FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — In the film “Super Bowl LI Champions: New England Patriots,” viewers are taken behind the curtain and into the locker room following a 16-3 victory over the Denver Broncos that clinched the 2016 AFC East championship.
In that moment, head coach Bill Belichick said, “We’ve been hearing all week about how the Patriots can’t come and win in Denver. But not this team. Not this team.”
Belichick, sharing how proud he was of his ’16 squad, repeated himself for effect.
The behind-the-scenes moment is timely to pass along as the Patriots prepare for another visit to Denver on Sunday (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET).
Belichick needs this team to prove the same thing.
That might explain why one of the first things he mentioned to players early this week was Denver’s impressive sellout streak, which is now at 48 years running and almost 400 straight games. Then when Belichick met with reporters, he said, “The fans have a lot of energy. It’s a great crowd, a great football environment. Sunday night, I’m sure that place will be lit up.”
Quarterback Tom Brady said the sellout streak speaks volumes about the Broncos’ fan base, which has a trademark “In-Com-Plete” chant when opposing quarterbacks don’t connect with their intended receiver. Brady is 3-7 in road games against the Broncos (including playoffs), which is his worst road win percentage against a single team that he’s faced more than once.
One of those losses — a 30-24 decision in overtime — came in 2015 when Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler played one of the best games of his pro career with 270 passing yards. That game was later cited as one reason the Houston Texans aggressively pursued Osweiler as a free agent after that season.
Now the Patriots face Osweiler again as they make a regular-season trip to Denver for the third straight year.
“We’ve always had some tough games out there,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “That’s a tough place to play — just the environment and atmosphere. They have a great fan base that really gets behind the team and those guys play well at home against us. That’s the difficult part.”
The Broncos also like to remind opponents, with a sign outside of the visitors’ locker room, of the elevation (5,280 feet above sea level).
The Patriots are scheduled to travel to Denver on Friday, which will give them all day Saturday to get a feel for the altitude. Then come Sunday night, they know the silent snap count will be critical.
“It’s tough communication-wise,” Brady said. “But when you play good teams, I think the margin of error is even more slim, and [Denver] has always had a good football team.”
That might be debatable in 2017, but the Patriots can be guaranteed they will be challenged by the environment nonetheless.
“If you like football,” center David Andrews said, “these are the kind of games you get ready to go for.”