FOXBORO — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price preview the big showdown between the 6-1 Denver Broncos and the 6-2 New England Patriots and the 16th edition in the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry. Brady holds a 10-5 lead in the series and had won the last four meetings before losing to Manning in the AFC championship last January in Denver. The two met in an epic contest last year at Gillette Stadium, when the Broncos raced out to a 24-0 halftime lead, only to see Brady and the Patriots execute a miracle comeback and win, 34-31, in overtime on field goal in the last minute.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — The Patriots are getting healthier.

Dominique Easley

Dominique Easley

FOXBORO — The Patriots are getting healthier.

After having 12 players listed as having injuries last week at this time, the Patriots now only list eight players as they get set to face the Broncos Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

Dominique Easley (knee), Nate Ebner (finger), Cameron Fleming (finger) and Matthew Slater (shoulder) were all limited in Wednesday’s practice. Easley and Slater played in last Sunday’s game against the Bears after being listed as questionable, while Ebner and Fleming have been out since Week 4 against Kansas City.

Offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork have been removed from the injury report after being questionable going into last Sunday’s game with concussions.

Once again, Chandler Jones (hip) was the only player to miss practice, which isn’t a surprise as he is expected to miss roughly six weeks.

Here is the complete practice report:

Did not practice

DE Chandler Jones (hip)

Limited participation

S Nate Ebner (finger)
DL Dominique Easley (knee)
OL Cameron Fleming (finger)
WR Matthew Slater (shoulder)

Full participation

QB Tom Brady (ankle)
CB Brandon Browner (ankle)
LB Dont’a Hightower (knee)

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Despite their ages, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning remains two of the NFL's most durable quarterbacks. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Despite their ages, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning remains two of the NFL’s most durable quarterbacks. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — When you’re talking about football toughness, it’s easy to overlook the quarterback position.

They’re the ones who draw the multimillion dollar deals, marry the supermodels and get too much of the credit when their team wins and too much of the blame when they lose.

But at the same time, they remain some of the toughest players on the roster. And on Sunday, two of the most durable quarterbacks in the recent history of the game will do battle when Tom Brady and Peyton Manning meet for the 16th time in their careers at Gillette Stadium.

Both quarterbacks took time out Wednesday to

“I think really to play in the National Football League, you have to be tough. It’s a tough way to earn a living,” said Denver coach John Fox. “In my opinion, [the quarterbacks] earn every penny.”

Brady and Manning can be measured using a wide variety of metrics, but one thing that certainly sets them apart from their contemporaries is their durability. Brady had started 88 consecutive games, fourth-best among current NFL quarterbacks. (By way of comparison, Eli Manning is first overall with 158 straight games played, all of them starts. San Diego’s Philip Rivers is second with 137 straight games played, while Baltimore’s Joe Flacco is third with 104 straight games played.)

Before he sat out the entire 2011 season following neck surgery, Manning had a consecutive start streak of 227 games (including the postseason), one that dated back to his rookie year of 1998.

When talking about durability on Wednesday, both referenced Brett Favre, who started 297 straight games over 19 seasons.

“His toughness and his durability [have] been similar to Brett Favre,” Brady said of Manning, who has started 43 straight games with the Broncos since e took over as the starter prior to the 2012 season.

“That’€™s probably why he’€™s been breaking all those records because he’€™s been so consistent and durable [and] dependable for his team,” Brady added. “He’€™s off to another great start this year. He does everything right. I don’€™t know what more else I can say about him as a player. It means a lot to him. Obviously, he’€™s got great leadership, and that’€™s what it takes at the quarterback position.”

As for Manning, his durability comes down to a simple philosophy.

“Certainly, I think quarterback’s job — first and foremost — is to be out there,” Manning said on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “I’ve always wanted to be there.

“I’ve always had great respect for Favre’s consecutive start streak because he was always there. He played hurt and had great toughness and durability. I think Eli holds the longest streak now, which speaks to his [durability],” he added. “That was always one I was always kind of proud of — making all those starts until I got injured. That was kind of difficult, because I couldn’t always be there. I wanted to get back out there. I’ve been pleased I was able to be there for these two and a half years.”

