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Broncos bracing for Tom Brady and Patriots' pass-first assault

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos didn’t need to be numerologists to see what the New England Patriots were doing on offense against the Kansas City Chiefs last week.

And they expect more of the same in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

"We all saw it, they threw on every down," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "They came right out and said this is what we do. And with that offense, Tom Brady, Gronk, all of those receivers, you know they’re going to think that."

The Patriots opened their win over the Chiefs by throwing the ball on their first 14 plays from scrimmage. They didn’t have their second rushing attempt of the game until there was more than seven minutes gone in the second quarter.

And even though the Chiefs knew what was coming, they couldn't stop it. The Patriots took a 14-3 lead in the second quarter. When all was said and done in the Patriots’ 27-20 win, Brady had thrown the ball 42 times and New England had run the ball 14 times, and six of those carries were by Brady.

Steven Jackson was the team’s leading rusher with all of 16 yards on his six carries.

So, that long-held belief that a team needs the fairly even split of run and pass to succeed in the postseason is tossed aside with every pass Brady throws. Balance? They don’t need no stinking balance and it makes them unique in this playoff field.

"They can throw it every down and win," Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "Nobody else can do that. No one in football -- I think you look at the record -- no one in football can throw it over 50 times and win except Tom Brady, and it’s with or without all his guys. Now they’ve got all their guys. It’s a big challenge."

The Patriots won a game this season when they rushed for just 16 yards -- against the New York Jets -- and for 38 yards in last weekend’s win over the Chiefs.

In the Nov. 29 meeting against the Broncos -- a 30-24 Denver win in overtime -- the Patriots rushed for 39 yards on 16 carries while Brady threw the ball 42 times. However, wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola did not play because of injuries.

Both will play Sunday. So with tight end Rob Gronkowski in the formation and wide receiver Brandon LaFell in the mix, the Broncos defenders have said all week they expect to see plenty of three-wide receiver sets and the same lopsided play calling.

The Broncos did hold the Patriots to just 2-of-13 in third-down conversions as New England had five drives in that game that were three-and-out. The Patriots scored two of their touchdowns on drives that started in Denver territory -- at the Broncos’ 47-yard line in the first quarter and the Broncos’ 15-yard line in the second quarter.

"They did have to punt 10 times," Phillips said. "... It’s going to be a big challenge for us to play that kind of game again."

It means the Broncos likely will spend plenty of time with six defensive backs in the formation. And in that look, expect Brady to isolate the Broncos’ linebackers and safeties in coverage.

For much of the week, the Broncos pointed to Edelman’s return as the biggest adjustment they'd have to make from the Nov. 29 game. The Patriots are 10-0 this season in games Edelman plays, including last Saturday’s win over the Chiefs, and 3-4 in games he did not play.

“I feel like he brings the whole offense together," Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib said. "If you take him out, Tom [Brady] is missing that one guy in the middle, that one go-to guy in the middle, on the outside, the reverses, punt return. I feel like when he’s there, they’re a complete team this year. He makes them a complete team."

The Patriots have thrown even slightly more when Edelman has been in the lineup. In the 10 games he has played, the Patriots have averaged 41.2 passing attempts per game while they averaged 37 passing attempts in the seven games he missed.

"You just kind of go into it expecting everything," linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "But no doubt they’ll put the ball in Tom Brady’s hands."