Attention for Patriots, Broncos on the defenses
DENVER >> For once, the matchup between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos isn't all about the quarterbacks.
With Peyton Manning in a walking cast and Tom Brady's supporting cast in disarray, this showdown in the snow Sunday night likely comes down to which dominant defense handles the atmosphere, the pressure and the passer the best.
"Obviously when you say the New England Patriots, you think Tom Brady, but this defense is going to be the best defense we played all year," Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders said.
Same goes for the Patriots.
Brady was equally impressed by Denver's pass rushers, led by Von Miller, and coverage men paced by Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr.
"These guys, it's a lot of tough, tight coverage," Brady said. "They put a lot of pressure on you. I think that's the mark of a good defense is putting pressure on the offense. ... They've limited teams to yards, points, turnovers, sacks, first-down defense. They're impressive in every statistical category."
Brock Osweiler won at Chicago last weekend in his first start after serving as Manning's backup for the first 62 games of his NFL career. He thought he was getting punked when told he'd been chosen AFC offensive player of the week.
"I didn't believe it at first. I really didn't. I thought everybody was joking with me," Osweiler said, laughing.
Manning was in good spirits himself after seeing a foot specialist and getting a plan for his recovery and rehab, one that could see him return to the lineup in late-December if all goes well.
Brady says he'll miss matching up with his long-time rival quarterback. But he'll likely miss not having some key parts on offense even more, particularly injured Julian Edelman, who is out, and Danny Amendola, who is unlikely to play. Aaron Dobson went on injured reserve this week.
"There's nobody that has more respect for Peyton than me, outside of probably his parents, his brother," Brady said. "If anybody can appreciate what Peyton has accomplished, it's me. He's just been remarkable in every part of his career. He's been a tremendous player."
So has Brady, of course. He has won five of his last six against Denver, passing for 17 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Here are some things to watch Sunday night:
BRADY IN TROUBLE?: Brady will be facing the league's top-ranked defense, one that hounded Aaron Rodgers into the worst game of his career — and he still hasn't recovered, with Green Bay losing four of five after coming to Denver unbeaten, just like the Patriots. Although Andrew Luck beat Denver, he, too, was clobbered, emerging from Indy's 27-24 win with a lacerated kidney and torn abdominal muscle that's rendered him a sideline spectator like Manning.
"I mean, Denver's got a very solid defense, their front line all the way to their secondary," said Rob Gronkowski, Brady's favorite target.
OSWEILER IN TROUBLE? Osweiler knows Bill Belichick will have something special planned to try to confuse and confound him like he's done to so many other quarterbacks, both young and old.
"Obviously, what coach Belichick has accomplished in the past decade, 15 years is maybe second to none," Osweiler says. "But at the end of the day, I'm not going against Bill Belichick on Sunday. I'm going against their defense and their football team."
MILLER TIME? Miller is getting held plenty, but he's not drawing any flags.
"I just learned from an early age just not to go out there calling for it. I think my play and when everybody turns on the film, that's where you get the respect from," he said. "My time will come."
Miller said if he can't get to the passer, he wants to get the passer to rush his throw.
"We've got a real good secondary. Talib is playing out of his mind right now, T.J. (Ward) and Chris Harris, all those guys are playing insane right now. I'm just trying to make them get the ball out quick. As long as he's doing that, we'll be good," Miller said. "The sacks will come."
TOWERING PRESENCE: Osweiler actually has played against the Patriots before. On Nov. 24, 2013, the 6-foot-7 quarterback was sent in to try to block Stephen Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal attempt with 1:56 left in overtime. He didn't come close and the Patriots prevailed 34-31.
"I was confused on that. I was like, 'Coach, you want me to go in?"' Osweiler recalled. "That has nothing to do with what's going to take place this Sunday, but you're right, I have played one play against the Patriots."
AGELESS ARM: While Manning's season at age 39 has been a misadventure, Brady's season at age 38 is rolling along just fine, with 25 touchdown throws and just four interceptions. He's four TD passes from surpassing Dan Marino for third on the all-time list with 421.
"I don't think he ages, to tell you the truth," Gronkowski said. "It seems like he's always in his 20s."
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton
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