ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- **The NFL's all-time winningest postseason quarterback, Tom Brady is well aware of how much is on the line in Sunday's AFC Championship Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
He's also well aware of just how thin the margin of error is for the Patriots and Broncos when the two teams square off on Sunday.
"When you play against one of the best teams in the league, you realize there's very little margin of error," Brady said. "You can't go out there and turn it over and not be good on third down, not be good in the red area and think you're going to go in and beat one of the best football teams on the road. There's a reason that they're at this point; there's a reason why we're at this point. We have to be ready to go out and play our very best to hopefully advance."
In a showdown between the AFC's two best teams – and in a game where New England will face a Denver offense that set an NFL record with 606 points in the regular season – Brady was quick to note he expects his Patriots team will need to fire on all cylinders and in all facets in order to earn a berth in Super Bowl XLVIII, especially with such a potent offense on the opposite sideline.
"They out-score you and they can score quickly, they can run the ball like they did against us last time. They have a bunch of guys who have caught a bunch of touchdowns," Brady said. "What that means for our offense is we have to be able to match it. We have to be able to eliminate the ability for them to possess the football, whether that's controlling the ball through third downs, whether that's not turning the ball over, whether that's getting the ball in the red area. There's not one phase of our game that we can't be at our very best. They have a great football team."
Brady's play was instrumental in the Patriots 34-31 overtime win over the Broncos in a Week 12 thriller. The New England quarterback threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns in that game, leading the Patriots back from a 24-0 halftime deficit by completing 81 percent of his passes in the second half.
When the two teams meet again on Sunday, however, everything that transpired on that bitter New England night in November will be inconsequential to the outcome in the rematch – as Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick pointed out.
"I think we're going to see a different team. I don't know about different teams, but I think we're going to see a different game," Belichick said. "The matchups – we have some players that are playing in this game that didn't play in that game and so do they. We'll just have to see how it all plays out. But the guys that we have and what we have, we're going to do our best to be ready to go and matchup with them.
"It's just like any time you play a team twice," he added. "I think you look at what happened but you have to erase the board and start all over again."
If anything, the first meeting serves as an indisputable reminder for both teams that earning a trip to the Super Bowl will require a complete performance for 60 minutes – and perhaps more.
"We're a game-plan team. We go in, we think they're going to play a certain way. If they don't, we have to make adjustments and try to move forward," Brady said. "You can't really play 30 minutes in the first 30 minutes and then go, at the end of the first (half) and go, 'Well, the game's over, we've got it wrapped up.' You're going to have to play all the way through this game, however long it takes – 60 minutes or beyond – to see if we can ultimately score more points than they do."
For linebacker Rob Ninkovich, one of the takeaways from the first meeting between the teams was the Broncos' prolific rushing attack, as Denver rolled up 280 rushing yards, including a career-high 224 from running back Knowshon Moreno.
"You can't have games like that where you're giving up that many yards on the ground," Ninkovich said. "We've got a tough challenge for us. They are a good football team and they do a lot of great things in the run game. Again, it just comes down to watching the tape, seeing the things that they did against us and knowing that they will probably try and repeat some of those runs and then also some things that they haven't shown to us."
Meanwhile, one of the variables to the "different team" that Belichick expects to face is the presence of Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, who did not play in the Week 12 meeting.
"Champ's pretty close to the face of that franchise, has been for the last decade," Belichick said. "Great player, great ball skills, tremendous consistency. I think Champ is one of the players that, (what) makes him so special is he can just match up against anybody. (You) can put him on big receivers, can put him on tight ends, can put him on little, fast guys. You can put him on anybody you want. He's always been able to cover the top players; excellent run force player, good tackler, tough, very instinctive. He's been a great football player. He's had a great career."
Regardless of the how the teams have changed since they first met, Brady noted that he expects the Patriots to still play to the strengths that got them to the AFC Championship Game in the first place.
"I think you have to figure out what you do well and then go out there and try to do it the best you can," Brady said. "This is the game where it matters most. This isn't a big trial-and-error game. This is, let's see what we do well, let's see how consistent we can be at it and let's challenge them. Let's see what they do well. It's not like they're going to install a whole new defense this week. They've got what they've done."
For Ninkovich, it's truly a culmination of an entire year's work of exhaustive work – all for the opportunity to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
"I put in just as much work every single season. I say, 'Hey, this is my chance to go out here and play football and win a championship,'" Ninkovich said. "That is on everyone's mind when you're a little kid, like, 'Hey, this would be unbelievable to play in an AFC Championship Game.' It is an amazing feeling."
And after walking a long and often tumultuous road through the offseason, the preseason, the regular season and into the playoffs – a year that has seen the Patriots overcome injuries and pull through in close games, winning seven contests by a touchdown or less – Brady said that the adversity New England has overcome in reaching this stage has only hardened the Patriots for the task at hand on Sunday.
"We've talked about that for a long time, how we've become a team that's more resilient and mentally tough and I think we've proven over the course of the season that we are that," Brady said. "We've won a bunch of different ways. We've won coming from behind, we've won with leads, we've won in pretty (poor) weather conditions. You just fight through whatever it takes. It's all about winning a football game. That's why we're here playing."