ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The Broncos' Week 5 trip to New England gives the team a chance to avenge not one, but two of its worst losses of 2011.
Denver fell to the Patriots 41-23 in Week 15 last year, and had an even harder time with New England four weeks later, when the Broncos' playoff run came to a halt in a 45-10 loss.
"I think we all know what happened," wide receiver Eric Decker said. "It's in the back of our mind and we understand that it was somewhat of an embarrassment as far as our performance and what we did. We want to go out there and play a lot better and know that if we want to be a championship team, we have to play our best versus a championship team like New England. That's our mindset right now."
The Broncos are well aware of the challenge they face in returning to Foxborough, Mass., to take on a Patriots team that finished each of the last two seasons 14-2.
"Obviously, they're a great football team and maybe the best in a short period of time or recent NFL history, so to go in to their place is a huge challenge," Head Coach John Fox said. "They're well-coached. They're an outstanding football team. They've got a quarterback that I know is going to be doing everything in his power to get his team ready to play and we expect a huge test."
The first player that comes to mind for teams preparing for the Patriots is three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady.
"As long as Tom Brady wakes up and his arm is working, anything can happen," safety Rahim Moore said. "It doesn't matter who's out there. He will get the ball in his best players' hands and they find a way to win games. They do a great job. They have a campaign over there that's like no other. We tip our hats off to them."
But with this year's Patriots, Brady is just one of the many weapons the Broncos have to worry about.
New England is currently eighth in the league with 144 rushing yards per game. The Patriots' ability to attack teams both on the ground and through the air this year makes them even more dangerous than the team's prolific, passing-oriented offenses of the past few seasons.
"It's very strong, and looking at film, I can see why," defensive tackle Justin Bannan said of the New England running game. "They do a good job running the ball, and their O-line's looking really good. We definitely have a big challenge ahead of us."
The Patriots' increased emphasis on the running game hasn't made the offense any less explosive, as New England reminded the NFL on Sunday. Trailing the Buffalo Bills 21-7 midway through the third quarter, the Pats erupted for 45 second-half points, including 31 in the fourth quarter alone.
That outburst looked familiar to Bannan, who took on the Patriots twice a year during his first four seasons in the league with the Buffalo Bills.
"I was in Buffalo for four years, and I know that feeling," Bannan said. "I've been there. You do good against them the first half, they come out in the second half and just go crazy on you. I know how (the Bills) feel."
But the Patriots are more than just an offensive juggernaut. Head Coach Bill Belichick is known throughout the league for having one of the sharpest defensive minds in the business. In addition to experienced standouts like defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo, the Patriots have added solid rookies like linebacker Dont'a Hightower and defensive end Chandler Jones, who already has three sacks this season.
"Their defense has been a big part of why they've been so successful over the past decade," tight end Jacob Tamme said. "They have a lot of good players over there this year, some young guys mixed in with some vets that have been around awhile. It'll be a big challenge for us."
Facing a team like the Patriots, linebacker Joe Mays knows his team is in for one of its toughest tests of the season. And he wouldn't have it any other way.
"Oh yeah, they're special," Mays said. "Playing one of the best teams in the NFL, it doesn't get any better than that. We get to see how we fare against some of the good teams. So far, we haven't done as well, but I feel like we got better. It's going to be a great test for us, and we're looking forward to getting a win."