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FOXBORO (CBS) - The New England Patriots playoff losing streak is over, and they kicked it in blowout fashion.
Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos came into Gillette Stadium Saturday night and will not soon forget what Tom Brady and company did to them. The Patriots were clicking on all three phases of the ball, and finally put together the 60-minutes of football they wanted all season.
They’re reward: hosting the AFC Championship next weekend.
Here are the key contributors from the Patriots 45-10 win:
He started a perfect 8-for-8 and his only blemish in the game was a second quarter interception. Other than that, Brady was on, finishing the game 26-of-34 for 363 yards and six touchdowns. It was vintage Brady as he picked apart the Broncos secondary, finding seven different receivers. He set an NFL record with five TDs in the first half. Brady also surpassed Dan Marino and is now fifth all-time in postseason passing yards. Do you think Tom was sick of all that Tebow talk leading up to this game?
“He was on fire man, that’s just how he is,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said after the game. “It’s Tom just throwing the ball in the playoffs just like any other game. Give credit to the O-line, giving him so much time to throw the ball, getting the wide receivers get open… Overall it was good offense, good defense; a good team victory.”
“The team revolves around him,” said tight end Aaron Hernandez. “When he comes to play, which is he mostly does every game, we’re going to be on fire. When he’s ready, we’re all ready.”
He was quiet in the Week 15 meeting in Denver, but exploded on the big stage. Gronk caught three touchdowns, and that was just in the first half. That tied an NFL record for receiving touchdowns in a half, and the second-year tight end finished with 10 receptions for 145 yards. He’s been huge all season, and that didn’t change when the spotlight got brighter.
“That boy is a monster,” Hernandez said of Gronk. “He makes plays, and big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.”
The Patriots other tight end did it all against the Broncos. He lined up as a running back on numerous occasions, and ran for 61 yards on five carries. Most of those yards came on a 43-yard run he broke at the beginning of the game. As a receiver, Hernandez caught four passes for 55 yards and a touchdown. The Broncos had no answer for the powerful and speedy tight end, and the Patriots made the most of it.
“I just do what the coaches ask me,” said Hernandez. “They put me in positions to make plays, and I just try to help the team try to get to this big game.”
“That was unbelievable, his runs and everything. A tight end at running back just carrying the ball 40-yards, 10-yards, I mean that’s crazy,” said Gronkowski.
The linebacker struggled in Denver, but whatever was wrong last month he fixed for Saturday night. Ninkovich forced a first quarter fumble, recovered by Brandon Spikes, and was pressuring Tebow all night. He finished with five tackles (four solo), 1.5 sacks and a tackle for a loss.
“All year we’ve been really preaching starting fast, four quarters, finishing the game, and really this was our first four-quarter game,” said Ninkovich.
“This is a one-game season now, so coming into this game we knew the loser was going home and not playing again,” he continued. “We put in a lot of work. You think of all the work that goes into getting back to this number-one seed, the 13-wins. Last season having the great season we had, and that terrible feeling you have after a great season and having nothing to show for it. We really take that to heart that this is a one-game season. Whoever we have to play is going to be a great team, they’re going to come in here and it’s going to be a good game.”
Patriots fans have been waiting for a big game out of the Florida linebacker, and he had it against his former teammate in Tebow. Spikes was all over the place and made some hard hits. He recovered the fumble in the first quarter that set up a Pats touchdown. They’ve always said when healthy, he is in impact player. He looked healthy, and made an impact. Let’s hope he can keep it up.
Patriots Defensive Line
After allowing 252 rushing yards to the Broncos in Week 15, the Patriots defense held Denver to 252 yards total. Vince Wilfork, Gerard Warren and Mark Anderson all had strong games for New England. Wilfork had 1.5 sacks, and even Shaun Ellis chimed in with one. He had a big hit on Tebow in the third quarter after missing his first attempt. In all, the Patriots had eight QB hits and 10 tackles for a loss.
Patriots Offensive Line
Brady took some licks last time the two teams met up, but barely got his uniform dirty Saturday night. He was sacked just once, and the Broncos only got two quarterback hits in the game thanks to strong play by his O-Line. They’ll have to repeat this performance next week against either the Ravens or Texans.
Tune in the Patriots in the AFC Championship game Sunday, January 22 at 3pm on 98.5 The Sports Hub and WBZ-TV.