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It's a whole new ballgame for Putzier

Life is good for Jeb Putzier. In the last year, the former Eagle High and Boise State football star has signed a lucrative long-term contract with the Denver Broncos, gotten married and the couple is expecting their first child, a daughter, in March.

With less than two months to prep for fatherhood and despite his obvious enthusiasm for the arrival of Kate Elizabeth, Putzier isn't ready for the offseason to start just yet.

"Hopefully everything goes right in the playoffs first," Putzier said.

Putzier and the Broncos host the two-time defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots tonight at Invesco Field in Denver.

Unlike the last two seasons, when the Broncos earned the No. 6 seed and were bounced from the playoffs in the opening round at Indianapolis, Denver is better prepared for a longer playoff stay. The Broncos (13-3) won the AFC West, earning the conference's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.

"We have learned from those losses. We're a much more mature team. We understand what's at stake and the opportunity we have in front of us," said Putzier, who caught three passes for 67 yards in last year's loss to the Colts. "There's not as much excitement in a way. Everyone knows what it takes to win and how hard it's going to be to win."

How hard? The Patriots are 10-0 in playoff games under head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, including three Super Bowl titles.

If there's anyone on the Broncos' roster used to overcoming tough odds, it's Putzier.

A versatile high school standout — he lettered in football, basketball, track and baseball at Eagle — Putzier walked on to the Boise State team. Putzier bounced between tight end and wide receiver before establishing himself at tight end as a senior.

Despite leading all collegiate tight ends in touchdown receptions with 12 and earning All-WAC honors, Putzier wasn't drafted until the sixth round (No. 191 overall) in 2002. The odds are against sixth-rounders making NFL teams, but Putzier stuck with the Broncos and played in seven games his first two seasons.

Then came his breakout season — 2004. Putzier had 36 receptions for 572 yards and two touchdowns, developing as a prime target for quarterback Jake Plummer, a Capital High graduate.

Plummer joined the Broncos in 2003. He and Putzier quickly bonded, particularly over their affection for the Boise area.

"We had a lot of mutual friends even before we knew each other. We both have families that still live there. We both love it there and we both miss it so much," said Putzier, who has family from Caldwell to Twin Falls.

"Everyone must think that Boise is the next heaven because of how much we talk about how much we love it. Everyone here probably gets sick of it a little bit."

Putzier and his wife, Jacklyn, have grown to love their new home outside of Denver nearly as much. He has a strong connection to the mountain west, which left the 26-year-old — Putzier turns 27 on Jan. 20 — in a vulnerable state this offseason. A restricted free agent unhappy with a low offer from the Broncos, Putzier signed an five-year, $12.5 million offer sheet with the New York Jets.

"I was hoping for a team to come in and offer a contract and the Broncos to match, then when that happened it was kind of tough," Putzier said. "After living here and growing up in Boise, moving to New York would have been very different."

Denver, which had seven days to match the offer, waited six before opting to retain the 6-foot-4, 256-pound Putzier, who got a $2.5 million signing bonus.

"They made me wait. But I was so grateful for that call," he said.

He'd made it, firmly established himself in the league. He collected a big payday, bigger than any sixth-rounder ever dreams of.

Only Putzier, given his history and the volatile world of the NFL, never has seen it that way.

"I've seen first-round, second-round guys cut. Guys who had been given big contracts cut. I've got to keep that all in mind," he said. "I've seen a lot of guys who have been paid let go. I had to re-establish myself. And as a walk-on I had to do that every year. I had to do that and get better."

Putzier, primarily the pass-catching tight end in a job-sharing arrangement with Stephen Alexander, set a career high with 37 receptions this year.

He also made news for being a regular on the ESPN's weekly rundown of big hits, "Jacked Up." Putzier was always on the wrong end, including a brutal hit against New England that left him with six stitches in his chin.

"That's probably the best one. Everyone asks me what I did to Jake. We're supposed to be 'Boise Boys.' I don't know what I did," he joked. "You just have to take the hit sometimes to help the team."

He'll surely take another one if it means beating the Patriots and continuing his fairy tale year.