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Preview: New England at Denver

DENVER (Oct. 12, 2005) -- Despite watching numerous key players going down with injuries, the New England Patriots have found a way to win games and lead their division.

Before they get a much-needed bye week, the Patriots will try to beat the Denver Broncos in a matchup of division leaders at Invesco Field at Mile High.

Without integral components like Rodney Harrison (knee) and Tedy Bruschi (stroke), New England's defense has not performed at the same level as it did during its championship years. Yet, the Patriots sit atop the AFC East and are still considered to be among the league's elite teams.

After seeming vulnerable following a 41-17 home loss to San Diego on Oct. 2, the Patriots beat Atlanta 31-28 on Oct. 9 to avoid their first losing streak since 2002. Despite blowing leads of 14-0 and 28-13, New England held its ground as Tom Brady threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns before Adam Vinatieri kicked a game-winning 29-yard field goal with 17 seconds left.

"We came into a tough environment against an excellent team and had a chance to win the game with three minutes left," said Brady, who hooked up with nine different receivers. "I would take that any day of the week."

When asked if coach Bill Belichick allowed his players to enjoy the victory, wide receiver Tim Dwight said no.

"He (Belichick) said, 'Let's get ready for Denver.' "

The Patriots now face their fourth road game in five weeks with 18 players on their injured list, including Brady and Corey Dillon with nagging problems, though both will start in Week 6.

"We've had doubters for a long time," Brady said. "We're just going to keep coming out and doing the hard things every week."

The Broncos, meanwhile, are looking for their fifth consecutive victory. Denver owns the league's second-best rushing attack and New England must prepare for two threats out of the Broncos' backfield -- Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson.

On Oct. 9, Bell rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns while Anderson added 50 total yards in Denver's 21-19 home victory against Washington. Anderson leads the team with 301 rushing yards and Bell follows with 281.

As much as Denver can credit its 4-1 start to the ground attack, Jake Plummer has done a good job cutting down on mistakes.

The Broncos have gone 13 consecutive quarters without a turnover, largely in part to Plummer, who has only three interceptions through five games. He had 20 last season.

Plummer set a franchise record last year with 4,089 passing yards, but has only 879 this season. Against the Redskins, Plummer failed to crack 100 yards for the first time since Sept. 14, 2003, with a 92-yard effort.

As long as Denver is winning games, coach Mike Shanahan doesn't seem too concerned.

"Points will come. Yards will come," Shanahan said. "I think we've proven over history that we can move the football. So, maybe someday we'll get some yards and some points."

STANDINGS: Patriots -- 1st place, AFC East. Broncos -- 1st place, AFC West.

PATRIOTS LEADERS: Offense -- Brady, 1,522 passing yards and 7 passing TDs; Dillon, 329 rushing yards and 5 rushing TDs; Deion Branch, 30 receptions and 350 receiving yards; Dwight and Daniel Graham, 2 receiving TDs. Defense -- Willie McGinest, 3 sacks; Mike Vrabel, 1 INT.

BRONCOS LEADERS: Offense -- Plummer, 879 passing yards and 5 passing TDs; Anderson, 301 rushing yards; Bell, 2 rushing TDs; Rod Smith, 28 receptions and 309 receiving yards; Dwayne Carswell, 2 receiving TDs. Defense -- Gerard Warren, 2 sacks; Bailey, 2 INTs.

PATRIOTS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense -- 81.0 yards per game (24th in NFL); Passing Offense -- 294.8 ypg (4th); Total Offense -- 375.8 ypg (5th). Rushing Defense -- 114.8 ypg (20th); Passing Defense -- 222.8 ypg (22nd); Total Defense -- 337.6 ypg (23rd).

BRONCOS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense -- 148.4 yards per game (2nd); Passing Offense -- 164.4 ypg (26th); Total Offense -- 312.8 ypg (21st). Rushing Defense -- 88.2 ypg (5th); Passing Defense -- 234.2 ypg (25th); Total Defense -- 322.4 ypg (18th).

LAST MEETING: Nov. 3, 2003; Patriots, 30-26. At Denver, Brady threw an 18-yard touchdown pass with 30 seconds left as New England rallied to win.

STREAKS AND NOTES: Patriots -- WR Troy Brown has 5,724 receiving yards and needs three more to pass Irving Fryar for second-most in club history. Stanley Morgan has the team record with 10,352. ... CB Chad Scott was placed on injured reserve Oct. 12 with a shoulder injury, and the team signed free agent Arturo Freeman to replace him. New England also signed LBs Wesly Mallard and Eric Alexander on Oct. 12. ... The Patriots already have given up 136 points. It took them eight games to allow that many last season. Broncos -- Denver has opened 4-1 or better seven times in Shanahan's 11-year tenure. ... QB Plummer, on pace for only 2,812 passing yards, is 14-3 at home with a 93.3 passer rating. ... In the past four games in which he has had at least 20 carries, RB Anderson has rushed for a total of 486 yards.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Patriots -- 2-1 on the road; Broncos -- 3-0 at home.

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