January 15, 2012 in Sports

Patriots rout Broncos

Barry Wilner Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, left, needs only 10 playoff TD passes to become the NFL’s all-time leader.
(Full-size photo)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tom Brady threw six touchdown passes, five in the first half, putting the New England Patriots into the AFC championship game after roughing up Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos 45-10 Saturday night.

The Patriots (14-3), winners of nine straight games, will host either Baltimore or Houston next Sunday for a spot in the Super Bowl. “We came in and started fast and it was a big win for us,” said Brady, who even got off a 48-yard punt on third down.

“He’s been around the block a few times. He knows how to win games,” the Broncos’ Champ Bailey said of Brady. “If you’re not ready to punch him in the mouth, he’s going to eat you up all night.”

A nation transfixed by Tebow’s play, if not his principles, tuned in Saturday to see if he had more heroics in store for Brady and company. He had nothing left as the Patriots made this must-see TV only for those who live in New England.

With New England up 42-7, the fans began their derisive Teeee-bow chants.

On the next play, the Broncos’ quarterback was sacked for an 11-yard loss – one of five sacks for New England’s 31st-ranked defense.

“We went out and played very hard and good things happened,” defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. “A great team win.”

And so ended one of the season’s most exciting story lines – one that 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 comebacks.

“I was really proud of what he showed and where he brought this football team,” coach John Fox said. “We’re a work in progress.”

But they rebounded nicely in their first playoff game since the 2005 season with the longest overtime touchdown in playoff history, an 80-yard catch and run by Demaryius Thomas against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Denver couldn’t cover or tackle All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who tied a postseason mark with three touchdown catches, all in the opening half. Brady toyed with the Broncos (9-9), throwing more TD passes than Tebow had completions (three) in the first 30 minutes.

“We were playing complementary football, and it was awesome,” Gronkowski said. “Obviously, you can’t start off the game any better than that.”

Brady’s sixth TD was to his other tight end, Aaron Hernandez, as the quarterback tied Steve Young and Daryle Lamonica for the most in a postseason game.

The two-time league MVP threw for 5,235 yards during the season, second in NFL history to Drew Brees’ 5,476 in 2011. He looked ready to get that much against the Broncos as he moved to third place in career touchdown passes in the playoffs with 36, trailing Joe Montana (45) and Brett Favre (44).

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. They never were in the game after that.

Brady hit his first eight passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns. 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.

Willis McGahee scored on a 5-yard run.

Brady’s TDs covered 10, 12 and 19 yards to Gronkowski, 7 to Wes Welker, 61 to Deion Branch and 17 yards to Hernandez early in the third quarter.

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