It’s the AFC Championship game, so there will be plenty of juice,” said Welker.
It’ll be the second matchup of the season between the two teams — in the first game, the Patriots dug themselves out of a 24-0 halftime deficit to post a 34-31 overtime win.
Defensive end Robert Ayers said the Broncos are not going to be motivated to beat New England because of that November loss.
‘That’s not going to motivate me,” Ayers said. “I can’t speak for anyone else. That’s not going to motivate me at all. That’s the last thing on my mind. We have to go out there and try to win. Regardless of what happened last time, if we don’t bring our ‘A’ game, we’re going to lose. We’re just going to focus on bringing our ‘A’ game. We are going to enjoy this victory for the night and tomorrow we’re going to start back preparing and that is what we are looking forward to, just getting another win and moving one step forward.’
‘We’re looking forward to it,” said defensive end Shaun Phillips. “Obviously we’re the two best teams in the AFC because we’re playing for the AFC Championship, so what more can you ask for? That’s what you want as a football player. Tom Brady is my second favorite quarterback behind Peyton. I really like Tom. I think he’s a great player and a great person, but what better way to do it? You want the two best teams going head-to-head, and that’s what’s going to happen.’
2016 PATRIOTS DRAFT PICKS
2016 NFL DRAFT
Latest from Bleacher Report
- Updates on Patriots Star Danny Amendola's Injuries
- Why Collins Is Patriots' Most Important 2017 Free Agent
- Biggest Issues the Patriots Will Face in 2016 Season
- Super Bowl Odds: Patriots Betting Favorites Despite Brady Suspension
- Position Battles to Watch in Patriots Training Camp
- Does Brissett Have a Chance to Be Patriots Week 1 Starter?
- Brady Is Under Too Much Pressure, and It Could Crush Pats Dynasty