Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that Denver Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith acknowledged that the Patriots are a lot different from the team that lost in Denver, 28-20, in October, especially with Richard Seymour and Tedy Bruschi back. Smith also looks forward to the challenge that the Patriots pose. ''They're the envy of sports, period. Everybody in baseball, basketball, it don't matter what sport you're in, you envy that team. At the same time, it's a great opportunity to hopefully be the team that can say we stopped the run they've had," said Smith.
Ron Borges of the Boston Globe writes that no team has had as remarkable a turnover-fueled postseason run as the defending Super Bowl champions since 2001, when their 10-game winning streak began. Since that first snowy victory over the Raiders -- which ironically resulted in part from the turnover that was not a turnover -- New England is a phenomenal plus-21 in postseason turnover differential, having snatched the ball from its opponents 27 times in those 10 games while coughing it up only six times. That trend continued Saturday night against the Jaguars, against whom they did not make a turnover while forcing two -- and returning one of them, Asante Samuels's interception, for the game's final touchdown.
Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that the Patriots may enter the game as underdogs, but they now carry a certain defensive swagger they didn't have earlier in the season. A swagger that cornerback Asante Samuel said is necessary to be as good as the Patriots have been of late, particularly in the secondary. "We got our swagger back, so to speak," said Samuel, who showed off his strut with a 73-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Jaguars. ''We're kind of playing like we know how to play. It feels a little better. If you're going out there without that swagger, you're just out there dead like, 'It's another game,' you don't know what's going to happen. But if you have your swagger, you have your confidence, and you know you're going out there ready, you think in your mind you're going to make a play, and good things are going to happen." After making one interception in his first 12 games, Samuel has three in his last three games and a quarter, highlighted by the score last Saturday. Rookie Ellis Hobbs has three interceptions, all after the season's midway point.
Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that defensive lineman Richard Seymour said he is eager to take the field Saturday night at Denver in a divisional playoff contest. The fifth-year pro from the University of Georgia did not play when the Patriots lost to Denver in October. "It was tough to watch that game, at home not being able to go out and help your team when you know you can help," Seymour said yesterday. "I'm chomping at the bit and ready to get my opportunity against them."
John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that the Denver Broncos scored at will in their last two meetings against the Patriots. But they didn't have to contend with Richard Seymour. The numbers from those two games deserve a giant asterisk. Yes, the Broncos averaged 27 points, losing 30-26 in 2003 after the Pats took a much-ballyhooed safety, and prevailing 28-20 this October behind 178 yards rushing. But both times they did it against a Patriots defense lacking its best player. When the squads meet Saturday night in Denver, Seymour will be on the field. And if the second half of the season is any indication, the Broncos may as well be facing a different team. "Hopefully with the addition of a few guys and the team playing better, that can make a difference," Seymour said yesterday. "It was tough to watch that last game. You're home knowing you could help. Hopefully we can put a good game plan in place this week."
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald writes that the Broncos are widely regarded as the best running team in the NFL. It's the reason their formerly mistake-prone quarterback, Jake Plummer, has been able to play conservatively (seven interceptions this season), and their defense has been able to stay fresh enough to allow the third-fewest points in the league (16.1 per game). It's the reason the Broncos enjoyed a coveted first-round bye and are favored against the three-time Super Bowl champion Patriots Saturday night in Denver.
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald writes that Jets general manager Terry Bradway revealed yesterday he had received permission to speak to Pats first-year defensive coordinator Eric Mangini for their head coaching vacancy, and that the interview would take place this week in the Foxboro area. According to some reports, Mangini is one of the leading candidates for the position. The Associated Press said yesterday Bradway will talk to Jim Haslett, Mike Tice and Joe Vitt, all of whom were head coaches in the NFL this season. The report also listed former Green Bay coach Mike Sherman as a potential candidate, but there was no mention of Mangini.
Gerry Callahan of the Boston Herald writes that the Patriots have won 10 straight postseason games and are only two wins away from the Super Bowl. They're peaking at the right time, and everyone in the country is in awe of their resiliency, their toughness, their determination.
Tom Pedulla of USA Today takes a look at Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest's performance against the Jaguars. McGinest led a furious defensive charge that kept Jacksonville out of the end zone during a 28-3 rout and allowed the two-time defending Super Bowl champion to advance to Saturday's divisional playoff game at the Denver Broncos. Beyond ringing up 4½ of the Patriots' six sacks against the Jaguars, he finished with eight tackles, six of them solo. Only fellow linebacker Mike Vrabel finished with more (nine).
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal writes that the Patriots' defense has performed remarkably well in the last six games because its front seven has overwhelmed quarterbacks, running games and offensive lines. Denver brings a better quarterback than the Patriots have seen, and the league's best running game. They are going to take and land more shots on the Patriots' secondary than any of the Pats' last six opponents combined. And with two really good receivers -- Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie -- they are going to hit some. Giving Shanahan and Kubiak two weeks to prepare and install schemes for New England won't work in the Patriots' favor.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his analysis of the Patriots 28-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant writes that things can change dramatically in three months, especially in the NFL. When the Patriots make their second trip of the season to Denver this weekend, things will have to change dramatically or the Patriots' season will be over. Their last visit to Invesco Field Oct. 16 was one of their worst performances of the season. The Patriots had a 3-0 lead entering the second quarter, when their defense folded in a 28-20 loss. There were extenuating circumstances for the Patriots that day. Richard Seymour, their best defensive lineman, didn't play because of a knee injury. Neither did Troy Brown, Kevin Faulk or Corey Dillon, important members of the offense who were injured. All played and contributed in Saturday's 28-3 victory over the Jaguars, and all are expected to play against the Broncos.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.