On the road, up against a team that has time-and-again pulled off the win even when it seemed all hope was lost, the Patriots picked apart the Broncos defense, debunked the myth of Tebow, and left AFC East Champions.
For Patriots fans, the result is perhaps not what they expected after the first quarter. In 15 minutes which saw the Broncos' ground game absolutely dominate the New England defense, Denver grabbed an early 13-7 lead (having botched the extra point on their first touchdown), and forced a punt from the Patriots on their second drive. It was arguably the most inept display in a quarter all season from the Patriots' defense.
But then the second quarter began, and it was as though an entirely different team had taken the field. The defense quickly held in the red zone, forcing a field goal, and then the offense went to work. While the Broncos defense had managed to take away Rob Gronkowski and BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the first quarter (amazingly, it was Chad Ochocinco who finally found his way into the end zone to put the Patriots on the board), in the second the Patriots turned instead to Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead, who covered much of the 80 yards that they needed to reach the end zone.
If the Patriots were changed for the better, the Broncos were changed for the worse. On the first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive, Lance Ball had the ball stripped by Ron Brace, setting up an easy field goal. On the very next drive, it was Tebow coughing up the ball, this time allowing the Patriots to drive for seven points when Tom Brady snuck in from the 1-yard line.
It looked like that was all New England would get in the half when they failed to capitalize on a last-minute drive, but one more turnover cost the Broncos even more points, as Quan Cosby muffed the punt allowing Stephen Gostkowski to put the Pats up 27-16 at the half.
After a couple of punts started the second half, the Patriots set to working on the clock, going with short passes and runs to eat up time. It didn't hurt that, with some runs after catches, they managed to pick up big yards along the way. Setting up 10 yards from the end zone, Tom Brady handed the ball off to Danny Woodhead, who made a nasty cut and scurried past the goal line untouched for six more points.
The Denver Broncos did not quite go quietly into that good night in the fourth, as Tebow Time made a brief appearance. After Tebow had narrowly avoided giving up a safety and a touchdown on the previous drive, he managed to rally his troops for one big push against a Patriots secondary that once again proved out-of-sorts in pass coverage. Tebow found Demaryius Thomas for 39 yards on a 3rd-and-18 play, dumped off a short pass to Lance Ball that ended up going for 34 more, and then took the ball in himself from two yards out.
The rally would die almost as soon as it had started, however, with Tom Brady finally finding Rob Gronkowski for a big gain of 38 yards, and then alternating between short passes to Aaron Hernandez and handing the ball off to Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead to set up a short BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown run that iced the game at 41-23.
|Final - 12.18.2011||1||2||3||4||Total|
|New England Patriots||7||20||7||7||41|
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