Patriots impressed by Broncos

Like football fans across the country, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick watched what unfolded Sunday in Denver closely.

When quarterback Tim Tebow connected with receiver Demaryius Thomas on an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first snap of overtime to lift the Denver Broncos to a stunning victory, it was time for him to get to work.

"It didn't take long -- one play," Belichick said Monday, already deep in game-planning preparations for Saturday's AFC divisional round game against Denver. "Well-executed play by the Broncos and it was decisive."

After a rocky start in a Dec. 18 matchup in Denver, the Patriots were decisive in posting a 41-23 victory over the Broncos. With a rematch less than a month later, this time with higher stakes, Belichick compared the situation to facing a division foe for the second time in a season.

"You know them, they know you, but you really need to go back and look at a lot of little details, the keys and see the adjustments that we need to make," he said. "Our preparation starts all over again. We need to be very detailed and get a good handle on everything and carry that execution over onto the practice field and into the game on Saturday."

Just as it did in December, the matchup of the quarterbacks -- New England's Tom Brady and the Broncos' Tebow -- is sure to generate headlines.

"(Tebow is) a good player, and I think it's a lot for the defense to prepare for," Brady said Monday on Boston sports radio WEEI. "I know in our preparations for him this last time, it's a challenge. It's a very different style. But they're very effective. They have a very good team. It's certainly not about one player on this team. I know a lot of people make it out to be one player on a lot of teams, but the reason why the Denver Broncos are in this position is their team as a whole. Certainly, the way that Tim played yesterday, it was just a great win all around by them.

"We've got a big challenge. We realized going into Denver how challenging a game that would be. We were the beneficiaries of some turnovers. We're going to hopefully get some turnovers this weekend."

After trailing the Broncos early in the game, the Patriots turned things around by adjusting their defensive game plan and forcing three key turnovers in the second quarter.

"That game that we played in Denver four weeks ago will mean nothing," Brady said. "The determining factor in this game will be our level of execution. That's why we'll need to be at our best."

In the Week 15 game, the Broncos did a nice job of shutting down the Patriots' two top weapons in the passing game -- Wes Welker (4 catches, 41 yards) and Rob Gronkowski (4 catches, 53 yards) -- but Aaron Hernandez picked up the slack with nine receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown.

"Aaron had a great game. I think the thing about our offense is, I'm going to just try to find the open guy," Brady said. "Wes had four catches. This week he may have 15 and Gronk may have 15 . You just never know. We're going to try to spread it around to different guys, make them cover the whole field.

"It's just a matter of who they're trying to cover, what they're trying to defend, where the coverage is packed. Sometimes it's packed in the inside, you have to throw outside, when it's packed on the outside you have to throw it inside. When they're covering short, you have to throw it deep.

"All of that goes into everyone being disciplined, being in the spots they need to be in and trying to take advantage of what we see out there. There's no magic formula to scoring points. It's got to be execution, discipline and anticipation, everyone going out doing their job and being on the same page."

Brady also echoed sentiments expressed by his teammates last week, that the Patriots can't afford to play from behind out of the gate. In their last three games, New England was outscored in the first quarter and had to rally back (including against Denver).

"How the game plays out in the first quarter is usually how it's going to go. You try to get to your best stuff early," Brady said. "That's why it's important for us to start fast this week, something we can do a better job of. When you see how the game's going to play out you have to make adjustments. We've done a good job of that this year. I'm excited. I'm sure there's not a lot of guys on our team that slept great last night. We're excited to have this opportunity."

The Patriots have lost their last three playoff games and find themselves in the same position they were last year -- a No. 1 seed hosting a game at Gillette Stadium. Last season, they lost to the Jets, 28-21.

"On behalf of the entire organization, we're excited to be playing in the divisional playoff round," Belichick said. "We have a lot to get ready for with Denver coming in here. That was a great win for them yesterday, a really impressive game. We spent time on all three teams last week and so we very quickly got zoned in on Denver last night and of course today."

Belichick is impressed with what he's seen from the Broncos, calling them "a really solid team that has performed well in every area."

He also lauded Tebow's performance.

"Tebow has done a good job of keeping plays alive with his athleticism," he said. "He's able to get his eyes downfield and make connections for big plays in the passing game that are improvised or come off a scramble or come after the play has already started to develop that he and his receivers do a great job of adjusting to.

"They made several of them yesterday against Pittsburgh and we all know what kind of defense Pittsburgh has and how good they were statistically in so many areas. It just didn't play out that way yesterday because Denver was able to execute very well against them. That will be a big challenge for us in all three areas of the game, but offensively they looked very good yesterday."

ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss contributed to this report.