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Sports

January 15, 2014

Pats secondary set for Manning rematch

FOXBOROUGH — The Denver Broncos tried to beat the New England Patriots less than two months ago by running the ball. It didn’t work.

With a Super Bowl berth at stake in Sunday’s rematch, Peyton Manning figures to have a better day.

“We’ll have to be on top of our game,” Patriots safety Steve Gregory said.

Their pass defense has been pretty close to that lately.

The Patriots intercepted Andrew Luck four times Saturday night in their 43-22 divisional-round win over the Indianapolis Colts. And in their next to last regular-season game, they picked off Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco three times in a 41-7 rout at Baltimore.

They’re traveling again this week, to Denver for the AFC championship game, with a deep, experienced secondary. And though Flacco and Luck are impressive quarterbacks, Manning appears to be on a different level — regardless of how he did last time out vs. New England.

“What you are always trying to strive for is consistency,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said yestesrday, “certainly in a position like the defensive backs where there is a lot of communication.”

In their first meeting with the Broncos, the Patriots won 34-31 in overtime after trailing 24-0 at halftime. Manning had season lows of 19 completions, 150 yards passing, a 52.8 completion percentage and a 70.2 passer rating. With the wind whipping, and the running game rolling behind Knowshon Moreno’s 224 yards, Manning threw 36 passes, five below his average. His longest completion gained 17 yards, although tight end Julius Thomas sat out with a knee injury.

New England struggled against the long ball early last season. That changed after it acquired cornerback Aqib Talib in a trade with Tampa Bay after the eighth game. He sat out the next game to complete a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. He said it was Adderall.

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