With a Super Bowl berth at stake in Sunday's rematch, Peyton Manning figures to have a better day.
"We'll have to be on top of our game," Patriots safety
Their pass defense has been pretty close to that lately.
They're traveling again this week, to Denver for the AFC championship game, with a deep, experienced secondary. And though Flacco and Luck are impressive quarterbacks, Manning appears to be on a different level - regardless of how he did last time out vs. New England.
"What you are always trying to strive for is consistency," Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said Tuesday, "certainly in a position like the defensive backs where there is a lot of communication."
In their first meeting with the Broncos, the Patriots won 34-31 in overtime after trailing 24-0 at halftime. Manning had season lows of 19 completions, 150 yards passing, a 52.8 completion percentage and a 70.2 passer rating. With the wind whipping, and the running game rolling behind Knowshon Moreno's 224 yards, Manning threw 36 passes, five below his average. His longest completion gained 17 yards, although tight end Julius Thomas sat out with a knee injury.
New England struggled against the long ball early last season. That changed after it acquired cornerback
In his first game with the Patriots, he returned an interception for a touchdown against Luck.
Talib's arrival solidified the move of
"It's been a huge plus for us that we've been able to essentially keep those same players back there," coach Bill Belichick said. "Then (there's) some degree of flexibility because both Steve Gregory and Devin have both played corner."
Injuries on defense sidelined tackles
When they've been out, veteran
Ryan's interception against Manning early in the fourth quarter Nov. 24 led to the touchdown that put the Patriots ahead for the first time, 28-24.
"I practice against a great quarterback every day," Ryan said before his playoff debut against Luck. "So I think practicing against Tom (Brady) makes everything a little bit easier."
Ryan led the Patriots with five interceptions. Talib had four. Dennard had just one then picked off two in the playoff win over the Colts. He did give up a 38-yard touchdown reception to LaVon Brazill on a perfectly thrown pass on which he barely missed the deflection.
Especially when those guys are Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. They combined for 252 catches for 3,496 yards and 35 touchdowns for Denver.
But the Patriots still have Talib, Dennard, Gregory and McCourty trying to contain them.
"They have a good comfort level out on the football field," Patricia said. "So as much as you can have the continuity within a group - especially in the back end - I think it is always what is going to help you in the long run."
NOTES: Belichick had no update on punter