FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It’s no secret that Bill Belichick seldom reveals anything in his press briefings. But even by his standards, Belichick was singularly-focused in his daily chat with the media Tuesday.

Asked about Romeo Crennel getting the Kansas City Chiefs’ head coach job, asked about the college championship game won by good friend Nick Saban and Alabama on Monday night, Belichick deferred.

“I’m happy for Romeo but really my focus is on our team and what we have to do,” he said. “I’m happy for Nick. There’s a lot of things going on out here but I’ve got a commitment to this team and I’m going to try to do a good job coaching them for Saturday.”

Saturday would be the AFC Divisional Round playoff game against Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium.

It’s good that Belichick is so focused. Patriots fans hope his players are too.

Even those with the shortest memories still feel the sting of the last two playoff appearances by the Patriots at Gillette: a 28-21 loss to the hated New York Jets last January, a 33-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens the year before.

In fact, since winning Super Bowl XXXIX, when they beat Philadelphia 24-21, the Patriots’ last five playoff seasons have ended in losses.

So it’s no wonder that Tuesday’s message was to play like it could be your last game.

Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback/safety Devin McCourty each touched on that aspect of the game. But no one did it as emphatically as nose tackle Vince Wilfork.

In a press conference that lasted just under 20 minutes, Wilfork continually stressed the importance of starting strong and finishing strong — things that this team hasn’t always done well this year.

Even though the Patriots are the top seed in the AFC, they — like just about every Super Bowl contender this year — are a flawed team. Their defense is suspect. They’ve played from behind often in the second half of the season.

That includes a 41-23 victory at Denver on Dec. 18 after the Broncos got out to a 16-7 lead.

Then the Patriots fell behind 17-0 to Miami before rallying for a 27-24 victory on Christmas Eve. On New Year’s Day, Buffalo took a 21-0 lead before the Patriots scored 49 consecutive points.

“We can’t go out and fall behind early,” said Wilfork, a commanding presence even in his sweats. “If we do, it will be a long day for us. It’d be nice to start fast and finish well. I would like to see that at least once this year.”

Wilfork believes that Denver believes. The Broncos believe in Tebow, the fundamentally-challenged-but-still-winning quarterback. The Broncos believe, after stunning Pittsburgh in the wild-card round, that they can beat the Patriots.

“That’s a team that, all year, they’ve fought,” said Wilfork. “They’ll be fighting again this Saturday.”

Wilfork spoke at length about the keys to beating Denver. Stop the run. Defensive linemen staying in their lanes, not allowing Tebow to improvise.

“This game — you can’t take a chance,” said Wilfork. “If you do, it might cost you.”

But in the end, said Wilfork, Saturday’s victory will be forged in Tuesday’s practice. And Wednesday’s. And Thursday’s.

“If you don’t play well, you don’t win,” said Wilfork. “We’ve got to play to win. If we want to move on and move forward, we have to play well. And prepare well. You can’t just show up on Saturday thinking everything is going to be OK.

“You have to go there and make things happen in practice — give us the edge in practice to have the confidence on Saturday to make plays. Our goal is preparing well and playing well. If you don’t do that, you don’t have a chance.”

Certainly game adjustments will have to be made. In the first meeting between the teams, Denver rushed for 167 yards in the first quarter but gained just 85 the rest of the game.

But beyond that, said Wilfork, the Patriots need to have the right frame of mind.

“This is our whole season,” he said. “I’m expecting everything (from the Broncos). I’m expecting them to throw the kitchen sink. You lose now you go home and I think every team understands that.

“Before it’s too late, you’ve got to understand what you’re going in to. You have to understand the battle you’re going into.”


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