When the New England Patriots were preparing to face a Broncos team riding a six-game win streak in Week 15, Head Coach Bill Belichick said he wasn’t surprised by the success Denver was having.
Many were surprised to see Denver upend the favored Steelers in the Wild Card round Sunday, but Belichick insisted he isn’t at all shocked to get a visit from the Broncos in the divisional round.
“When we played them out there, I said to a couple people after the game — a couple players of the Broncos and people on our staff coming back from the game — I wouldn’t be surprised to see them again,” Belichick said in a conference call today. “And I’m not.”
The Patriots won that Week 15 matchup 41-23, but Belichick left Sports Authority Field at Mile High knowing the Broncos had the ability to present a formidable challenge for his defense.
The Denver running game — which finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the NFL — racked up 252 yards and 8.1 yards per attempt in that earlier meeting and Tim Tebow and the Broncos passing game is coming off its most dynamic performance of the season, totaling 316 yards on 10 completions and notching two scores through the air.
“They have good scheme and they attack you on all fronts, inside, outside, the option game and of course the play-action game that goes with it that keeps the secondary back,” Belichick said. “Very good attack and they definitely know what they’re doing. They’re well-coached and they put a lot of pressure on the defense, so we’ll have a big challenge this week to try to handle all that.”
Belichick reiterated the respect he has for Tebow and discussed the second-year quarterback’s productive playoff debut.
“(Tebow) took advantage of opportunities and put the ball on the money,” Belichick said. “The receivers did a good job, they gained some yards after the catch and he put the ball on them. I thought the Broncos played very well in all three phases of the game and deserved to win.”
New England quarterback Tom Brady was paying particular attention to the Broncos’ defense he will line up against Saturday and he credited its ability to disrupt an explosive Pittsburgh offense for much of the game.
“They executed very well, there is no doubt about that,” Brady said in a conference call. “They’re a very good defense, they’ve got guys that can rush the passer, they’ve got guys that can cover, they play the run well, they’re physical but they’re fast, especially at the linebacker position. They can do a lot of things defensively — they’re very versatile.”
“There’s a little bit of familiarity with playing them four weeks ago,” Brady added, “but I’m sure they’re going to have some new things in that we haven’t prepared for and see if they can make some plays that way.”
Belichick said playing the Broncos just a few weeks back makes this game feel a bit like a battle within the division.
But in bracing for what Belichick called a “one-game season” the New England head coach won’t read too much into what took place when the Broncos and Patriots met in Week 15.
“Normally, when you just play a team once, you go off the different films that you see of how they look against somebody else, but this is one where you can actually see the matchups in a game that’s already been played this season,” Belichick said. “That makes it a little bit different because you normally don’t get that from non-division teams that you play.”
“In the end, every game is its own game,” he added. “I’m sure there will be a lot of things that happen Saturday night that will be different than what happened last month. We’ll just wait and see what those are.”