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Broncos’ defense shuts down Patriots’ running game

Updated: January 20, 2014 12:22AM



DENVER — For all the talk about Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning facing Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s confusing defense, it was the Broncos’ defense that made the difference Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.

Nowhere was that more apparent than in the Patriots’ inability to establish a running game in the Broncos’ 26-16 victory. The Patriots were held to 16 rushing yards in the first half and finished with 64 yards on 16 carries.

It was an impressive feat, considering how the Patriots piled up 234 rushing yards last week against the Colts. LeGarrette Blount followed up his 166-yard, four-touchdown performance last week with six yards on five carries.

‘‘We knew in order to beat them that we were going to have to stop the run,’’ Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. ‘‘Me and [defensive tackle Sylvester Williams], we just told each other, ‘We’re not going to allow them to get this thing rolling.’ ’’

Knighton and defensive end Robert Ayers also sacked Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The Broncos selected Ayers with one of the first-round picks they acquired from the Bears in the Jay Cutler trade. His sack on a third down from the Broncos’ 18 forced the Patriots to settle for a field goal in the second quarter.

‘‘My game plan was to try to beat [offensive tackle Nate Solder] with power or to beat him inside because of how he sets,’’ Ayers said. ‘‘On that play, I was able to fake him outside and come in and get a sack.’’

Missing Talib

The Patriots lost top cornerback Aqib Talib to a knee injury after he collided with Broncos receiver Wes Welker in the second quarter.

Talib appeared to be hurt on a pick play by Welker. who denied hitting Talib intentionally and said, ‘‘We just kind of collided.’’ Either way, Belichick wasn’t happy.

‘‘As it turned out, that was a key play in the game if you take a look at it on the replay,’’ Belichick said.

This and that

Welker, a longtime standout for the Patriots who signed with the Broncos last offseason, had four catches for 38 yards against his former team. Beating Brady was emotional for him.

‘‘I love that guy like a brother, and I feel bad for him,’’ Welker said.

† Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowl pick, advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time in his 15-year career.

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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