FOXBORO -- The last time the Patriots faced the Broncos was in Week 15. New England went into Denver and quickly fell behind 16-7 in the second quarter. But the team made adjustments; they went on to score the next 27 points and defeated the Broncos 41-23.
Tom Brady's offense helped end Tim Tebow's six-game winning streak, but even after an awful start to the game by the Pats' defense, those guys eventually made some big plays when it mattered most, recovering three fumbles in the win. New England's 'D' held Tebow to 11-of-22 passing for 194 yards and zero touchdown passes.
But that was weeks ago.
The Patriots made made it a point to acknowledge that on Tuesday, saying their first meeting will have no impact on Saturday's playoff game.
"They made some changes, you can see definitely, from the last game," said Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty. "Just taking more shots down the field. They threw some balls up there and they've got guys that can come down with them and make good catches. So they definitely threw some more vertical passes.
"That last game, when you look at it, it really won't have much relevance, going into this game. Both teams have a chance to game plan. They might do some things different. They might do some things the same. So it will still be a totally different game for us, defensively."
The most noticeable changes in Denver's game came Sunday in their overtime playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tebow threw for 316 yards and had two touchdown passes, including his 80-yard strike over the middle in overtime.
Simply put, Tebow was more of a deep-ball threat on Sunday against the Steelers than he's ever been. And it caught the Patriots' eye.
"They're going to throw the ball. Let's not kid ourselves," said Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. "Everyone says they're not throwing the ball, well, I'll tell you what. Tebow had a pretty good game last game. I don't care how many times you throw the ball, but, he had a pretty good game last game. So, we know that's going to come.
"He's just a tough, tough guy to prepare for," added Wilfork. "You can speak all day about how tough he is and how elusive he is. But it really don't matter until you face him. When you face him, you really figure out, man, this dude is like a running back. He's a big dude. He's a strong guy.
"I've seen some big guys over the years, but he's probably one of the biggest and probably one of the toughest, and probably one of the strongest that I've faced. And I'm not taking credit from anyone else, but he is a special guy."
As Wilfork pointed out, Tebow's success on Sunday wasn't just due in part to his passing yardage. It also had a lot to do with not turning the ball over, something that haunted Tebow in his last three games of the regular season -- all losses.
On Sunday, he threw no interceptions and didn't fumble for the first time since Week 11.
"When you look at any team, one of the biggest of them all is turnovers," said Wilfork. "When you get turnovers, or when you give them up. Looking at the last game they played, they didn't turn the ball over. And anytime you can do that, it's huge. And it's a different offense when they don't make mistakes, or when they get the big plays, when they can be explosive, it's a different football team."
Wilfork knows this "different" Denver football team will be a tough task for his defense.
"It's always challenging to go up against an offense like this, because they can do so many things. You can't just say that when they get in this formation, this is going to happen, or when they do this, look out for that. You can't do that . . . Because you can be attacked and blindsided from so many different ways. This game is going to come down to disciplined football for us.
"This is the postseason now," added Wilfork. "I'm expecting everything. I'm expecting them to throw the kitchen sink. Because if you lose now, you go home."