BRADY

Even with­out Pey­ton Man­ning, the Bron­cos still have a fiery ri­valry with the Pa­tri­ots be­cause of their quar­ter­back

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Cameron Wolfe

It’s a rare ri­valry formed by teams in dif­fer­ent di­vi­sions and sep­a­rated by nearly 2,000 miles. The Bron­cos hate the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, but in the same breath they share a mutual re­spect that sur­passes their feel­ings for any other team.

For the pre­vi­ous four sea­sons, Pey­ton Man­ning vs. Tom Brady high­lighted the matchup with his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance and games of the sea­son. Man­ning is gone, but there are more than enough story lines to con­tinue an intense ri­valry be­tween two of the AFC’s most con­sis­tent con­tenders.

“It’s more about the teams than Brady-Man­ning, be­cause if Brady was some­where else it’d still be Brady Man­ning. This ri­valry is about the teams,” Bron­cos safety T.J. Ward said. “You got two his­tor­i­cally great teams that have done a lot for the NFL, usu­ally on top of the AFC, great coaches, great own­ers, great GMs. It just breeds op­po­si­tion. It just breeds com­pe­ti­tion. It’s one of the great things about foot­ball.”

Qui­etly, the ri­valry’s iden­tity be­gan to shift in 2015. As Man­ning’s skills de­te­ri­o­rated, there wasn’t much of a de­bate about who was the bet­ter quar­ter­back. But the Bron­cos still main­tained a strong stake in the com­pe­ti­tion be­cause their de­fense con­tin­ued to get the bet­ter of Brady.

The numbers that stick out are 2-7, Brady’s record in Den­ver over his ca­reer. He also has lost six of his past seven games in Den­ver, in­clud­ing games last sea­son to Brock Osweiler and Man­ning.

Pa­tri­ots coach Bill Belichick and Brady brushed off those road woes as the Bron­cos be­ing a good team re­gard­less of where they play, which has been true.

Den­ver has been a thorn in Brady’s side his whole ca­reer. The Bron­cos are the only team he has a los­ing record against, at 6-9. In his two losses last sea­son, Brady com­pleted just 51 per­cent of his passes, took seven sacks and had a 74.8 passer rating.

“No. 58 (Von Miller) on the other side of the ball is a lot more dan­ger­ous, and 94 (DeMar­cus Ware), than the peo­ple in the crowd, so we’re go­ing to have to do a good job han­dling all those guys up front,” Brady told New Eng­land re­porters. “They’ve got a great rush group. They’ve got a great cov­er­age group. They’re ex­cep­tional in a lot of ways, and they’ve been that way for a long time, so it’s go­ing to be a big chal­lenge for us.”

Brady’s ex­pres­sive per­son­al­ity and at­ten­tion to de­tail en­sure he’s aware of those numbers. And Sun­day is an­other chance for him to ex­tin­guish the “Brady can’t win in Den­ver” fire.

“We love it,” Pa­tri­ots safety Devin McCourty said of Brady’s pas­sion. “He leads us. When we see that, ev­ery­one knows how fired up he is and tries to match his in­ten­sity.”

Emo­tion aside, Den­ver’s de­fense isn’t the same unit that clob­bered Brady last sea­son. And Brady, at 39, may be play­ing some of the best foot­ball of his ca­reer. He’s a top MVP can­di­date, com­plet­ing 68.5 per­cent of his passes with 22 touch­downs and two in­ter­cep­tions, de­spite be­ing sus­pended for the first four games be­cause of De­flate­gate.

“We love go­ing against Brady,” Ward said. “He’s the best out there. So when we get the op­por­tu­nity, it shows us where we’re at de­fen­sively. To stop him and Belichick’s scheme and the amount of dif­fer­ent play­ers they have … we thrive off those types of sit­u­a­tions.”

Bron­cos coach Gary Ku­biak added about Brady: “He’s ex­cep­tional. He’s on a mis­sion since he’s been back. … You can just see how driven he is.”

The Bron­cos know Brady’s ten­den­cies at this point, but that means lit­tle against a Belichick-coached team known for com­pletely switch­ing game plans de­pend­ing on the op­po­nent. Den­ver is wounded, par­tic­u­larly at line­backer, which is a bad sign against what Ku­biak called the best team in the NFL. Den­ver will need to play one of its best games of the year de­fen­sively to beat New Eng­land.

Pres­sure ap­pears to be the Bron­cos’ best weapon against Brady, forc­ing him to be mo­bile. Cov­er­age on the back end is es­sen­tial to forc­ing Brady to hold the ball and al­low­ing the Bron­cos’ pass rush­ers to feast.

“I like hit­ting Tom Brady a lit­tle more than other quar­ter­backs,” out­side line­backer Shane Ray said. “Be­tween Tom and (San Diego quar­ter­back) Philip Rivers, you can see how frus­trated they get when they get hit and pres­sured.”

The op­por­tu­nity is dire for the Bron­cos, who aren’t com­pet­ing with the Pa­tri­ots for home-field ad­van­tage as in pre­vi­ous years. In­stead, at 8-5, they need wins just to make it to the play­offs.

Adam Glanz­man, Getty Im­ages

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