Yes, all Broncos fans remember it. How could we forget about it?
Divisional Round of the playoffs last year in Foxboro. The Broncos were riding high following their 31-25 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Demaryius Thomas' 80 yard touchdown reception to open up the overtime period. The Broncos had entered that game as 10 point underdogs, and came out as victors in one of the biggest playoff upsets in recent memory.
Flash forward to a week later. The Broncos travel to Foxboro to take on the AFC-best New England Patriots. Just three weeks prior, the Broncos had played the Patriots in Denver, and had actually gotten out to a quick first quarter start. After the first quarter had ended, the Broncos were up 16-7. Of course, as everyone knows, the wheels quickly fell off, as the Broncos and Tim Tebow uncharacteristically turned the ball over, and Tom Brady and company capitalized before finishing the Broncos off 41-23.
In that Week 16 matchup, Brady was simply unstoppable. He frequently ran the offense in a shotgun formation, with multiple receiver sets, and utilized the no-huddle offense to further offset the Denver defense. He went 23-34 for two touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and more importantly, no interceptions.
You would have thought that Denver would come out a little bit motivated against the Patriots three weeks later in Foxboro in the second round of the playoffs, right?
The Broncos played even worse. They were done from the onset. Brady threw six touchdowns – with 28 minutes still remaining in the game. It got so bad, that by the end of the game, Brady was pooch punting it instead of Zoltan Mesko. Brady went 26-34 for 363 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception.
The Broncos' defense have had a penchant of being unable to deter elite quarterbacks. They had a problem doing it against Brady and Aaron Rodgers last year, they had problems doing it when they were up against Peyton Manning when he was with the Colts for numerous years, and they've had problems with Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub thus far this year.
So the question begs, what should we expect from the Patriots' offense in this game?
Expect the same thing that you saw in last year's games from the Patriots. It doesn't get any more simple than that. The Patriots will run a little bit more of a variety of runs with Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley, as the Pats rank in the top 10 in rushing this season. The Patriots had no run game last year, but now, with the threat of a running game, the Pats' offense is even more of a threat than they were last year.
The Pats will often line up in the shotgun, and utilize the no-huddle offense to keep the Broncos off-balance. The interesting matchup here is with Denver's blitz on Brady. Brady has the highest completion rate of any quarterback in the NFL on the blitz. Denver blitzes at one of the highest rates in the NFL, and actually has held opponents to the second-lowest completion rate of any blitzing team in the league at 47.6%.
And folks, this is where the game will be won or lost – whether Denver's blitz can effectively rattle Brady. The Broncos came at Brady hard last year in both games, but they were unable to rattle Brady, largely because they simply couldn't get to Brady.
With a new defensive coordinator this year in Jack Del Rio, the Broncos are a blitz-heavy team. This game will likely be dictated by whether or not the Broncos can knock Brady off of his comfort factor, as teams such as the Jets, Ravens and Giants have been able to do in recent years.
If the Broncos pressure Brady, the Broncos likely win this game.
If the Broncos can't pressure Brady, the Broncos will likely lose this game – even if Manning can contest Brady in a shootout game.
It will dictate who the winner and loser is of this game.
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