FOXBOROUGH — Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots. All in front of a prime-time audience.
A marquee matchup, for sure.
But for the players and coaches, Sunday night’s game is just another obstacle on the way to the postseason.
“It’s one where TV obviously wants to have it on,” Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio said. “It’s great for the theater and all that, but it really comes down to two football teams.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn’t one to get distracted by all the hype, either. And that’s rubbed off on his players.
“Our guys are pretty locked in all the time,” Brady said. “That’s the thing coach Belichick always does a great job of. He’s pretty relentless. He never takes it easy on the guys and says, ‘All right, this week is kind of an easier week for us.’ Or ‘It’s a relatively unimportant game.’ Everything is always, ‘We have to put our max into it. We have to get our best out of everybody.’ “
Especially on Sunday night.
Denver (9-1) leads the NFL with 39.8 points per game, three more than the league record set by the Patriots in 2007. Manning has thrown 34 touchdown passes, a pace that would give him 54 and break the mark of 50 set by Brady in 2007.
He has plenty of outstanding receivers with former Patriot Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and tight end Julius Thomas. Welker suffered a concussion in last Sunday’s 27-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, the last unbeaten team.
“You can’t give up any big plays,” Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. “You can’t just let some guy run down the middle of the field and have (Manning) throw an easy touchdown.”
New England (7-3) has a bunch of new receivers and Brady is having a subpar season. Still, he’s 9-4 against Denver and led the Patriots to a franchise-record 35 first downs in last year’s 31-21 win over the Broncos.