ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In a season of phenomenal numbers for the Denver Broncos defense, there is a numerical tidbit that it may find difficult to wrap its head around when it comes to defending Tom Brady.
The New England Patriots quarterback has reeled in plenty of postseason jewelry in his career, some of it at the Broncos’ expense. But when the Broncos face Brady and the Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, Denver’s D will have to change a little history to get a win.
In all of the times the Broncos have faced Brady -- 14 in all, regular-season and postseason games combined, including this season -- Denver’s defense has recorded a sack and an interception in the same game just twice. The first time was in Brady’s first year as a starter, 2001, and the second was in the Patriots’ win last season in Foxborough, Mass., when the Broncos mustered one sack and one interception in a game when Brady threw for four touchdowns.
“He’s tough to get to," said Broncos linebacker Von Miller. “ ... He’s been doing it a long time, played in a lot of big games."
But if the Broncos want to play in this season’s biggest game -- Super Bowl 50 -- they likely will have to find a way to disrupt Brady without committing too often to blitzing him, a recipe for Brady to usually serve up touchdowns down the field.
In short, the Broncos defense that finished the regular season No. 1 in total defense, No. 1 in pass defense and No. 1 in sacks will have to be all of that and more. And the defense’s marquee players -- starting with the Pro Bowl selections in Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. -- have to make some impact.
“We can only control what we can control," Miller said. “I’m fully confident in Chris, Talib and all of those guys to be able to lock all of that stuff down to give us a little bit of time. You just have to take advantage of your opportunity when it presents itself. You can’t control that. He’s a great quarterback. Sometimes he doesn’t even need an offensive line. He just goes out there, he knows where he’s going to throw the ball and he has great guys that he’s throwing the ball to. We just have to take advantage of our opportunity when it presents itself.’’
The Broncos didn’t blitz Ben Roethlisberger that often in this past Sunday’s AFC divisional round game -- the Broncos rushed more than four on nine of Roethlisberger’s 37 dropbacks -- and two of the Broncos’ three sacks came on four-man rushes. The third sack came with a five-man rush.
But Roethlisberger, for the second time this season, topped 300 yards passing (he had 339) with the NFL’s leading receiver, Antonio Brown, not in the lineup because of a concussion. Martavis Bryant finished with 154 yards on his nine catches.
For their part, the Broncos held Roethlisberger without a touchdown pass, but they did not intercept him in the game.
“This right here is that chapter that you can write down and say you did that," Ware said of the win. “For me, it is always, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ I’m still writing on that page and trying to get to the end."
Brady routinely deals quickly from the pocket, so he’s rarely stressed into an interception because of pressure. But 11 of his 38 sacks this season came in the team’s four losses and he was sacked 16 times in the Patriots’ last six games of the season, starting with the Broncos’ Nov. 29 win in Denver.
“It’s what happened all year," said Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson of chasing down Brady. “It’s just one of those things where you just try to get your hands up, get to him as fast as you can or run to the ball and make tackles. A quarterback is going to throw it fast because they respect our rush, as they should, but we just have to try to make plays in different ways if they want to get rid of the ball fast."