Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that getting off to a fast start is something coach Bill Belichick has stressed, making it a point to show his team video from the Broncos' 49-21 win over Philadelphia Oct. 30. Early in the second quarter, the Broncos were up, 21-0. Denver has outscored opponents, 125-40, in the first half at Invesco Field, including a whopping 61-13 edge in the first quarter. The Patriots were outscored, 172-164, in the first half during the regular season, with an aggregate halftime deficit of 108-47 in their six losses. "I don't think you want to play from behind with anybody, but especially these guys," tight end Christian Fauria said. "They get so much momentum when they get up on people. We don't want to get out of our offense after the second quarter, like when we played them last time it was 28-3 and we were running the two-minute drill. We want to stay in the game and keep it close." Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald also offers a similar report.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that Denver Broncos head coach, Mike Shanahan probably never has to win another Super Bowl to go down as one of the outstanding coaches in NFL history. He does, however, need to win another soon to get the monkey off his back. He has won two Super Bowls as a head coach; been to six all together and won three, one as offensive coordinator of the 1994 San Francisco 49ers. He was the last head coach to win back-to-back Super Bowls until the Patriots' Bill Belichick did it. But for the last six seasons, since his last win in the Big Game, Shanahan has failed to win a playoff game.
Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe writes that last Saturday's wild-card playoff victory over the Jaguars was the latest example of running back Kevin Faulk rising up in a clutch moment. He finished with a team-high 51 rushing yards on six carries and added 45 yards on four receptions, a performance that reflects his many skills. Over his seven-year career, all spent with the Patriots, Faulk has totaled 2,275 rushing yards and 2,079 receiving yards. He's had at least 40 rushes and 25 receptions in each of the last six seasons.
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald writes that nose tackle Vince Wilfork will have to play a key role in order to stop the vaunted Broncos running attack. You can't beat the Broncos without stopping their vaunted run, and you can't stop the run without solid play at nose tackle. If Wilfork can't control four-time Pro Bowl center Tom Nalen and limit the cutback lanes of the Denver running backs, the Patriots' season will end quickly and painfully in the divisional playoffs Saturday night at Invesco Field.
Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald writes that thanks to the presence of several members of the New York media yesterday, Eric Mangini's candidacy for the Jets' head coaching job remained a hot-button topic in questioning for both coach Bill Belichick and the players. The Patriots first-year defensive coordinator, considered by some insiders to be the leading contender for the Jets job vacated by Herm Edwards, reportedly will meet in the Foxboro area with members of Jets management Sunday, although Belichick would not confirm that. "You would have to talk to the Jets. I have no comment on their job or their situation or anything else," Belichick said. "Anything they have to say about it, I'm sure they would be more than happy to give you that information."
Steve Buckley of the *Boston Herald * takes a look at Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith. Smith, 35, who has played all 11 of his NFL seasons with the Broncos, made six receptions for 123 yards on Oct. 16 in Denver's 28-20 home victory over the Patriots. With the Pats and Broncos set to meet again Saturday night at Invesco Field, this time with a trip to the AFC Championship Game hanging in the balance, it's only natural that Belichick, who knows talent when he sees it, would be talking up Smith this week. "He's killed us on pretty much everything," Belichick said. "He's a great player. A good route runner. Strong. Good run after the catch. Makes a lot of yards after the catch, after he gets the ball in his hands. "
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal writes that with All-Pro defensive lineman Richard Seymour finally healthy, the Patriots have to feel better heading to Denver for their playoff match against the Broncos. Three times the Patriots have played in Denver since 2001. Zero times did the Patriots game-changing defensive lineman make the trip. The Patriots lost two of those three games, including the last one on October 16. The game in Denver the Patriots won without Seymour was played in 2003. That one was pulled from the fire, with New England on the brink of losing to an offense led by Danny Kanell. Having Seymour with them doesn't necessarily tip the scales in the Patriots' favor for Saturday's AFC Divisional Playoff contest. But they know and Denver knows that the three-time All-Pro helps level the field.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal writes that in the first 11 games this season, the Pats allowed 25.4 points per game, 386.3 yards and 118.1 yards on the ground. In the last six, New England has allowed 10.3 points, 221 yards and 60 on the ground. The Patriots certainly are playing better, but they've also dealt with Jets quarterback Brooks Bollinger twice, Bills quarterback J.P. Losman, Chris Simms from Tampa Bay, Miami's Gus Frerotte and a rusty Byron Leftwich of the Jaguars. Against that raw and pedestrian group, the defensive numbers should be better. The Broncos have the league's No. 1 rushing attack and a passing game that is alternately explosive (18.3-yard average for wideout Lelie) and efficient (just seven picks for quarterback Jake Plummer). The Broncos offense will be a good measure as to how far the defense has come.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.