Busts don’t break Bron­cos

Play­ers re­al­ize bet­ter is needed to beat Pa­tri­ots

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Pa­trick Saun­ders Pa­trick Saun­ders: psaun­ders@den­ver­post.com or @psaun­der­sdp

Dropped passes, blown cov­er­ages and short-cir­cuits in the red zone. That for­mula won’t cut it if the Bron­cos are to beat quar­ter­back Tom Brady, coach Bill Belichick and the de­fend­ing Su­per Bowl cham­pion New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots in the AFC cham­pi­onship game. The Bron­cos know it. “We had some busts to­day,” Pro Bowl cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris said af­ter the Bron­cos ral­lied to beat the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers 23-16 in the divi­sional play­offs Sun­day. “It wasn’t re­ally even com­mu­ni­ca­tion is­sues. Guys just weren’t do­ing their jobs to­day. We know that we can’t do that next week or Tom Brady will make us pay.”

De­spite play­ing with an in­jured throw­ing shoul­der, Pitts­burgh’s Ben Roeth­lis­berger com­pleted 24-of-37 passes for 339 yards, with many of those yards com­ing af­ter the Bron­cos left re­ceivers wide open.

De­fen­sive end Malik Jack­son was proud his de­fense lim­ited the Steel­ers to one touch­down, but knows it must be bet­ter next week.

“We have to fix those mis­takes and just keep work­ing,” Jack­son said. “But I think this de­fense thrives un­der pres­sure, and the Pa­tri­ots will sure pres­sure us.”

But Jack­son said he was go­ing to sa­vor the vic­tory over the Steel­ers for a few hours.

“We have one more game un­til the big show,” he said, think­ing ahead a bit to Su­per Bowl 50. “I think ev­ery­body is go­ing to go out and party (Sun­day night) — but be mel­low — then at 12:01 a.m. we start think­ing about the Pa­tri­ots.”

The AFC cham­pi­onship game will be billed as an­other heavy­weight bat­tle be­tween Brady and Bron­cos quar­ter­back Pey­ton Man­ning. In his 18th sea­son, Man­ning will face Brady for the 17th time in his ca­reer. Man­ning is 5-11 in the first 16 games, but Man­ning’s Bron­cos pre­vailed in the 2013 ti­tle game at home, beat­ing New Eng­land 26-16.

The cere­bral Man­ning prob­a­bly al­ready is pre­par­ing the next game plan in his head, but he wasn’t ready to talk about the Pa­tri­ots just yet on Sun­day night.

“Ob­vi­ously, we are ex­cited to be in the (cham­pi­onship) game,” he said. “We knew we we’re go­ing to have to beat a good team (Sun­day) in or­der to get there.”

No mat­ter what the game plan is, they can’t drop seven passes as they did Sun­day if they want to beat Belichick’s Pa­tri­ots.

“A cou­ple of those were (be­cause of) the wind, but as a re­ceiver you should still make those plays,” wide re­ceiver De­mary­ius Thomas said. “(Man­ning) was putting the ball right in the spot so we could make plays. It’s not an ex­cuse for us drop­ping those balls. We can’t do that against our next op­po­nent.”

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