Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that the Patriots released their official injury report yesterday and it did not include Bruschi, who strained his calf during punt coverage against the Jets Dec. 26, and did not play in the season finale against Miami or last Saturday against Jacksonville in the wild-card playoff game. Bruschi's teammates are looking forward to his return ... and teasing him about the delay. ''Tedy recovered from a stroke in six months, so I always joke, 'How could this little calf keep you out for that long if a stroke couldn't?' " Tom Brady said. "He wants to be out there. He was ready to go last week. It's always exciting to have him out there. He sparks that defense. He plays with emotion and energy and toughness. It's great. I think the offense feeds off watching Tedy Bruschi make plays. Hopefully we see him make a lot of plays this week." John Tomase of the Boston Herald also offers a similar report on Tedy Bruschi.
Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that one day the phrase ''perfection under pressure" might conjure up an image of the Patriots' No. 12. That is how good Tom Brady has been in the playoffs, which continue for him and the Patriots in a divisional matchup Saturday night at Denver. Of course, a 10-0 mark in the postseason is perfect enough, but Brady has done it by being nearly perfect on the field. (Though he says he can be better.) Brady has thrown 331 passes in the playoffs: 205 were caught by teammates, 123 fell harmlessly to the ground, and just three were plucked out of the air by opponents. The resulting 0.91 interception percentage is the NFL's all-time low. Tom Pedulla of USA Today also offers a similar report on Tom Brady.
Nick Cafardo of the *Boston Globe * takes a look at Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. Champ Bailey is a shut-down cornerback for Denver, maybe the best in the game. Seven Pro Bowl nominations, two consecutive All-Pro honors. When the Patriots played the Broncos Oct. 16, Bailey had just returned from missing two games -- the first time in his NFL career he had missed time. (His streak had been stopped at 99.) He played sparingly in that game, still battling a shoulder injury and a nagging hamstring pull from Week 3. ''I didn't even finish that game," he said. "It was tough for me. We had a good lead when I came out of the game and we didn't want to push it." Despite his struggle with injuries this season, Bailey picked off eight passes, bringing two of them back to the house (25 and 65 yards). The Patriots will be facing a healthy, hungry Bailey in the playoffs Saturday night. Whoever ventures to his side of the field -- David Givens, Deion Branch, Troy Brown -- could be in for a difficult night.
Mark Blaudschun of the Boston Globe offers a story on offensive lineman Brandon Gorin. Blaudschun writes that Gorin, who started in last year's Super Bowl victory over the Philadelphia Eagles has been a fixture at right tackle for the last nine games this season. Ashworth was the starter coming out of training camp and earlier this season, but Gorin eventually won the job. He followed a similar path to the starting job a year ago as he moved into the lineup six games into the regular season. "It's been interesting," said Gorin with a smile yesterday when asked to chronicle his NFL career with the Patriots. "Starting. Not starting. Then starting again. You always have to be prepared for things."
John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes about the challenges of playing the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field at Mile High. The Patriots once had no prayer of winning in Mile High Stadium. From 1969-99, the Pats visited Denver 11 times, and the Broncos won every meeting, including a 22-17 victory in the 1986 playoffs and a 21-10 triumph on the final day of the 1988 season to deny the Pats a trip to the postseason. The odds aren't as long as they used to be — the teams have split their past four encounters in the shadows of the Rockies — but the Patriots still have their work cut out for them this weekend. The Broncos were 8-0 at Invesco Field this season, joining Seattle as the NFL's only unbeaten home teams. The Broncos do everything better at home, where they're 11-2 lifetime in the playoffs. The thin air is an adjustment, their stadium can be raucously loud, and few NFL environments feel more hostile.
Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald offers a story on Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer. Plummer acknowledged his upcoming playoff start against the two-time defending Super Bowl champions as the biggest in his career. Sure, he led Arizona State to an undefeated season in 1996 and played in the Rose Bowl, losing to Mike Vrabel's Ohio State team. But this is on a whole different scale, even from where he was the last two seasons in the wild card round against Indianapolis, or when he was in the playoffs with Arizona. "I had some good years in Arizona, but the way my career started wasn't like, let's say, Tom Brady's," Plummer said during a conference call yesterday. "You're labeled as you start your career, and I have tried to work through that label and just have some fun and try to win some games up here." Tom Curran of the Providence Journal also offers a similar article on Jake Plummer.
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.
Albert Breer of the Boston Herald offers a story on Patriots wide receiver/defensive back Troy Brown. Brown, who has the longest tenure on the Pats, just ahead of McGinest has only started three games this season. He finished the regular season with just 39 catches for 466 yards and two scores, a single tackle and seven punt returns for a 4.3-yard average. But there are few players more valuable on the roster because there are few that can do as much. Saturday night, Brown once again stepped in at cornerback, this time recording four tackles, while catching an 11-yard touchdown pass on offense and playing his customary role on special teams. "I guess that's expected of him now," Pats quarterback Tom Brady said. "I sit there in the captains' meetings with Troy and Belichick will say, 'Troy, are you ready to go on dime this week?' And Troy will say, 'Yup. OK.' That's all it is."
Jeff Legwold of the Rocky Mountain News writes that the Denver Broncos got what they wanted out of their playoff bye. They got to rest, they got to relax, they got to watch some of the other playoff teams do their thing. But now the New England Patriots have their attention. "Nothing needs to be said," Broncos running back Mike Anderson said. "They've won it, they've won it again, and they won it again. We know what they've done and what kind of opportunity we have Saturday. I think guys came back ready to go. If you can't get ready to play somebody like that, you need to go do something else with your time."
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal writes that the New York Jets will interview New England defensive coordinator Eric Mangini for their head coaching vacancy after the Patriots playoff game in Denver on Saturday night. Headcoach Bill Belichick said yesterday, "He's done a great job for me. He's been an outstanding coach. I've been with him in three different organizations and I have all the respect in the world for Eric. Right now our focus is on the Denver Broncos. Believe me, that's plenty for us to handle." Mangini will be 35 in January. This is his first season as a defensive coordinator. The Jets brass -- assistant GM Mike Tannenbaum in particular -- have a backlog of information about Mangini from when he was with the Jets. Despite Mangini's relative youth, he's said to be the Jets' top choice.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.