Tebow was certainly dispirited after the Pats routed the Broncos Saturday night. He and his teammates couldn’t figure New England on either side of the ball, leaving them all scratching their heads.
Saturday’s match-up between Tom Brady and Tim Tebow drew the highest television ratings for an NFL Divisional Round playoff game in 13 years. Too bad it wasn’t much of a contest. The New England Patriots absolutely destroyed the Denver Broncos 45-10, ending the hype surrounding Tim Tebow (at least for this season) and leaving them just one game shy of advancing to their first Super Bowl since 2008. The Patriots were firing on all cylinders, scoring consistently on offense and stifling the Broncos on defense. For weeks, players have been mentioning their desire to play 60 minutes of football, and for the first time all season they did just that. The oft-humble and emotionally-reserved Bill Belichick was extremely impressed with his team’s complete effort, so impressed, in fact, that he let his happiness with their play show in his post-game press conference; not only was he seen smiling when talking about the performance of his players, he was also joking with the media which he so maligns.
“I can’t say enough about our players. They obviously did a great job. They were obviously ready to play,” the head coach said. “They stepped up and made plays throughout 60 minutes.”
Wide receiver Wes Welker recognized the importance of playing solid football for a full game. “We talk about it all the time, and this was the time to do it,” Welker said. “It really came together today.”
I had mentioned before the postseason how the team was yearning to play an entire game of solid football and that, when they did, the end result would be hazardous for the opposing team. Saturday’s performance exemplified just how hazardous. It was clear as soon as he took the first snap from center Dan Connolly that Tom Brady had something to prove. Whether he was thinking about the recent failures of the Pats’ playoff past, or the comparisons being made between Tebow carrying the Broncos and Brady’s leadership in New England’s 2001 Super Bowl-winning season, Tom came out firing against a Denver ‘D’ that veteran corner Champ Bailey claimed had learned from their mistakes in Week 15. If they did, they had amnesia once they encountered the single-digit temperatures and electrified crowd present inside Gillette Stadium.
It took the Pats offense just under a minute and a half to put points on the board, Brady finding the “slot machine” Welker over the middle for a seven-yard TD and the game’s first score. Just seven minutes later, New England added another seven when tight end Rob Gronkowski made a highlight-reel catch on Brady’s pass in the back left corner of the end zone. Gronk showed a rare feat of athleticism on the play for a guy his size, diving while popping the ball up with his right hand and eventually securing it against his chest as he crashed to the ground for the 14-0 first-quarter lead. Brady didn’t stop there, however. In the second quarter, following a Wills McGahee TD run after Tom’s lone bad throw of the day turned into an interception, he led three consecutive scoring drives to make it 35-7 by the end of the first half. Brady found Gronkowski from 12 yards out over the middle, Branch on a 61-yard fly down the left sideline, and Gronk once again on a 19-yard seam route to set an NFL postseason record for the most touchdown passes in a half with five. And to add insult to injury he threw another TD in the third quarter after a Broncos three-and-out, tying an NFL record with six passing scores in a playoff game after the other talented tight end Aaron Hernandez took a Brady pass in on a 17-yard catch-and-run.
Led by Brady’s record-setting day, the quarterback going 26-of-34 with 363 yards, six touchdowns, and one fluky pick, the offensive unit put forth a strong performance. Clearly the playcalling of coordinator Bill O’Brien and assistant Josh McDaniels kept the Broncos off-balance, with defenders not knowing what to expect every time the Patriots offense took the field. The two coaches even lined Hernandez up at the half-back position, completely confusing Denver and allowing the elusive TE to lead the team in rushing with 61 yards on just five carries. O’Brien and McDaniels also designed some pretty effective protection schemes to keep Brady’s pocket clean, with speed-rusher Von Miller only getting one clean shot at him after Tom had already gotten a pass away. Nate Solder did a tremendous job handling the Broncos’ other primary pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil one-on-one, the rookie tackle not letting the defensive end anywhere near his QB all game.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots defense held Denver to 10 points on 252 total yards in a very impressive effort for a group that, statistically, was the second-worst in NFL history during the regular season. They were disciplined and stayed true to their gap assignments, not letting the Broncos’ league-leading rushing attack run all over them like Week 15 and containing the deep ball from Tebow after his successful passing outing against the Pittsburgh Steelers in their wild card match-up. The defensive line helped contain Denver’s run game by setting the edge and forcing option plays back to the inside of the field. The D-line simply overpowered Denver’s offensive group, pushing them back and not only making tackles in the backfield but getting to Tebow for four of the team’s five sacks. They had him on the run all day, and while Tim prefers to play out of the pocket the pressure from the large front-line defenders and also linebacker Rob Ninkovich forced him to get the ball away earlier than he wanted. Ninkovich had the other of the defense’s five sacks, forcing a fumble on the play which was recovered by Tebow’s former Gatormate Brandon Spikes. In the game, Tim completed just nine of his 26 passing attempts for a measly 136 yards.
I know Saturday’s blowout victory came against the Denver Broncos, but the way the Patriots completely outplayed them certainly gave me even more confidence in the team. The players have said for weeks that they can execute better, and based on their recent performance it seems as if they’re backing up their words. They are definitely the hottest team in the NFL playoffs besides the New York Giants, who are playing even more consistently than our Pats, and I’m confident that New England will maintain their solid play even when the physical Baltimore Ravens come into Foxboro this Sunday to play for the AFC Championship. Mark my words: they will not lose to Baltimore. Not this year. Not one game away from a chance to play for the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl trophy. There’s just too much motivating them: solidifying Brady and Belichick’s legacy, the organization’s pride, and the memory of the late Myra Kraft. I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again, New England sports fans; this is their year.