ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Tom Brady vs. Trevor Siemian.
It doesn’t have the same ring to it as Brady vs. Manning .
Yet, Siemian is providing the Broncos with better numbers than Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler did last year when Denver swept the New England Patriots on their way to winning Super Bowl 50.
And this despite a porous O-line, battered backfield and struggling pass catchers.
In his last five starts, Siemian has averaged 303.8 yards passing with eight touchdowns and four interceptions behind a line that’s surrendered 17 sacks and a ground game that’s managed a sputtering 2.7 yards per carry.
If not for some big drops over the last three weeks, the usual aura of AFC supremacy would surround Sunday’s showdown in Denver along with the typical home-field implications for the playoffs.
Instead, while the Patriots (11-2) are closing in on a record-breaking eighth consecutive AFC East title, the Broncos (8-5) are scrapping just to get into the postseason party. Standing in their way are the Patriots, Chiefs and Raiders, who own a combined 31-8 record.
“I don’t care who we play, we’ve got to win these next three games,” safety T.J. Ward said.
It would help if Denver’s sniffling offense can find a way to help out its sizzling defense.
“Obviously, not getting a win last week, that stings a little bit. But I think we’re confident going into these last couple of games,” Siemian said. “I don’t think anybody says in our locker room that we can’t win any of these games, starting with New England. We’ve got a confident group. We’ve got the right guys to do it with, for sure.”
The Broncos are coming off a 13-10 loss at Tennessee where they held Marcus Mariota to 88 yards on six completions, including just one after halftime when the Titans managed only 42 yards on the ground.
Siemian threw for 334 yards but Bennie Fowler couldn’t hold on to what would have been the game-winning touchdown pass, a fastball that struck him in the face mask in the closing minutes.
The Patriots see in Siemian a QB getting better each week — and this after he outdueled three No. 1 picks in his first month as Manning’s successor. So, they’re not exactly celebrating Manning’s retirement.
“For a younger quarterback that hasn’t played much, he does a good job of just keeping his eyes downfield, moving around in the pocket and just getting to the best play no matter really what happens with the rush or anything,” Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty said.
Despite unrelenting pressure and big hits that have resulted in injuries to both shoulders and his left foot, Siemian has completed 61.2 percent of his passes while throwing for 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Siemian’s athleticism, arm strength and mobility drew praise from Patriots coach Bill Belichick this week.
Siemian’s quarterback rating of 89.8 is higher than Manning (67.9) and Osweiler (86.4) had last year, when Manning completed 59.6 percent of his throws with nine TDs and 17 interceptions and Osweiler completed 61.8 percent of his passes with 10 TDs and six interceptions.
Osweiler prevailed in the regular season against the Patriots last year and Manning won the 17th and final meeting with Brady.
Two months after the Broncos overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit for a 30-24 overtime win behind Osweiler, Manning threw for just 176 yards in the AFC championship that Denver won 20-18 thanks to a defense that hit Brady a career-high 23 times, sacked him four times and intercepted him twice.
The Broncos are the only team Brady has a losing record against (6-9), and he’s just 2-7 in Denver.
“I think they’ve had really good teams,” Brady said Wednesday. “More so than where you play, it’s how you play. We just need to play better than the way we’ve been playing out there. It’s a great place to play. They’ve got great fans.”
Brady added that Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are “a lot more dangerous … than the people in the crowd. So, we’re going to have to do a good job handling all those guys up front.”
Nothing will ever match the Brady-Manning matchup, but Siemian is counting on this one being the first of many with Brady, who aims to play several more seasons.
When the season started, many saw Siemian as a stop-gap, keeping the seat warm for Paxton Lynch. Now, there’s buzz about him being the long-term solution at QB in Denver, although that’s not a notion Siemian was keen to entertain Wednesday.
“I’m not looking too far ahead,” Siemian said. “I want to make the most of these next couple of games and get us into the playoffs and make a run here.”
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
(© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)