Despite the fact that Brady was sidelined for most all of the 2008 season because of a knee injury he suffered in the regular season opener, Manning views Brady through the same lens.

“Brady is always there,” Manning said of the New England quarterback. “He’s always there. He had his long season where he was injured [in the first half] of the first game of the season, I think. I know I’ve talked to him. I know that was difficult for him for a lot of those same reasons. He couldn’t be there to help his team. Now, he’s been back, and he’s been playing like Tom Brady does.

“That’s one of his real strengths — always answering the bell.”

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

FOXBORO — One of the many storylines in Sunday’s Broncos-Patriots game is Rob Gronkowski facing Broncos safety T.J. Ward for the first time since last December when Ward was his the Browns and he hit Gronkowski low on his right knee, tearing his ACL in the process and ending his season.

Gronkowski was asked if he has any hard feelings towards Ward for the hit, but the tight end sidestepped the question.

“Just going out there playing like I play every day,” he said. “Just going out there trying to make some plays and do my job out there on the field and play to my max ability.”

He was later asked directly if Ward ever reached out following the season-ending hit.

“No,” Gronkowski said.

Gronkowski had a monster game last Sunday against the Bears, catching nine passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns, before leaving with dehydration after catching his third touchdown pass at the beginning of the third quarter. He echoed what he said after the game, saying he’s just fine and could have returned if he had to.

“Very well,” he said of his health. “Like I said, I could have come back into the game very easily.”

As for this Sunday, Gronkowski is expecting a great atmosphere at Gillette Stadium going against the 6-1 Broncos, who like the Patriots, come in riding a four-game winning streak.

“The atmosphere is going to be unbelievable especially playing at home in front of the home crowd,” said Gronkowski. “It’€™s going to be a great game. The Denver Broncos are a very, very, very good team. One of the best in the league, if not the best team in the league.”

Obviously the biggest storyline, among many in the game, is the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning matchup and is something Gronkowski is looking forward to being part of.

“It’€™s honor to be out there with both of them,” said Gronkowski. “Brady versus Manning can’€™t get any better. [They are] two great quarterbacks and two legendary quarterbacks. It’€™s an honor to be a part of it. And I definitely want to be on the winning side.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Chris Price, WEEI.com, joins the show to talk about the Patriots upcoming game against Denver. Chris got in the the DB match-ups with Denver's receivers, some ideas on how to blitz Peyton, Welker's impact, and a prediction.

FOXBORO — Much was made of it at the time when Bill Belichick called it, “one of the worst plays [he's] seen” when Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker hit then-Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib on an apparent pick play across the middle of the field in last year’s AFC Championship game — knocking Talib out of the game with a hip injury and the Patriots lost the game 26-16, ending their season.

But, Wednesday in advance of the Broncos-Patriots matchup this Sunday, Belichick said he’s put that in the past and actually has “a lot of respect” for Welker.

“[I am] way past that,” Belichick said on a conference call with the Denver media. “I have a lot of respect for Wes and what he did for us and what he’€™s done for the Broncos and what he’€™s done throughout his career.”

Welker was a member of the Patriots from 2007-2012 before the Broncos signed him prior to the 2013 season as a free agent when Welker and New England couldn’t agree on a contract.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork and the rest of the offensive line have protected Tom Brady well of late. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Ryan Wendell, Bryan Stork, Dan Connolly and the rest of the offensive line have protected Tom Brady well of late. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — After Week 4’€™s blowout loss to Kansas City, the Patriots offense ranked 24th in the NFL averaging 20 points a game. After Week 8’€™s blowout win over the Bears, the Patriots offense now ranks third in the NFL averaging 29.8 points per game.

One of the biggest reasons why is the familiarity the offensive line now has with one another.

“Those guys have really dealt with a lot of change,” quarterback Tom Brady said before practice on Wednesday refercing to the unit getting a new coach in Dave DeGuglielmo after Dante Scarnecchia retired after 32 years in the NFL following last season.

“This year, it started back in the offseason, and [they] have really worked through that through training camp. And then different players have kind of come and gone and been injured from the start of the season, before the start of the season — with Logan [Mankins] and then being able to really adjust to that.”

