Continued from page 1

The Broncos (9-8) want to make that even tougher.

They lost their last three regular-season games but still made the playoffs as champions of the weak AFC West.

Then they beat Pittsburgh 29-23 on an 80-yard pass play from Tebow to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime last Sunday. But Steelers quarterback Ben Roethsliberger was limited by a bad ankle and running back Rashard Mendenhall was sidelined with a knee injury.

The Patriots figure to pose a much tougher challenge. That’s why they’re two-touchdown favorites.

The Broncos, on their home field, already have lost to them this season. Denver rushed for 167 yards in the first quarter, led 16-7, but committed three turnovers in the second and lost 41-23 on Dec. 18.

“We made mistakes. They exposed those mistakes. Obviously, our tackling in space needs to be better,” Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said. “Obviously, we’ve got to get more pressure on Tom Brady somehow, someway, and affect him more. I think we hit him a couple of times in the pocket, sacked him twice, but we didn’t really affect him enough in the pocket, and we’ve got to find ways to do that.”

That’s where linebackers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil come in.

“Those guys are fast and explosive,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “They can go inside, outside, power rush, occasionally drop into coverage, make a lot of plays from behind. They’re strong at the point of attack. They’re very good, very good.”

Against the Steelers, rookie Miller got only his second sack in the five games he’s played with a cast to protect a torn ligament on his right thumb. He had 11 1/2 in the regular season and said his thumb is feeling better.

But before he can tackle Brady, he has to get to the quarterback.

“He stays pretty shallow in the pocket,” Miller said. “You’ve just got to be able to beat your guy quickly.”

In the regular season, the Broncos did a decent job on stars Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, limiting each to four catches. But tight end Aaron Hernandez stepped up with nine receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown.

“They’ve got a lot of weapons,” Dumervil said. “We also feel confident with our guys. We’ve just got to play sound, play smart and, I think, no blown assignments. Everybody does their job and executes, and it will give us a good chance.”

Safety Quinton Carter said the Broncos made many mistakes on their pass coverage assignments.

“There were a lot of big catches and guys wide open with nobody defending them,” he said.

Story Continues →