Denver, CO - It's a throwback and a reunion all in one.
Tom Brady is coming off his best game since returning from a knee injury that wiped out his 2008 season. Now he has another tough test yet against a Denver defense that has allowed the fewest points in the league - and Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, a man who knows him as well as anybody in football.
McDaniels spent five seasons as Brady's position coach or coordinator in New England before bringing the Patriots' blueprint to Dove Valley.
``I would love to give Josh his first NFL loss, nothing would make me happier than that,'' Brady said.
The Broncos (4-0) and ``Boston'' Patriots (3-1) will wear throwback uniforms Sunday in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the American Football League. These teams played the first AFL game ever, on Sept. 9, 1960.
The Patriots will wear red and white uniforms replicating the ones worn by the 1963 team. The Broncos will be decked out in brown helmets, mustard-colored jerseys, brown pants and socks with vertical brown-and-yellow stripes, the same style the 1962 team burned in a bonfire.
``It matters not what uniform we're wearing,'' Broncos safety Brian Dawkins said when asked if he could see why the uniforms were sent up in smoke. ``I know it's a kidding question, but there's too much wrapped up in this game to be wrapped up in the ugliness or the beauty of a jersey.''
McDaniels is facing his former pupil and his mentor, Bill Belichick, under whom he cut his coaching teeth.
So, how will these teams combat all the inside information and familiarity with each other's systems?
Easy, suggested McDaniels. The system he copied from New England changes so much on a weekly basis that it's not really an issue.
``We don't stay the same. They're watching film of us and they know what we're running. And we're watching film of them and we know a lot of things they're running. And yet, we're going to see some things on Sunday that may be a little different and we've never seen before,'' McDaniels said.
``But I think, ultimately, it's going to come down to playing and whose players play better.''
Belichick isn't among those who are surprised the Broncos are still unbeaten.
ivation, all the different elements of it, and he's got a lot of poise.
``He's cool under pressure and he did a great job for us here. And it doesn't surprise me that he's doing well out there.''
Nor does it surprise Brady.
``From being around him for as long as I had, and being in as many meetings, I know he's always so well-prepared and so diligent,'' Brady said. ``It'll be a little strange seeing him on the other sideline, but I guess we're kind of used to that around here.''
Other former Patriots assistants didn't fare so well when they first became head coaches. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel ultimately was fired by the Cleveland Browns, as was Eric Mangini by the New York Jets. Former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is still the head coach at Notre Dame, though his teams have struggled in his tenure.
McDaniels has succeeded so far, and he credits his time in New England for paving the way. But he's also his own man.
``In many ways, it may be like staring in the mirror, but our players are totally different and our defenses are different,'' McDaniels said. ``And some of the things we try to do on game day are certainly different.''
Brady had already tasted Super Bowl success before McDaniels became his guide, but the quarterback said he learned plenty from Denver's new coach.
``You spend a ton of time with your coach, so we spent a ton of time together and we know each other very well,'' Brady said. ``Hopefully, I can provide a little insight for our defense, maybe how to frustrate Josh.''
For several years, McDaniels got an up-close view of Brady's skills set and work ethic.
``I say that in all seriousness, whenever they finished their game Sunday, I guarantee he was watching film Sunday night, not taking 24 hours to enjoy the Baltimore win, but getting ready for Denver and watching DVDs. And he's seen every game we've played three times already,'' McDaniels said. ``And then he can go out there and actually do things with that information because he's got great talent, so he's one of a kind.''
Brady was stumped when asked how Belichick and McDaniels differ.
Maybe McDaniels smiles more?
``When we didn't do so well, he wasn't smiling,'' Brady retorted.
McDaniels brought the Patriots' methods to the Broncos, who have yet to lose with a stingy, opportunistic defense and a meticulous offense that doesn't take many gambles or make many mistakes.
While many fans were either curious of McDaniels or critical of his handling of the Jay Cutler saga when he got the job, Brady said he knew things would work out in Denver.
``Josh commands respect because of the way that he prepares and because of the belief that the guys have in him,'' Brady said. ``So, when you gain respect from the players, no matter what age you are, they're going to do whatever you tell them to do. ... He did a great job in any role that he had here. Everybody excelled under his coaching and that's why (Broncos owner) Pat Bowlen gave him the opportunity.''
Brady hasn't been nearly as dominant as he was in 2007, when he threw an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes for an offense masterminded by McDaniels, one that set another league record with 589 points. So far, the 2007 NFL MVP has thrown four touchdown passes and is just 17th in quarterback rating.
The Patriots don't have an offensive coordinator, so Belichick has a large role in running the offense. Bill O'Brien moved up to quarterbacks coach this year from wide receivers coach, and Brady said there's a period of adjustment.
Still, he is getting better every week and is coming off a solid performance against the Ravens.
``We've practiced now over 50 times and played basically eight games this year,'' Brady said. ``Every week I feel more comfortable back there and our offense seems to be performing a little bit better each week. So, I hope that continues. This defense will really test us, it will be a good measuring stick.''
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