New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski faces reporters before practice on Thursday. The Patriots play the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship on Sunday. (Steven Senne/AP)

Mind games between Patriots-Broncos before big game Sunday

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Gronk pushes off. Brady whines.

If it’s AFC championship week, somebody must be complaining about the New England Patriots.

This time around, it’s the Denver Broncos, who have delivered a few hits through the media — both traditional and social — in a not-so-subtle attempt to get inside the heads of both the Patriots and, quite possibly, the officials who will call Sunday’s game.

The biggest pokes have, not surprisingly, been directed at Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, with the Broncos suggesting he likes to push off and how it’s really best to tackle him by going after his delicate knees. Gronk didn’t appreciate that and responded in R-rated fashion on Twitter.

Tom Brady took some shots, too, labeled a crybaby for complaining to refs.

“Just talk. Just talk,” Broncos tight end Vernon Davis said. “I don’t think they would say anything to target anyone on the Patriots side.”

These early week doses of trash talk have calmed down now that the real preparation has begun. Still, they’ve made for a decent story line to go beside the hundreds of different takes on Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, Part 17.

The highlights:

— Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall weighed in on Gronkowski, saying he uses his big frame to push off.

— Defensive lineman Antonio Smith didn’t hold back on Brady with his comments: “I’ve never seen any quarterback look to the referee right after he gets sacked more than Brady. Every time he gets sacked he looks at the ref like, ‘You see him sack me?'”

But the comment that caused Gronk to throw a flag was mention by several Broncos of going after his knees, since he’s so hard to bring down. Gronkowski responded with a tweet that let his feelings be known in a comical, yet not exactly fit for print sort of way. He added a few emoji for good measure.

“I was just having a little fun with it, hoping to get a little laugh, which I think it did,” Gronkowski said. “It’s just all fun and games with that.”

Still, linebacker Danny Trevathan didn’t exactly find Gronkowski’s tweet endearing. He took it as more of a stab at his defense.

Trevathan insisted the banter stokes the fire.

“I’m glad they feel confident in themselves. I think people are looking for attention,” Trevathan said. “It’s not my job to give it to them until Sunday. My job is to shut them down when they come here, keep his mouth closed as much as I can.”

Broncos defensive back Bradley Roby finds all the back-and-forth highly entertaining. It’s juicy stuff.

“We’re not worried about the trash talking, just makes it more exciting,” Roby said. “Brings more attention to the game.”

As for the assertion that Brady lobbies more than most for penalties with the officials, well, the iconic QB took the high road. He said he’s “not sure” if he works the referees more than other quarterbacks around the league.

“If the refs want to throw the flag, I love when they throw flags on the defenders, absolutely,” Brady said. “It advances our team, so that’s just part of football.”

So is trying to get under a team’s skin. Davis experienced the same sort of thing when he was with San Francisco and preparing to face rival Seattle.

“Everyone is talking — you can say this, you can say that — but at the end of the day, actions speak louder than words,” Davis said. “When it comes to the talking, I stay away from it.”

Hard to ignore social media barbs, though. Unless, of course, you’re offensive lineman Ryan Harris.

“I don’t even know what Twitter is. What’s Twitter?” Harris deadpanned. “Whoever is going to win this game, it’s going to be decided on the field this Sunday, not on some social media site, or some quotation that may or may not have been taken out of context.”

AFC Championshipafc eastAFC playoffsAFC WestBrandon MarshallDenver BroncosNew England PatriotsNFLNFL playoffsRob GronkowskiSuper BowlTom Brady

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