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 FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -Strong-armed Jay Cutler could use a big comeback game. The Patriots' shaky pass defense seems ready to help him.
Denver's quarterback is coming off his least productive game of the season, just 192 yards through the air in the Broncos' 24-17 loss to Jacksonville. On Monday night he faces New England, which allowed three completions of at least 48 yards in last Sunday's 30-10 rout at San Diego.
``He can throw the ball 75 yards down the field,'' New England safety Rodney Harrison said. ``He can roll left, roll right, throw it left, throw it right, throw it intermediately. So he's going to definitely test us down the field.
``But that's good, because he's made mistakes as well.''
In Denver's two losses, Cutler has thrown three of his five interceptions. But with outstanding receivers Brandon Marshall and rookie Eddie Royal, he is third in the NFL in yards passing.
urely must be eager to attack a secondary that Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers exploited for 306 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
``Not really,'' Cutler said. The Patriots are ``a good team and they're going to adjust and have a good plan against us. They play everyone different and they probably respect what we've done through the air and they're probably going to try and take it away.''
The Broncos (4-2) scored at least 34 points in their first three games, all wins. They've put up fewer than 20 in their two losses. But the Patriots (3-2) gave up 38 and 30 points in their two losses and have been outscored by a total of 20 in their five games.
Blame it on quarterback Matt Cassel, thrust into a starting role by Tom Brady's season-ending knee injury in the opener. But also blame it on injuries to two of their top four running backs, Laurence Maroney and LaMont Jordan, and a shaky secondary that cornerback Ellis Hobbs called a work in progress.
``Obviously, we've we got some things we need to work on, but it's nothing that can't be fixed,'' he said.
Cassel may be the anti-Cutler, unheralded coming out of college and reluctant to heave the ball downfield with so little experience - four starts since his senior year in high school, all this season.
e is going to be at 5 yards. It could be anywhere from 20 to 50 yards.''
So far, Cassel has thrown passes that gained more than 30 yards in only two of his five games. Brady did it in 15 of his 16 regular-season games last year.
The offense ``don't look the same'' without Brady, Denver defensive tackle DeWayne Robertson said. ``He controls the whole offense. He'll audible, he'll try to exploit the defense, find the defense's weakness presnap.''
Still, the Broncos have allowed the most yards passing this season, so coach Bill Belichick might let Cassel throw deep more often. He's averaging just 182 yards passing.
The Broncos have won five of their last six games against the Patriots, including both at Gillette Stadium and a playoff win in Denver in the 2005 season after New England won three of the previous four Super Bowls.
``I have no idea'' how to explain that success, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said, ``and I don't think you really think about what you've done in the past. You just get ready for this game. You know what type of football team they have and what team they have had over the last how many years.''
But this year the Patriots have been booed in their own stadium. In a 38-13 loss there to the Miami Dolphins, fans headed for their cars long before the game ended.
Even Hobbs admits the team isn't sure what to expect from itself.
eatest game ever,'' he said, ``but if you give up two plays out there and they cost the game, you're considered a loser.''
The Patriots are likely to keep that label - big plays cost them against San Diego - if they can't stop Cutler.
``I would imagine that any time in this league that people have had success with you on certain plays or certain schemes, you're going to see it until you can correct it,'' New England linebacker Mike Vrabel said.
A powerful arm doesn't always make a successful quarterback. Cutler has much more than that.
``He reads coverages extremely well,'' Shanahan said. ``He focuses downfield, not at the rush. He is very competitive. He plays with a lot of confidence. He has some speed.''
In his second full season after being drafted with the 11th pick out of Vanderbilt in 2006, Cutler has more experience than Cassel, a seventh-round choice out of Southern California in 2005.
Now Cassel is filling in for last year's NFL MVP, a three-time Super Bowl champ and a quarterback who set a single-season record last season with 50 touchdown passes and led the highest-scoring offense in league history.
``Tom Brady might be the best quarterback in the league,'' Cutler said. ``To have to step into those shoes and live up to those expectations, it's tough, especially with what their offense did last year. I feel for him.''

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