New England looks for a better effort and tries to remain unbeaten when it hosts the Broncos on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
These teams last met on Jan. 14 in an AFC divisional playoff game at Denver. The Patriots outgained the Broncos 420-286 in that contest, but also turned the ball over five times.
With New England driving and seeking the lead in the third quarter, Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey intercepted Tom Brady in the end zone, then returned it 100 yards to the Patriots’ one-yard line. Denver scored a touchdown on the next play to take an 11-point lead, and went on to win 27-13.
The defeat was New England’s first in 11 postseason games with Bill Belichick as coach and Brady at quarterback, and ended the team’s run of two consecutive Super Bowl titles.
“When you lose, you want to go down fighting,” Brady said after the loss. “You want to go down playing your best and we didn’t do that. We made it easy for them.”
This season’s first two victories have not been easy for the Patriots (2-0).
After recovering from a 10-point halftime deficit to defeat Buffalo 19-17 in Week 1, New England scored the first 24 points against the New York Jets last Sunday before holding on for a 24-17 win.
“We have that kind of lead, we’ve got to really put the dagger in them and don’t give them any hope that they can come back,” Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said. “If we’re already playing good, play even better.”
New England’s defense had a different look last Sunday. The Patriots, who had used a 3-4 defense in the season opener and for Belichick’s previous six seasons as coach, lined up with four linemen and three linebackers against the Jets.
“It gives us a chance to be versatile upfront,” said defensive end Richard Seymour, who also played tackle. “This week coming up it may be different. It could be the same. You never know. Take a guess.”
A resurgent running game has keyed New England’s offense. The Patriots, who ranked 24th in the NFL in rushing offense last season, are third this season with 165 yards per game.
While the Patriots are thriving on the ground, Brady has posted mediocre numbers. The quarterback has thrown for 383 yards and three touchdowns, but has also completed just 50 percent of his passes and been intercepted twice.
There is no quarterback controversy in New England, but Denver coach Mike Shanahan is trying to squelch one. Veteran starter Jake Plummer’s rating is a dismal 38.6 as he has thrown no touchdowns and four interceptions while completing only 51.8 percent of his pass attempts.
The Broncos (1-1) have managed only 19 points in two games, but defeated Kansas City 9-6 in overtime last Sunday despite failing to reach the end zone.
Shanahan said Monday he will stick with Plummer, who is 34-15 as the Broncos starter, and not turn to Jay Cutler—the 11th overall selection in the 2006 draft.
“Everyone looks at the quarterback and thinks it is totally his fault and that is never true. You have to put a lot of that responsibility on the coaches and the supporting cast,” Shanahan said.
“People forget very quickly about the tough games that John Elway had here. It is just the nature of the profession.”
Plummer did engineer a nine-play, 63-yard drive on the first possession of overtime against the Chiefs to set up Jason Elam’s 39-yard field goal to win the game. He connected with wide receiver Javon Walker on a 24-yard pass to take the Broncos to the Kansas City 25-yard line.
Walker, who was acquired from Green Bay in the offseason after missing most of last season with a torn knee ligament, leads the Broncos with eight receptions for 120 yards.
“I’m finally getting back to how I used to be, I’m finally getting back to how I was in Green Bay,” said Walker, who had 89 receptions for 1,382 yards and made the Pro Bowl in 2004.
Denver’s other starting wideout, 12-year veteran Rod Smith, suffered a concussion last Sunday. Doctors said Monday that Smith’s third head injury in the past year was mild, however, and he might play against New England.
Although the Broncos and Patriots are in different divisions, they have faced each other frequently. Including the postseason, the teams have met 17 times in the last 20 years, with Denver winning 14 of those contests.
Brady is 1-4, including the playoffs, as a starter versus the Broncos and 69-17 against all other opponents.