The Patriots bring a four-game winning streak and a 6-2 record to Denver and straight into prime time when they face the Broncos on Monday Night Football. New England has won six of its last seven games and catapulted into first place in the AFC East with an undefeated October. But the Patriots know that despite their six victories, there's still a lot of football to be played.
"Six wins is not going to get us anything," said Head Coach Bill Belichick. "We are going to have to do a lot more than this. We will just take it week-to-week."
This week's game presents the Patriots with another tough task, as they will face a hard fight under the national spotlight when they line up opposite the 5-3 Broncos.
New England heads into the game fresh off of a gritty 9-3 win over the Cleveland Browns. The Patriots defense continued its superb play, allowing the Browns to advance into the New England side of the field on just one occasion and held the Browns to just a single field goal. The Patriots defense has allowed just 7.3 points per game in its last three outings, but will have to contend with a Broncos offense that possesses one of the league's elite running backs in Clinton Portis. The Broncos rushing attack sports the third-highest ranking in the NFL, but defending against the run has become one of New England's strengths. The Patriots' revitalized run-stuffing unit ranks fourth in the NFL after finishing last season ranked 31st.
On the offensive side of the ball, New England will try to continue its recent trend of outstanding individual performances. Tom Brady has thrown for 250 yards or more in three of his last five games, and has thrown to a 100-yard receiver for two straight weeks. The Patriots running game continues to be effective, with a trio of running backs averaging 4.0 yards per carry, but both the Patriots run and pass units will be challenged by a Broncos defense ranked second in the NFL. Denver leads the NFL in third down efficiency, allowing opponents to convert just 28.4 percent of their third down opportunities, and the Patriots will try to break out of that trend to head into their bye week with another win.
This week's game will be televised by ABC. The game can be seen locally on WCVB-TV Channel 5 in Boston. Al Michaels will handle the play-by-play duties and John Madden will provide analysis. Lisa Guerrero will deliver reports from the sidelines throughout the game. Immediately following the game, the Fifth Quarter postgame show can be seen on WSBK-TV Channel 38 in Boston.
WBCN 104.1 FM is the flagship station for the Patriots Rock Radio Network. Play-by-play broadcaster Gil Santos is in his 27th season as the voice of the Patriots and calls the action along with Patriots Hall of Famer Gino Cappelletti. In 2003, Santos and Cappelletti celebrate their 20th season as a broadcast tandem.
The Patriots have equaled the best eight-game record in franchise history with their 6-2 start to the 2003 season. New England is 6-2 for the sixth time in team history, joining the 1999, 1980, 1979, 1978 and 1974 squads with six wins in their first eight games. Like the 1978 and 1979 teams, the 2003 Patriots lost their first game, then rattled off six wins in their next seven games. The Patriots are one of just six NFL teams to have recorded six or more wins.
CHANGING LEAVES AND CHANGING FORTUNES
New England is always a nice place to be in the month of October, and this year, the Patriots shared that sentiment. Although the leaves changed, the Patriots stayed on the winning track, winning all four of their games in the month. New England was undefeated in October for the first time since 1978 and for just the second time in team history. The Patriots will try to continue copying the success of the 1978 team, which followed its undefeated October by going 3-1 in November. Last month was the Patriots' first undefeated month since December, 2001, when New England won all four games en route to its Super Bowl XXXVI victory. Three of the Patriots' October wins came in front of the Gillette Stadium faithful, as New England won three home games in the same month for the first time since October of 1988. The Patriots' October success is a refreshing turnaround from the frightful experience last year, when New England was 0-3 in October.
The Patriots and Broncos will play for the ninth consecutive season and for the 37th time overall. The nine-year streak of seeing a Patriots-Broncos matchup on the schedule is the longest consecutive run for non-divisional opponents in the NFL. The teams have split their four games dating back to the 1999 season, with the Patriots running off a two-game winning streak from 1999 to 2000 and the Broncos winning two straight from 2001 to 2002. The Broncos have won two of the three meetings between the teams on Monday Night Football. The history between the teams dates back to the first days of the American Football League in 1960. The Patriots played the Broncos in the inaugural game of each franchise, a 13-10 Denver win on Sept. 9, 1960 at B.U. Field. The teams squared off twice a year in the decade prior to the AFL-NFL merger, with the Patriots taking a 10-7 advantage out of those games.
THE HEAD COACHES
Overall Record: 71-70 (.504)
Regular Season: 67-69 (.493)
Postseason: 4-1 (.800)
With New England overall: 34-25 (.576)
Overall since Oct. 26, 2001: 28-11 (.718)
Bill Belichick is celebrating his 29th consecutive season as an NFL coach, and has been one of the most successful coaches in the league over the past three decades. He has been a part of three Super Bowl championship teams, including the memorable victory in Super Bowl XXXVI that brought the Patriots their first title in franchise history. Belichick has ensured that the spark of the Super Bowl season ignited a run of success that will last well into the future. Since Oct. 14, 2001, the Patriots have blossomed, rattling off 28 wins in their last 39 games and making Belichick the winningest NFL Head Coach since Week Four of the 2001 season.
Overall Record: 101-64 (.612)
Regular Season: 94-62 (.603)
Postseason: 7-2 (.778)
With Denver overall: 93-49 (.655)
Overall since Oct. 26, 2001: 19-17 (.528)
Mike Shanahan is in his ninth season as the head coach of the Broncos and has won two Super Bowl titles in four playoff appearances. Shanahan's Broncos were at the top of the NFL world from 1996-98, a period during which his teams compiled a 46-10 record including the playoffs. In his 30-year coaching career, Shanahan has also served as the head coach of the Los Angeles Raiders (1988-89) and as the offensive coordinator for the Broncos (1985-87, 1991) and the 49ers (1992-94).
THE LAST TIME
Broncos 24, Patriots 16 – October 27, 2001
The Patriots dug themselves a hole they were not able to climb out of in a 24-16 loss to Denver at Gillette Stadium last season. Denver took a 21-7 lead going into halftime and, as expected, the Patriots mounted a second-half comeback. Adam Vinatieri opened the second-half scoring with a 26-yard field goal that made the score 21-10. Tom Brady found Christian Fauria in the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown that cut the Denver lead to 21-16, putting the Patriots in position for a potential go-ahead touchdown. But New England was stymied on its last two possessions of the game and Denver got another field goal to seal the win, 24-16. Following the loss, the Patriots rebounded to go 6-3 in their final nine games of the season.