Rematch differences highlighted by healthy Patriots receivers**
The last time New England was in Denver, the Patriots left Sports Authority Field at Mile High with their first loss of the 2015 season — an overtime defeat that saw them lose a 21-7 fourth-quarter lead.
Now they return to the Mile High City in the quest for their second consecutive Super Bowl title, hopeful for a different outcome than in Week 12.
But for quarterback Tom Brady, he says they're aren't many lessons to be learned from the game film.
"They're a great team and they've got a lot of good players," Brady said. "I think that's the hard part about playing them, is there aren't a lot of things you look at on film and go, 'Wow, I really want to run that again.' Even our first game, we missed some opportunities that maybe we could have taken advantage of, but in the end we just didn't play well enough and I think that's how that defense has played all season."
One major addition for the Patriots comes from wide receiver Julian Edelman, who sat out New England's last seven games of the regular season, including the Denver contest, after suffering a broken foot against the Giants. The Patriots were also without tight end Rob Gronkowski for the last 2:53 of the fourth quarter and the entirety of overtime with a knee injury. Wide receiver Danny Amendola also missed the Week 12 matchup with a knee injury.
"That's great for us to have some of those guys back that weren't playing that particular week," Brady said. "They were missing some guys, too, which I wish they were out this week, [but] unfortunately they're not. There are only two teams left standing, so I think we feel like we're one of the best teams. They feel like they're the best team. That's why it makes for a great game. We're going to be as healthy as we can be."
The Broncos had 100 percent full participation for the first practice of the week on Wednesday. The Patriots are still working towards full participation with 20 players on their injury report, 16 of whom were limited participants.
Belichick scouts Broncos defenders
Sure, the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady matchup is flashy and exciting. But fans should also tune in to see the rematch of the best defense against one of the best offenses in the NFL.
Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips' squad is stacked with explosive players that helped the defense rank No. 1 in yards allowed and in the top five of most other defensive categories.
The Patriots offense ranks in the top 10 of nearly every offensive category and will make for an entertaining matchup.
"Look, Wade is a great coach," Belichick said. "He's one of the great defensive coaches in the league over the past, really 40-something years. […] And he does a great job. He does what he needs to do. If he needs to change, he'll change. If he doesn't need to change, he won't. But regardless of what he does, he stops people."
The Patriots have had success over the years against Phillips-led defenses, but New England has struggled in the Mile High City. In the Belichick era (2000-present), the Patriots are 2-6 in Denver.
"They're always well-prepared," Belichick said. "They're hard to run against. They're hard to throw against. They [force turnovers], and they play smart, situational football. So [Phillips has] got a lot of different tools in his bag. Whichever ones he decides to use, we've got to be ready for and deal with. So I'm sure he'll make whatever adjustments he feels like he needs to make, and they'll be challenging for us. They always are."