The inspiring run of the Broncos and QB Tim Tebow came to an end on Saturday night. It ended with as about as loud of a thud as it could, as the New England Patriots laid down a historic beat down of the Broncos, 45-10 in Foxboro.
Tom Brady, who took a backseat all week to Tebowmania, put his stamp on the night with six touchdown passes, five in the first half as the Pats made it a laugher by halftime.
The Patriots (14-3), winners of nine straight games, will move on to host either Baltimore or Houston next Sunday for a spot in the Super Bowl.
Saturday night’s romp snapped a three-game postseason losing streak, two of those at Gillette Stadium, and lifted the Patriots to the verge of their fifth Super Bowl appearance in 11 seasons. They’ve won it three times.
Brady’s night even included a punt, it coming with 2:56 remaining, 48 yards on a third down.
And so ended one of the season’s most exciting story lines — one that caught the nation’s attention and began when Denver was 1-4 and made Tebow a starter. The one-time third-stringer promptly won six in a row and seven of eight, with a string of stunning comebacks, and the Broncos ended up backing into the AFC West title.
Tebow was beat up and hit about as hard it at any point in his pro or college career. The Pats defense did their homework, and seemed to know the Broncos playbook all too well.
The second-year QB was just 9-for-26 for 136 yards with no touchdowns and no picks. Willis McGahee was about all the offense that Denver had, going for 76 yards on 17 carries with a TD that made it a 14-7 game early in the second quarter.
New England put the game away with two TD’s in the final two minutes of the first half. Already up 21-7, Brady threw a 61-yard score to Deion Branch, and then with just five ticks left in the half he hit TE Rob Gronkowski down the middle for a 19-yard TD to make it 35-7 at the break.
Gronkowski dominated the Broncos to the tune of three touchdowns on 10 catches for 145 yards. New England outgained the Broncos 509 yards to 252, even though the Broncos actually held the ball almost 7 minutes longer than the Pats.
Brady was 26 for 34 for 363 yards and Gronkowski made 10 catches for 145 yards as the Patriots gained 509 yards in all. In stark contrast, Tebow was 9 for 26 for 136 yards.
The Broncos won the coin toss and elected to defer. Bad idea: They never were in the game after that.
Brady hit his first eight passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who’s leaving to become Penn State’s coach once the Patriots are done, threw in a wrinkle by using TE Aaron Hernandez as a running back. On one of those plays, Hernandez broke free down the left sideline for a 43-yard gain, the team’s longest run this season.
But with the ball in his hands and a 14-0 lead, Brady momentarily stumbled. His throw over the middle for Julian Edelman sailed directly to safety Quinton Carter, whose weaving return set up Denver at the New England 24.
Carter left the game moments later with a neck injury; Denver was already without strong safety Brian Dawkins with a neck problem. And it’s secondary had no chance without them.
Brady was 26 for 34 for 363 yards with the six scores. The Pats defense, ranked 31st in the league, never looked like it. They hit hard all night, and never seemed to miss a tackle.
It’ll be a long flight home for Tebow, John Fox and the Broncs, but it’s a lesson learned and hopefully one they can build on for the offseason and 2012.