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Humbling Mid-Season Loss To Pats Could Be A Blessing For Broncos

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Wide receiver Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots makes a catch in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos during a game at Gillette Stadium on November 24, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Wide receiver Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots makes a catch in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos during a game at Gillette Stadium on November 24, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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DENVER (CBS4) – It’s been a career season for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. At 37 years old he broke the record for passing yards and passing touchdowns.

Manning’s old friend and teammate Brandon Stokley said what sets Manning apart is that he just does everything great.

“I think the one thing he does better than anybody who’s played the game is he controls the game at the line of scrimmage and gives the offense the best possible play, every play, to be successful,” Stokley told CBS4’s Tom Helmer. “A lot of quarterbacks try to do that, but it’s so much pressure on a quarterback to be able to do that play in and play out. He does it better than anybody.”

CBS4 Broncos analyst and former Broncos running back Reggie Rivers said the way Manning plays the game from the neck up sets up apart from the average quarterback.

“When he goes to the line of scrimmage he punishes the defense. They simply cannot be right. If they step up like they’re going to stop the run he’ll call a pass play. If they drop back to stop the pass he’ll call a run play,” Rivers said. “If they look tired and they want to get off the field or are trying to make a substitution, he rushes to the line of scrimmage and snaps the ball.”

Rivers called Manning an offensive coordinator on the field.

“He’s unlike any quarterback who’s in the league right now. Nobody calls the plays at the line the way that Peyton does.”

Stokley said Manning is the hardest working quarterback in the NFL.

“Without a doubt – he’s the hardest working player. He puts so much time and energy and effort into the game. And that’s why he is so successful, because he puts so much into it,” Stokley said.

Manning’s counterpart in Sunday’s AFC Championship game, Tom Brady, does nothing but win games. It doesn’t matter that the cast of players around him keeps changing, he just keeps winning. Rivers said Brady is all poise, accuracy and decision making.

“He is so comfortable and confident in the huddle. It doesn’t seem like the pressure ever gets to him, it doesn’t seem like the moment ever gets too big for him,” Rivers said. “His accuracy is outstanding, his decision making is outstanding.”

Stokley added that Brady is also consistent.

“Year in and year out, no matter what happens with their offense or their defense, how many guys they lose every year to injuries; what their game plan is offensively, it seems like it changes every four or five years,” Stokley said. “He just finds ways to win and get the job done.”

“It’s like the cast doesn’t matter at all. It’s like, ‘Give me whatever tools you have and I will make it work,’ “ Rivers said. “He’s really a phenomenal player. Hopefully he’ll be a little bit less than phenomenal for the game this week.”

Patriots running backs LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley ran for six touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts last week in the AFC divisional playoff game. Meanwhile, the Broncos rush defense is ranked eighth-best in the NFL. But could a game featuring Manning and Brady actually come down to how well the Broncos stop the run?

“I think so. I think that’s the key for the Broncos – is to stop the Patriots’ power running game, because that’s what sets up everything for the Patriots,” Stokley said. “They try to control the line of scrimmage, control the game up front and wear you down offensively by using their power running game.”

Rivers said the Patriots running game makes him “terrified, scared to death.”

“The Broncos best weapon obviously is Peyton Manning. We want Peyton Manning on the field as much as possible,” Rivers said. “The more the Patriots run the ball, the less we see of Peyton Manning. The best defense against Peyton Manning is a good running game.”

Stokley said he thinks the Broncos run numbers on defense could be a little misleading because the Broncos are usually in the lead and opposing teams opt to pass the ball more to catch up.

In Denver’s mid-season game with the Patriots the Broncos rushed out a 24-0 lead in New England, but then gave it all away and lost in overtime. Rivers thinks the loss was good for the Broncos.

“You have to get these humbling moments that come in a season. You hope that they don’t come in games that are meaningful,” Rivers said. “So it’s a blessing to be in a situation like that. You jumped out to a 24-0 lead, you felt like you had this game under control, and here they come. You have four turnovers … you let them come back, they beat you in overtime. Well, lesson learned. I think that lesson carries over into this game … and they didn’t have to pay a big price to learn that lesson.”

Stokley agreed with Rivers that the loss was a positive for the Broncos.

“Everybody in that locker room understands the way to beat the Patriots is you have to play 60 minutes of football, good football,” Stokley said. “You can’t play a half and expect to beat a Tom Brady New England Patriot team. It’s just not going to happen, and they learned that lesson.”

That 60 minutes of football kicks off Sunday at 1 p.m. on CBS4.

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