The Patriots were a much different team on Oct. 16 — when they lost to the Broncos, 28-20 — than they are today.
Players that didn’t play against the Broncos:
* Running back Corey Dillon –- Was coming off a 23-carry, 106-yard performance against the Falcons. Dillon dressed for the Broncos game but didn’t play after seeing action in the team’s first five games.
* Running back Kevin Faulk –- Missed his third game in a row after injuring his foot against the Steelers on Sept. 25, forcing the Patriots to go with Patrick Pass and Amos Zereoue (no longer on team) at running back.
* Linebacker Tedy Bruschi –- During the game, it was announced that Bruschi’s comeback from a stroke was taking its next step and that he’d join the team at practice that week.
* Receiver Troy Brown –- A foot injury keeps the Patriots’ jack of all trades out for his first game of the season.
* Defensive lineman Richard Seymour –- After injuring his knee against the Chargers, All-Pro misses his second straight game.
The lineup, then and now:
Then: Nick Kaczur –- Rookie was making his third career start.
Now: Nick Kaczur –- Saturday’s game will mark his 13th career start (playoffs included)
Then: Logan Mankins –- Rookie was making his sixth career start, although was ejected at the end of the second quarter.
Now: Logan Mankins –- Saturday’s game will mark his 18th career start (playoff included)
Then: Dan Koppen –- Third-year veteran was making his 37th straight start.
Now: Russ Hochstein –- When Koppen suffered a season-ending shoulder injury on Nov. 13, unheralded fifth-year veteran stepped in and has started the last eight games. Prior to this year, Hochstein had six career starts, all coming at either guard or as a third tight end.
Then: Stephen Neal –- After starting the final 17 games in 2004, fourth-year veteran had solidified his starting role.
Now: Stephen Neal –- One of only three offensive players (Logan Mankins, Tom Brady) to start all 16 regular-season games.
Then: Tom Ashworth –- Fourth-year veteran opened the year as the starter, reclaiming the job he had before suffering a season-ending injury six games into the 2004 season.
Now: Brandon Gorin –- When Ashworth was inactive on Nov. 13 against the Dolphins (knee), Gorin stepped in and has started the last nine games.
Then: Daniel Graham/Christian Fauria –- Team was working out of a lot of two tight end sets.
Now: Benjamin Watson –- Although it can change from game to game, the Patriots have went with fewer multiple tight end packages, and more three-wide sets that feature one tight end, which is usually Watson.
Then: Deion Branch/David Givens –- Tandem was en route to becoming one of the NFL’s most productive 1-2 punches.
Now: Deion Branch/David Givens –- Branch finished with 78 catches for 998 yards and five touchdowns, while Givens had 59 catches for 738 yards and two scores.
Then: Tom Brady –- Was 24-of-46 for 299 yards, 1 touchdown, no interceptions and a 79.9 passer rating.
Now: Tom Brady –- Finishing third in the NFL’s MVP voting, he ends up 334-of-530 for 4,110 yards, 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions on the season.
Then: Patrick Pass/Amos Zereoue — With Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk out, the Patriots were down to just two healthy backs. Pass rushed for a career-high 64 yards on 10 carries.
Now: Corey Dillon/Kevin Faulk — Team’s 1-2 punch is back, although Dillon (733 yards, 209 carries) has yet to find the groove.
Then: Ty Warren/Jarvis Green –- Green, a fourth-year veteran, was filling in for Seymour at right defensive end, while Warren was making his 22nd straight regular-season start.
Now: Ty Warren/Richard Seymour –- Seymour missed four games with a knee injury and his return has sparked the team’s defensive resurgence; Warren started every game this season; Green returned to his role as a sub rusher.
Then: Vince Wilfork –- After taking over full-time duties from Keith Traylor entering the 2005 season, second-year player was still finding his groove, saying his technique was slightly off.
Now: Vince Wilfork –- A starter in every game this season, he’s been a rock at the heart of the team’s 3-4 defense.
Then: Rosevelt Colvin/Willie McGinest –- Colvin drew his first start of the season, while McGinest was making his sixth straight start. The move to Colvin was sparked when inside linebacker Monty Beisel spent much of the week in the hospital, forcing the team to move outside linebacker Mike Vrabel to inside linebacker.
Now: Rosevelt Colvin/Willie McGinest –- Since the first meeting against the Broncos, the Colvin/McGinest pairing has started every game (12).
Then: Mike Vrabel/Chad Brown –- It was Vrabel’s first start on the inside after ascending as a pass rusher on the outside; Brown was making his fifth straight start, thrust into the role after Ted Johnson’s unexpected retirement on the eve of training camp.
Now: Mike Vrabel/Tedy Bruschi – Vrabel has started the last 12 games at inside linebacker, while Bruschi successfully returned from a stroke, earning Associated Press co-Comeback Player of the Year honors. Bruschi is coming off a calf injury and his status for Saturday’s game is unknown.
Then: Asante Samuel/Duane Starks –- Samuel was making his sixth straight start at left corner, while Starks was the team’s third different starter on the right side, following Tyrone Poole (1) and Randall Gay (1).
Now: Asante Samuel/Ellis Hobbs –- The team stuck with Starks for three more games, before inserting Hobbs against the Dolphins on Nov. 13. The rookie has accounted for himself well, starting the last nine games.
Then: Eugene Wilson/James Sanders –- Wilson was starting his sixth of 17 games this year, while Sanders was making his first career start, following Rodney Harrison (3) and Guss Scott (2).
Now: Eugene Wilson/Artrell Hawkins –- Wilson has been a constant, while Hawkins became the seventh different starter next to him, following Rodney Harrison, Guss Scott, James Sanders, Arturo Freeman, Randall Gay and Michael Stone. Hawkins’ presence has helped solidify the secondary.
The Patriots had all of their specialists — kicker Adam Vinatieri, punter Josh Miller, long snapper Lonie Paxton — for the Oct. 16 game in Denver. Their special teams coverage units were also generally intact.
Looking ahead, the Patriots travel to Denver on Friday. There is no media access until kickoff. We’ll plan on posting our next update Friday evening.