ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- **As Peyton Manning and Tom Brady prepare to square off for the 14th time in their storied careers when the Broncos and Patriots play in New England on Sunday night, the quarterbacks will rekindle a rivalry that dates to Sept. 30, 2001.
And, as Brady noted during conference call with the Denver media on Wednesday, the showdowns certainly haven't become stale as the years have gone by.
"The games are always enjoyable. It's always tough competition," Brady said. "You just know that, with a great player like that on the other side of the ball, that there's a very slim margin of error. They're never out of it, we're really never out of it. It's just a matter of who makes the plays at the end."
On the heels of a 24-20 loss at Carolina on Monday night in which the Patriots' final drive came up just short, Brady noted that he hopes the adversity that New England has faced this season will strengthen the team down the homestretch of the season.
"We've had some challenging times this year with our team," Brady said. "We've fought through some adversity, which hopefully made us mentally tough. Our whole season is ahead of us. This is a hugely important game for us."
New England Head Coach Bill Belichick noted that he's enjoyed coaching the 7-3 Patriots this season – and that the team has worked hard to improve for the late season stretch.
"We've played very competitively in every game," Belichick said. "It's been a hard-working group that had some things we've had to deal with over the course of the season like every team does, but they're a good group to coach. They work hard to try to get better every day. (Don't) make excuses, just try to improve on a daily basis. Hopefully we'll continue to do that."
That stretch begins with a showdown against the 9-1 Broncos and Manning, who Belichick noted as having "no weak points to his game."
"(He) makes all the throws – does a great job reading defenses," Belichick said. "Seeing the right play. (He's) very poised, excellent with the clock (and) recognizing defenses."
The game will also mark the first time the two teams have played since wide receiver Wes Welker moved from New England to Denver – and Belichick noted that the unfamiliar task of preparing to defend Welker will be a challenge for the Patriots.
"Wes is a good player - very competitive (and) tough guy," Belichick said. "Good quickness, good run after catch skills. Very poised and competitive guy so that will be a big challenge for us, no question."
Belichick also identified tight end Julius Thomas – whose 10 touchdown receptions are tied for second in the NFL – as a threat that the Patriots will have to account for.
"He's dangerous in the red area, a tough, good blocker," Belichick said. "Good vertical route runner, (will) go down and catch on run plays. He's a good weapon in that offense and they have a lot of them and he's one of many."
And while Brady has had to integrate a number of new players on offense this season, he noted that he hopes finally having a full-cast of players will make the Patriots offense more potent.
"We're getting contributions from everybody at this point," Brady said. "For the first time last week, we had all our guys back and healthy so hopefully we can continue to get better and make the improvements we need to make. We certainly need to score more than 20 points like we did last week. So we'll see if we can do that this week."