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

Patriots-Rams notes: Brady and the defense have record-setting days

Patriots-Rams notes: Brady and the defense have record-setting days

FOXBORO -- Notes from the Patriots' 26-10 win over the Rams Sunday, courtesy of the Pats' P.R. department:

TEAM NOTES

A DEFENSIVE FIRST : The Patriots allowed just 25 total first-half yards to the Rams, the lowest total in a half in team history. The previous low was 28 yards by the Jets in the first half on Dec. 26, 2005 in a 31-25 New England win.

A DEFENSIVE SECOND: The Patriots yielded just 36 yards rushing to the Rams, the second time this season New England has held its opponent to fewer than 40 rushing yards. Cleveland rushed for only 27 yards in Week 5.

BY THE NUMBERS DEFENSIVELY: The Patriots have now held the opposition to less than 20 points in 8 of their 12 games this year, and are allowing just 17.3 ppg.

PATS HIT 10-VICTORY MARK FOR 14TH CONSECUTIVE SEASON: The Patriots are now 10-2 and have won 10 or more games for 14 consecutive season, the second-longest streak in NFL history. The 1983-98 49ers had a 16-year streak

RECORD-SETTING PERFORMANCE: Tom Brady did not throw an interception Sunday and Patriots QBs have been picked off just once in the first 12 games of the season, an NFL record. The previous record for fewest interceptions thrown in the first 12 games was three, held jointly by the 2016 Vikings, 2015 Chiefs, 1993 Cowboys and 190 Chiefs. The NFL record for fewest interceptions in a season is five.

INDIVIDUAL NOTES

THE GOAT: As noted elsewhere, Brady became the winningest QB in NFL history with his 201st career victory.

HOME BODY: Since 2007, Brady is 62-6 overall at home in the regular season. That is more wins than five teams (home and away) have combined during that span. (60 by the Bucs, 57 by the Raiders, 52 by the Jaguars, 47 by the Browns and 46 by the Rams).

GETTING CLOSER: LeGarrette Blount scored on a 43-yard run in the first quarter and is now one rushing TD away from the tying the franchise record for rushing touchdowns in a season. He has 13, one behind Curtis Martin (who scored 14 in both 1995 and 1996).

SOME FIRSTS:
-- CB Logan Ryan sacked Rams QB Jared Goff for a loss of 12½ yards in the second quarter for his first sack since 2013.
-- LB Kyle Van Noy recorded his first NFL interception when he picked off a QB Jared Goff pass in the third quarter.
-- WR Julian Edelman finished with 8 receptions for 101 yards, his first 100-yard game of the 2016 season. (He now has eight 100-yard games in the regular season and two in the postseason.)

Gostkowski credits 'faith in the process' after bounce-back game vs. Rams

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Gostkowski credits 'faith in the process' after bounce-back game vs. Rams

FOXBORO -- With four games remaining on the schedule, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski has reached career-highs that he wishes he hasn't: Four missed field goals, three missed extra points. In Weeks 11 and 12, he missed one of each. 

But after making all six of his kicks in Sunday's 26-10 win over the Rams, Gostkowski called his latest performance "a start," as in a step in the right direction. 

"Every week is a different challenge," he said. "You just gotta battle. Keep your head down, stay humble, show up and control your attitude and your effort, make sure both of those are good, and have faith in the process that what you've been doing is going to continue to work."

Gostkowski drilled both of his extra-point attempts in the first half, and when the Patriots offense stalled later in the game -- it finished 4-for-16 on third down -- he bailed it out with his right foot. 

He made a 48-yarder from the right hash, a 45-yarder from the left hash and a 45-yarder from the right hash on consecutive series that stretched from the third quarter and into the fourth. It was a series that all but put to rest questions about whether or not the placement of the football and his angle into kicks was giving him trouble of late.

Against the 49ers, after missing a point-after attempt, he moved all of his extra-point attempts from the middle of the field to the inside of the left hash. Against the Jets his lone miss came from the right hash.

Gostkowski acknowledged that he's been tinkering in recent weeks, but he explained that it's something he's done since joining the Patriots.

"You fine tune every week," he said. "When you play in New England, you could have cold weather, hot weather, windy weather, snow. It's a daily change out there. It's not a climate controled environment. You're fine-tuning every day . . . You're going to go through that during a long season. It's no different than any other season I've had." 

When asked if it was safe to assume that his confidence had waivered at points this season, the 11-year veteran indicated that it wasn't so much a confidence issue as it was a perfectionist's approach that led to frustration when the misses mounted.

"In athletics, I've gone through ups and downs my whole life," he said. "I've always had my confidence when it comes to athletics. Sometimes stubborn to a fault. As long as I'm out there, running out there and getting a chance to play, I expect to do well. No one's harder on themselves than me when I do bad, and I don't plan on changing anytime soon."

With Rob Gronkowski out for the season, the margin for error for everyone on the Patriots has shrunk. That doesn't exclude Gronkowski's teammates in the kicking game, and Gostkowski in particular, who will be depended upon to convert drives stopped short into points. Sunday's outing was a reminder of what Gostkowski can do, and an indication that as his team comes down the stretch of the regular season, he's getting right.  

"Every year's different challenges, different opportunities," he said. "You're only as good as your opportunities in this game. You're lucky to get some good opportunities. You don't get a lot of second chances. That's just part of the job. You know that going in. It's a mental and physical grind week in and week out to do well. I'm not going to change the way that I am competitively win, lose or draw."