ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Even as two teams that won 12 and 13 games in the regular season fell all over themselves to try to be the underdog this week -- even John Elway offered that “no one thought" the Broncos would “get by" San Diego to even get this far -- the topic of the Denver Broncos' Nov. 24 trip to Foxborough, Mass., has come up more than once in recent days.
Come up in the framework of whether the New England Patriots' 34-31 overtime victory in a game the Broncos led 24-0 at halftime has any bearing on Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.
The Broncos rushed for 280 yards in the game and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw for 344 as both teams played half a game that was decided when a punt hit Tony Carter's leg and put the Patriots in position for the game-winning field goal.
“Again, just like I’m sure they’re doing, you look at things, you look at matchups, you look at schemes," Broncos coach John Fox said. “But that game will have little to nothing to do with this game. Typically, they’re always different."
Well, yes and no.
Certainly, Patriots coach Bill Belichick is known for rarely attacking a problem the same way twice. Or at least twice the same way in such a short period of time. And some of the names have already changed in the weeks since.
Whether it was the frigid conditions -- 22 degrees at kickoff with wind gusts of up to 40 miles an hour -- or Belichick’s usual crafty ways, the Patriots held Peyton Manning to 150 passing yards.
That was by far a season low in a game in which the Broncos spent virtually the entire game in their three-wide-receiver look -- every snap but two. The Broncos did not have tight end Julius Thomas in the lineup that night -- it was one of two games Thomas missed this season with a knee injury -- and the Patriots did well in doubling Wes Welker and forcing Manning away from his usual favorites.
Eric Decker finished that game with just one reception, and Demaryius Thomas and Welker, who had three drops in the game, had four receptions each. Overall, it was the worst outing of the season for the Broncos' pass-catchers as they finished with a season-high seven drops.
“And you have to clean those things up," Decker said. “If you have opportunities to make plays, you have to make them."
Defensively, the Broncos will not face do-it-all tight end Rob Gronkowski this time around -- he’s now on injured reserve -- so the Patriots' offense will look vastly different, at least as far as intent. The Patriots have been far more run-first in their approach in recent weeks as Brady has completed 14, 14 and 13 passes in the past three games, respectively.
In the last meeting, Brady used Gronkowski to get back in the game -- Gronkowski had seven receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown -- and Julian Edelman finished with 110 yards on his nine receptions, including two touchdowns. The Broncos figure to use veteran cornerback Champ Bailey, who did not play in the Nov. 24 game, at least some against Edelman.
“They came out and played a great second half of football, there is no doubt about that," said Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan. “There is nothing else to say. They just came out and played -- they fixed what they needed to fix, and we didn’t adjust well to what they fixed. We have to be able to, when we’re up, stay up, and, if we’re down, get up on them and keep them down.”
The Broncos also fumbled five times in November, losing three on a night when the teams lost a combined six fumbles.
But, in the end, the Broncos closed out the week wanting neither to remember that sliver of history all that much nor be doomed to repeat it. They have chosen to look at Sunday’s game as its own set of circumstances with a chance at the Super Bowl at stake.
“Every game is a learning experience, but that one really taught us something," Trevathan said. “It is a different day, a different attitude and a different mindset. We’re going to go out here and do what we have to do to get a win."
“You look at it, but they’ve been through a lot to get this far, we’ve been through a lot to get this far," Bailey said. “And a month is forever, and that was a month ago, almost two months. We’re on to this one, and you don’t need any more than that."