When the Patriots and Broncos get together on Sunday night in front of a nationally televised audience on NBC it will mark the fourth time the two teams have met over the last four seasons. Despite the league's regularly rotating schedule that leaves just two games to be decided to previous season's records, the two franchises have put together quite a nice little AFC rivalry thanks to their relatively consistent winning ways.
The early season meeting between '05 division winners marks a rematch of last season's AFC divisional round playoff game in which the Broncos defeated a mistake-riddled Patriots squad 27-13 in the Mile High City. That game was Denver's second win of the season over the defending Super Bowl champs, following up a 28-20 dominating regular season win that wasn't really as close as the score indicated. It also put an emphatic halt to New England's hopes of running through the conference to an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl title.
Last January's game was filled with mistakes for the Patriots as the team fumbled the ball away to the Broncos three times while Tom Brady threw a pair of interceptions. Brady's first pick came late in the third quarter when he tried to force a ball to Troy Brown for a five-yard touchdown, only to see the ball get picked by Champ Bailey, returned 100 yards and lead to a Mike Anderson 1-yard touchdown that extended Denver's lead to 17-6. It's a play that clearly swung the momentum in that playoff contest and a play that's stuck in Brady's mind as he's tried to move on from the difficult loss that ended New England's NFL record 10-game playoff winning streak.
In fact Brady recalled the game earlier this summer when he was watching a little late night TV and stumbled on to one of his own pre-game press conferences leading up to the Broncos playoff battle. The irony of his pre-game comments and the way the game happened to unfold weren't lost on the Patriots leader.
|Champ Bailey intercepts a pass intended for WR Troy Brown of the Patrots. Bailey returned the ball 100 yards for a touchdown in the Broncos division playoff game against New England. (AP Photo)|
"It was tough," Brady recalled the loss this summer. "It's so funny, I don't watch a lot of TV. But before I went to bed I was actually watching TV and was on the 'On Demand' (section). Then I went to 'Patriots On Demand' and was like 'Let me flip through some of this stuff.' So I watched the press conference before the Denver game, and the last thing I say, to the last question about Champ Bailey, I think I said, 'Yeah, every time I throw over there I'm really going to make sure I'm careful when I throw in his direction,' and I walked off. I'm sitting there, lying in bed, thinking 'Of all the things to say,' and sure enough, Champ took one (100) yards.
"That's going to sit with me for a long time. It was a tough way to end the year. I think we were really playing at a much higher level than we were earlier in the season. We were a very confident team. We just, appropriately I would say, laid an egg out there, and I was a huge part of that."
Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, armed with a new-look running game and still developing receiving corps, Brady and the Patriots will be looking to enact a little regular season revenge on the visiting Broncos. And Brady will certainly be looking to keep the ball out of Bailey's hands, even more than ever after failing to head his own advice in last winter's dismal defeat in Denver.