Brady embraces underdog role in AFC title game

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Tom Brady Embraces Underdog Role
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Brady embraces underdog role in AFC title game
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady warms up before an AFC divisional NFL playoff football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) scrambles away from Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton, right, during the second half of an AFC divisional NFL playoff football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) pauses during a stretching session before NFL football practice at the team's facility in Foxborough, Mass., Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. The Patriots are scheduled to host the Indianapolis Colts in an NFL football divisional playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 11. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) runs during a drills and stretching session before practice begins at the NFL football team's facility in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. The Patriots will play the Miami Dolphins in Miami, Sunday. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
New England Patriots' Tom Brady throws against the Houston Texans during the first quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady remains on the ground after being sacked in the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 11: Tom Brady (R) #12 of the New England Patriots shakes hands with Andrew Luck (L) #12 of the Indianapolis Colts after their AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 43 to 22. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 11: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots talks with his teammates in a huddle against the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 11: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots hands off the ball against the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 11: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots calls a play against the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady gives signals during an NFL game against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/MCT via Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 15: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots passes during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady listens to a reporter's question during a media availability at the NFL football team's facility in Foxborough, Mass., Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. The Patriots are scheduled to host the Indianapolis Colts in an NFL football divisional playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 11. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
New England Patriots' Tom Brady (12) shakes hands with Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, right, after an NFL football game on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, in Houston. New England won 34-31. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws to a receiver in the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) - It's been seven years since the Patriots were underdogs in a postseason game.

So Tom Brady isn't wasting a chance to embrace that role now.

If that motivational tactic is good enough for the star quarterback, it's good enough for his teammates.

"If Tom's going to embrace it, I'm going to embrace it," New England running back LeGarrette Blount said with a smile on Monday. "That's the leader of this team, and if that's how he feels, I'm sure that's how most of the guys out here feel."

For the first time in 12 postseason games, the Patriots are underdogs in Sunday's AFC championship matchup with Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver.

The last time the Patriots weren't favored in the playoffs was in another conference title game against Manning when he was with Indianapolis in 2007. The Colts rallied at home for a 38-34 win after trailing 21-3 in the final minute of the first half.

That also was the Patriots most recent playoff road game. Since then, they're 7-2 at home and 0-2 in Super Bowls.

This season, they were underdogs at home against Denver on Nov. 24 but won 34-31 in overtime after trailing 24-0 at halftime.

In their next to last regular-season game, the Patriots (13-4) were underdogs at Baltimore, which had won four straight games, but beat the Ravens 41-7.

"I know when we played Baltimore nobody picked us to win," Brady said during his weekly appearance on WEEI radio. "I'm sure no one's going to pick us to win this week. We've had our backs against the wall for a while. Really, the whole season we've lost players, and teams have really counted us out."

That may be an exaggeration. Teams don't take the Patriots lightly.

Still, Brady said, "We've got a bunch of underdogs on our team, and we'll be an underdog again."

He knows what it's like to be underestimated. Back in 2000, he wasn't drafted until the sixth round. Teams chose 198 players before the Patriots took a chance on him.

"He came into the league as a big underdog," fullback James Develin said, "so I'm sure he's used to that."

It's not surprising that the Broncos (14-3) are favored.

They're at home. They have Manning throwing to a deep group of receivers. The one-two running punch of Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball is rolling. The defense may be suspect with five starters sidelined, but so is New England's, which is missing four of its front seven.

All the more fuel to stoke the underdog fire.

"We play with a chip on our shoulder and we like to play that way," wide receiver Danny Amendola said.

New England was favored at home against the Colts in an AFC divisional-round game on Saturday night and won 43-22.

Denver upheld its favored status by repelling a late comeback and beating the San Diego Chargers 24-17 on Sunday.

The regular-season game against the Broncos could help in the rematch, but the Patriots know both teams have evolved. One of the big changes is that Denver's Julius Thomas is ready after missing the first meeting with a knee injury.

"He's a big, talented tight end that can pretty much do it all," Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said.

Thomas had 65 catches this season, one of five Broncos with at least 60. Only Julian Edelman, with 105, had at least 60 for the Patriots.

But New England can expect a lot more out of Blount than he provided - 13 yards on two carries - in the previous game against Denver.

His three most productive rushing games have been his past three with 76 yards and two touchdowns against Baltimore, 189 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo and 166 yards and four touchdowns against Indianapolis.

He wants more.

"I can do a lot of improving," Blount said after watching video of the Indianapolis game. "I've seen a couple of holes I could have hit, and I've seen a couple of cuts I could have made. I'm going to go out there and look at what they're going to give me, and hopefully explode somewhere."

And once the game starts, it doesn't matter who's favored.

"Whoever they pick, they pick," safety Steve Gregory said. "Nobody really knows what's going to happen. So it's two very good football teams that are going to go at it and we'll see who gets it at the end."

Should The Broncos Fear The Patriots?

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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