Amnesia spreads in Foxborough

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Familiarity may breed contempt, but as far as the Patriots and the Broncos are concerned, it doesn't necessarily lead to an advantage one way or the other.

At least, that was the prevailing opinion coming out of New England's locker room and via a conference call to Denver on Tuesday in advance of the Patriots-Broncos playoff showdown Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.

Only four weeks ago, the Patriots went out to Denver and, after falling behind early, took advantage of turnovers in demolishing the Broncos, 41-23.

On Saturday night they will meet again, with New England (13-3) boasting the lofty status as the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

Denver, though, will enter the game on a Rocky Mountain high, thanks to its pulsating 29-23 upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a win that was secured on the first play of overtime -- an electrifying and stunning 80-yard pass-and-run connection from Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas.

Given the Pats' rout in Denver, it would seem as if they should easily have the upper hand when the teams meet again in Foxborough on Saturday night. That is the prevailing opinion in Las Vegas, certainly, which has installed New England as a heavy favorite.

But that game on Dec. 18 apparently has been erased from the memory banks in New England.

The Patriots have developed a strong pervasive case of amnesia, the disease seemingly contracted by head coach Bill Belichick and passed around the locker room.

"We played them four weeks ago, so we are familiar with them, but that first game means nothing to us," said safety James Ihedigbo on Tuesday. "We're just thinking about the [Saturday night] game now. It's how can we prepare best for this game. It's all about who prepares the best and plays the best on Saturday.

"It's a one-game season, so it's all hands on deck. It's all about preparation," said Ihedigbo.

Fellow safety Patrick Chung echoed the Pats' chorus.

"Four weeks ago is four weeks ago. They have a great team with great players. We have to get ready to play a good game against them. The coaches prepare us and we have to go out and execute," said Chung.

The Broncos, meanwhile, remember that game. They remember most of all the three turnovers they committed, all of them coming in the second quarter, that turned their 16-7 lead into a 34-16 deficit heading into the fourth quarter.

"I felt that game was a good learning experience," said Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow on Tuesday.

"There's a lot we can learn from that game. There definitely were some things we did well, and there definitely were things we didn't do well that we can improve on. Hopefully we can do just a little bit better this time around. There are different game plans for every game, and I'm sure our coaches will put in a good game plan, and then we have to go out and execute it," he said.

"We definitely made some mistakes [in the last game]. The three turnovers made it easier [for the Patriots]. Give them credit. They played well. We have to minimize the turnovers, convert more on third down and do a better job in the red zone," said Tebow.

One thing that has changed between the teams in the last four weeks is that New England has re-hired Josh McDaniels, who, in a controversial move, made Tebow a No. 1 draft pick in 2010 when he was coaching in Denver.

McDaniels, who lasted only one-plus season with the Broncos before getting fired during the 2010 campaign, was let out of his contract as offensive coordinator with the Rams last week so he could sign with New England, for whom he coached before taking the reins with the Broncos.

That hiring, said Tebow, should have nothing to do with Saturday night's game.

"This is about the Broncos and the Patriots," said Tebow. "I wish him nothing but the best. He's a great coach. He'll do a great job. But I'm confident our coaches will do a good job [countering any of McDaniels' Bronco intelligence]."

So it's all about Jan. 14, and not about what happened on Dec. 18 or any other date since.

"It's like a second go-round in your division, when you play each team twice," said Denver coach John Fox. "We had the first go-round in Denver and this go-round is in Foxborough.

"Most people will tell you there are three levels of intensity during the season. There's the preseason, the regular season and the playoff season. That picks it up a notch [in the playoffs] because if you lose, you go home. There's familiarity on both sides, but it will still come down to who executes on game day."

Steven Krasner is a regular contributor to ESPNBoston.com.