FOXBORO -- If the Patriots meet their season's end in Sunday's AFC Championship game, they won't be blaming it on the new guys.
"We all have a job to do," Bill Belichick said Friday. "We’re going to have to count on everybody to do their job. Nobody can do anybody else’s. Look, there are no rookies anymore. We’ve already played 21 games."
New England has 15 listed rookies and one first-year player on the 53-man roster. By comparison, the Broncos have six. But Belichick insisted he's not making any special speeches this week about how bright the lights will get Sunday.
"We’re talking about what we need to do to win. It’s as simple as that."
Quarterback Tom Brady told a bit of a different story.
"We take our cues from Coach Belichick [and] he’s said a lot this week. In different individual settings you just kind of communicate what it’s all about and the meaning of it and just try to keep guys focused. We have a lot of really good leaders on this team: the captains, the veterans, guys who have been in pretty meaningful games."
As games go, a conference championship ranks pretty high; there's only one that's bigger. And no player for the Patriots has a better idea of that than Brady.
Just hours before the team flew out to Denver he talked about how mistakes can't just be limited, they have to be eliminated. New England may have won its regular season meeting with the Broncos despite fumbling six times, but the team sure as hell isn't planning to try it again.
Perhaps that's why Belichick's lectures aren't reserved for the rookies. The box score shows who struggled with ball security on that November night: Julian Edelman, Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, Marquice Cole, Brandon Spikes.
Brady? He fumbled twice.
"Look, the margin of error is very slim," the quarterback said. "They’re a very good team. They play well at home. We just can’t go out there and turn the ball over four times, be 25 percent on third down, be one-of-four in the red area and think that we’re going to win the game. We just have to do a lot of things well. I think that’s what you just try to express, that this has to be our best effort, it has to be a great week of preparation, which we’ve had two really good days of practice and we have to finish strong today.
"It’s all football. There’s almost 48 hours to the game. There’s nothing really else going out in our lives other than football at this point."