DENVER - Logan Mankins is often regarded as a warrior's warrior.
The Patriots' offensive guard is known far and wide as the toughest player on the team, a man capable of playing in extreme pain and staying effective when others would be leaping into the whirlpool for relief.
But there was genuine emotion in the eyes and voice of the veteran guard Sunday after the Patriots lost to the Denver Broncos, 26-16, in the AFC Championship Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"It's tough," he said after the loss, his second straight in an AFC title game. "You battle all season to make it where you want to, and to lose this game is very tough."
In recent weeks, Mankins played with a sprained ankle - even having to move to left tackle briefly to spell Nate Solder while he recovered from concussions. Sunday he was part of an effort that may not have been up to recent standards, either in run-blocking or pass protection, but was still nowhere near awful.
The two sacks of Tom Brady, one by Terrance Knighton and the other by Robert Ayers, were outstanding individual efforts against Solder and not a line-wide breakdown. The Broncos were also one of the better teams in the league at defending the run, limiting the Patriots to 64 yards on 16 carries.
"You have to give them credit," Mankins said. "They filled the holes sand made the tackles. They outplayed us ... it was one of those days where they were playing great and we weren't. We needed to play very well to match those guys, and we didn't."
Despite the disappointment of defeat, Mankins said there were reasons for the Patriots to have great pride in their accomplishments this year.
"You are always proud of your team," he said. "Someone once asked me if I would rather not get to this point than to lose it, and no, I will take these games every year. We will come out swinging and try to get here.
"This was a fun team to play for and a fun team to be a part of," he said. "There are a lot of guys that I feel are special in this locker room, and we had a good year."
The Patriots' inactives were DL Isaac Sopoaga, CB Justin Green, G Chris Barker, TE D.J. Williams, DE Jake Bequette, WR Kenbrell Thompkins and LB Steve Beauharnais, while the Broncos' inactives were QB Zac Dysert, RB Ronnie Hillman, DB Marquice Cole, T Vinston Painter, G Chris Kuper, TE Joel Dreesen, DT Sione Fua ... It marked the second straight playoff game that a former Patriot signed by the opposing team was not active on game day, following the Colts' signing of Deion Branch ... The Patriots are 7-3 in AFC Championship Games, including a 4-1 record at home and a 3-1 record at Gillette Stadium ... The Patriots have compiled a 25-18 record in their 43 playoff games and their .581 playoff winning percentage is tied with the Oakland and L.A. Raiders for the fifth best in NFL history among teams that have played at least 15 playoff games ...
Tom Brady made his eighth start in a Conference Championship game and joined Charlie Waters and Jack Reynolds for the most starts in a conference title games in NFL history Brady is one of two quarterbacks in NFL postseason history with over 6,000 passing yards. Brady extended his playoff touchdown pass total to 43 and is one of three NFL quarterbacks with 40 or more in the postseason. Brady is third all-time on the postseason TD list, behind Joe Montana (45) and Brett Favre (44). Brady leads all quarterbacks with 590 postseason completions Stephen Gostkowski connected on a 47-yard field goal in the second quarter and now has 19 career postseason field goals, putting him in sole possession of 11th place all-time.