Even though the Patriots have used three different starting offensive lines during the four-game win streak due to concussions for Bryan Stork and Dan Connolly, they have continued to rotate players in and out even within games, so everyone is ready to step in at any time and be on the same page as players who have been starting every week.

“I think those guys are really taking it as a challenge of the mental toughness,” Brady added. “At this point, [they've] really settled into kind of the group that they are and the group they want to be. They’€™re playing with a lot of toughness. They’€™re playing with a lot of commitment to what their coach is asking them to do. We’€™ve had some growing pains that we’€™re all trying to get used to earlier in the year, but I think we’€™re playing at a much better level.”

Although sacks are sometimes overrated when measuring the success or failure of an offensive line, Brady was sacked nine times in the first four games of the season, compared to only three the last four games. Sunday marked the first time Brady was not sacked in a game since Week 4 last year against the Falcons.

Brady has also been getting more time in the pocket to throw, which has allowed for the playbook to be opened up and not having to worry about Brady getting the ball out quickly to avoid pressure.

By our numbers, Brady had the most time to throw from snap to release of the season two weeks ago against the Jets –€“ an average of 2.58 seconds. Sunday against the Bears, he averaged 1.99 seconds from snap to release, the second-lowest of the season besides 1.96 seconds against Kansas City, but there was one major difference.

Against Kansas City on 17-of-24 plays (71 percent) Brady took less than two seconds to get rid of the ball. Against the Bears Brady took less than two seconds on just 15-of-35 plays (43 percent).

“It’€™s great communication — I think that’€™s really the key is having everybody on the same page and trusting each other,” Brady said. “Offensive lines, typically the longer they play together the better they get because they do develop a lot of trust in the guy next to them.

“The offensive line really is a metaphor for an offense and a team. Everyone has to complement each other. You’€™ve got to trust that the guy next to you is going to do his job because if he doesn’€™t and you don’€™t trust it, then it’€™s hard for you to do your job. And I think those guys have built a lot of trust in each other over the last eight weeks to the point now where they can go out and be aggressive and be really confident in what they’€™re doing, and what they’€™re teammates are doing.”

Brady’€™s individual numbers have also spiked the last four games, as he is 100-for-144 (69 percent) passing, for 1,268 yards, with 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. This is coming after over the first four games when Brady was 81-of-137 (59 percent), for 791 yards, with just four touchdowns and two interceptions. It’€™s also no surprise the Patriots are 4-0 in their last four games outscoring opponents 158-87.

Now at the midway point in the year, the second half will be much more difficult as they will be facing some of the best teams in the NFL in the Broncos, Colts, Lions, Packers, Chargers all in the next five weeks. With a schedule like that they will need Brady and the offense to continue to be clicking on all cylinders.

“This is really when it all matters,” Brady said. “We’€™re coming into the most meaningful part of the season and we play some of the best teams so we’€™ll see what we’€™re made of.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Walt Anderson will serve as the referee for Sunday's Patriots-Dolphins game. (Getty Images)

Walt Anderson will serve as the referee for Sunday’s Patriots-Broncos game. (Getty Images)

Referee Walt Anderson will work his second Patriots game of the season this Sunday, as he’ll serve as the lead official when New England meets Denver at Gillette Stadium, according to FootballZebras.com.

Anderson, a retired dentist and current Big 12 coordinator of officials, worked the 2014 season opener for the Patriots, a loss in Miami to the Dolphins. In his career, he’s worked two Super Bowls, Super Bowl XXXV (where he worked as a line judge) and XLV (where he was the lead official).

Here’€™€™s a look at who has worked as referees for New England’€™€™s games to this point in the season:

Sept. 7 at Miami: Walt Anderson
Sept. 14 at Minnesota: Tony Corrente
Sept. 21 vs. Oakland: Pete Morelli
Sept. 29 at Kansas City: John Parry
Oct. 5 vs. Cincinnati: Jerome Boger
Oct. 12 at Buffalo: Walt Coleman
Oct. 16 vs. Jets: Bill Leavy
Oct. 23 vs. Bears: Brad Allen
Nov. 2 vs. Denver: Walt Anderson

For more on Anderson and his work as an official, check out his page at Pro Football Reference, and for the complete list of referee assignments, check out Football Zebras.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

FOXBORO — Alan Branch is coming to the Patriots with a clean legal slate.