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Broncos may have helped push Patriots into Super Bowl LI

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Experience can be an unforgiving teacher at times.

For example, the Denver Broncos' Super Bowl win last February was built on the excruciating, ego-bashing evening in the Super Bowl two years prior. The Broncos were overwhelmed in a 35-point loss to a Seattle Seahawks team with a far better defense.

The Broncos may have had a hand in determining this season's AFC representative in the league's championship game. Because, much like the Broncos took notes and then action after the loss to the Seahawks, the New England Patriots look as if they took action after the loss to the Broncos in last January's AFC Championship Game.

Broncos general manager John Elway took the loss to the Seahawks and remade the Broncos from the highest-scoring offense in league history -- 606 points in 2013 -- into a defense-first team that won a title.

He did it with commitment in the draft and an open checkbook that reeled in DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward in the Broncos' free agency work in 2014. All three players have been named to at least one Pro Bowl with the Broncos.

Elway has called it "getting that edge, that personality and the ability to stop people in the passing game and keep them from scoring points."

The Patriots clearly took the 20-18 loss in the AFC Championship Game a year ago into their offseason. First they looked at the unprecedented punishment quarterback Tom Brady took in that game -- four sacks as well as numerous other hits -- and went to work.

They lured offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia out of retirement and the widely-respected coach was a big reason the Patriots went from 38 sacks allowed in 2015 to 24 this past season.

Bill Belichick also awarded Brady a power run game. The Patriots, who rushed for 44 yards against the Broncos last January with Brady as the team's leading rusher in that game, went from 30th in rushing in 2015 to seventh in rushing this season. They also ran the ball 99 more times this season than they did last season -- good for third in the league in rushing attempts.

Belichick made use of veteran defensive players as well when he added three former first-round picks to the roster. He signed Shea McClellin (Bears' first-round pick in 2012) and Chris Long (Rams' first-round pick in 2008) in free agency and also traded for Barkevious Mingo (Browns' first-round pick in 2013).

Just before the Broncos faced the Patriots in December, then-Broncos special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said: "I'm looking and I'm seeing guys who were No. 1 picks on special teams for them. … That shows you the importance of special teams for them and what kind of program they have."

The Patriots showed more teeth on defense with the additions -- and finished with the league's top scoring defense at 15.6 points allowed per game. They were 10th in scoring defense in 2015, at 19.7 points allowed per game.

Super Bowl LI will feature a battle between the league's top scoring defense and the league leaders in scoring this season. The Atlanta Falcons were the only team in the NFL to average more than 30 points per game.

The Patriots took the loss to the Broncos and did what teams that can compete for trophies do, according to Elway: "You have to adjust, you deal with change, you look at what happened and maybe why you didn't get it done and you try to fill those gaps. That's how you compete for world championships. You can't sit still. You have to be really honest about what you're doing and if it's working."