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Next Up, New England

Posted Jan 13, 2012

The Broncos are set to face the top-seeded New England Patriots tomorrow in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – It was one win and the Broncos have moved forward, but their 29-23 Wild Card victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers created a memory that won’t fade away anytime soon.

“It was a big win for us,” said quarterback Tim Tebow, who is now 1-0 in the playoffs. “It was very exciting because we were able to beat a very good Pittsburgh Steelers team, at home, in front of our fans. That memory will definitely be very special to me and many of my teammates and coaches.” 

However, that dramatic win – as memorable as it may be – has left little time for reminiscing.

“It’s a playoff game, so it’s big but I’m not going to look too much into it,” Tebow added. “It’s just one game. We have another big one this week.”

Tomorrow the Broncos will meet the New England Patriots – the AFC’s top seed fresh off a first-round bye.

The matchups don’t get any easier in the postseason, and after upending the 12-4 Steelers, Denver now faces the 13-3 Patriots Saturday at Gillette Stadium in the Divisional Round.

Last week the Broncos advanced past the league’s No.1 ranked defense.

This time they’ll be challenged by the NFL’s second-ranked offense during the regular season.

“A huge test, no doubt, to go up there against a very experienced team, a team that’s been playoff-tested,” Head Coach John Fox said. “That’s why there are only eight of us left.”

Orchestrating that dynamic offense is quarterback Tom Brady – the three-time Super Bowl winner who tossed 39 touchdowns and threw for more than 5,000 yards in 2011. With weapons like wide receiver Wes Welker and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Brady and the Patriots averaged just over 32 points per game.

New England’s explosive attack took advantage of three Denver turnovers and seven penalties in a 41-23 victory in Week 15, and the Broncos know they need to eliminate those mistakes to produce a different outcome.

“Whenever you play New England, you have to play smart because they’re a well-coached team, and when you make mistakes they’ll capitalize,” wide receiver Eddie Royal said. “Any little thing that you do, they’re going to turn it into points so we’ve got to play mistake-free football.”

“We know they're going to get their plays,” defensive end Robert Ayers said, “but we can't give them gifts.”

The Denver offense may not possess the eye-popping regular-season statistics the Patriots do, but they are a confident group after overcoming Pittsburgh's No.1-ranked defense.

The Broncos have relied on their league-best rushing attack all season, but against the Steelers it was the passing game that came through, as Tebow threw for a career-high 316 yards.

“We have to build off of that,” Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy said.

New England will look to limit Denver’s emerging playmaker -- wideout Demaryius Thomas -- whose 204-yard receiving performance vs. Pittsburgh was highlighted by the game-winning 80-yard touchdown catch in overtime.

“If they want to try and take him away, we have plenty of other guys that we can go to, and that’s Tim’s job to go through the progression,” McCoy said. “But when you make plays the way he’s been making, he’s going to get some attention.”

The Denver running game -- which accounted for 252 rushing yards in the first meeting vs. the Patriots -- will do their best to open up downfield opportunities for Thomas and the other Denver receivers.

“It’s real important just to help out Tim and those guys, so we can open up some passing lanes,” running back Willis McGahee said. “We’re going to run the ball, regardless, the way we’ve been running it all year.”

The Broncos are determined and confident heading into this matchup against New England.

They’re also underdogs for the second week in a row, driven to keep this special season alive.

“As a pro athlete, you kind of live for these moments,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “This is why you play, to be on the big stage and to get out there and show what we can do.”

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