Patriots

Fear Denver's receivers more than its quarterback

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Fear Denver's receivers more than its quarterback

Starting today and right on through Sunday, we're going talk a lot about Peyton Manning. We'll talk about his new home in Denver, his history in New England, his rivalry with Tom Brady and how much he has left. We'll crack jokes about his commercials, his pouting face and his assortment of horse-like features. It will be all Peyton all the time until Tony Massarotti's head explodes all over the Sports Hub studio.

And whatever. It will be fun. Admit it, you missed Peyton Manning. I know I did.

But heading into Sunday's game with the Broncos, I'm far more worried about his receivers:

Eric Decker: 6-foot-3, 206 pounds
Demaryius Thomas: 6-3, 229 pounds

Both are big, strong, quick and freakishly athletic. Both fit the description of the kind of receiver that can get out into open space and make a mockery of this Patriots secondary, regardless of whether the ball's thrown by Peyton Manning or Phil Manning.

Last year, the Pats only faced Decker once, and held him to one catch for 22 yards in a Week 14 win. (Decker didn't play in the playoff game at New England thanks to a first round cheap shot by James Harrison.) On the other hand, Thomas had some success. He caught seven balls for 116 yards in Week 14, and then six for 93 in the playoffs.

So far this season, both guys are clicking with their new QB. Decker's averaging six catches a game (and has 15 over the last two weeks) and has yet to post a game under 50 yards receiving. Thomas had an off-week two Sunday's ago against Houston (three catches for 34 yards), but other than that has posted lines of five catches for 110 yards and a touchdown, eight catches for 78 yards and a touchdowns, and five catches for 103 yards.

Of course, if either guy has a big game on Sunday, all the credit will go to Manning. Decker and Thomas could catch two touchdowns each and all anyone will talk about is how Peyton threw four TDs. But as far as the Pats are concerned, I'd be less worried about who's throwing the ball than I am trying to contain the two monsters trying to catch it.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Five quick thoughts: Patriots put it all together against Falcons

Five quick thoughts: Patriots put it all together against Falcons

FOXBORO -- Here are some quick-hitting thoughts on the Patriots' 23-7 victory over the Falcons on Sunday night.

1) If the Patriots attacked this game believing that the best defense is a good offense . . . they were right. 

They controlled the ball for more than 18 minutes in the first half and ran for 92 yards on 18 carries (a 5.1 yards per attempt average) with four backs sharing the load. Rex Burkhead gave the team a spark with his speed and vision in his first game back since suffering a rib injury in Week 2. The success the Patriots had running the ball had the added benefit of opening up the play-action pass game and it helped protect Tom Brady. After taking two sacks in the first quarter and a monster hit (penalized for roughing the passer) from Adrian Clayborn in the second, Brady was fairly well-protected. 

PATRIOTS 23, FALCONS 3

2) Tom Brady lamented the fact that he hadn't been more accurate in the red zone of late, but he was better in that area to help the Patriots pad their early lead. 

The Patriots went 2-for-3 in the red zone through the first half, with Brady hitting on touchdown passes to Brandin Cooks (which looked more like an end-around hand-off) and James White. Brady still had moments of inaccuracy. The pass he lofted before being croaked by Clayborn was a bad one that was intercepted. (The pick was wiped after the penalty was enforced.) He threw behind Chris Hogan on multiple occasions. He also had an odd throw float well out of bounds that was intended for Rob Gronkowski. But for the most part he was on point, completing 21 of his first 29 throws for 241 yards. 

3) The Patriots defense showed up in critical moments time and time again in this one. 

They stopped the Falcons twice on fourth down, and they allowed Matt Ryan and his offense to convert on just two of their first nine third-down plays. The Falcons coaching staff deserves plenty of criticism for going for it when they did, but with a banged-up secondary, going against the reigning MVP and one of the best receivers in the league, the Patriots responded.

4) Bill Belichick's run defense was particularly impressive in the first half on Sunday night, helping keep the Falcons from getting anything going until it was too late. 

They allowed just 30 yards on nine attempts in the first two quarters (a 3.3 yards per attempt average), with Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise all making impressive stops at, near or behind the line of scrimmage. 

5) The Patriots suffered a handful of injuries to key players that will be worth keeping an eye on moving forward. 

Malcom Brown left the game in the second half with an ankle injury. Their top defensive tackle this season, Brown's absence may be one reason for why the Falcons were able to pump up their rushing yardage to triple digits by midway through the fourth quarter. Dont'a Hightower also left the game and was announced as questionable to return with a shoulder injury. Hightower has had a history of shoulder issues and so perhaps this is an older injury that was re-aggravated. Chris Hogan also left the game briefly and was evaluated for a concussion, according to NBC's television broadcast. He later returned.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE