After two years of finding themselves behind early en route to first-round exits, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots came out firing on all cylinders, leaving Tim Tebow and the Broncos in their dust en route to a 45-10 win in their first playoff game of the year.
For once being made to receive the ball to start the game, New England wasted no time at all showing why they were the top-scoring offense in the AFC. Starting from the 20-yard line, Tom Brady completed passes for 8 and 17 yards to BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Rob Gronkowski to bring the ball to midfield. There, Aaron Hernandez made a surprise appearance as a running back, breaking free up the left sideline and picking up 43 yards before he was taken down. With just seven yards to go, Brady found Wes Welker coming across the middle for the opening touchdown.
The ensuing drive from the Broncos would see the most sustained success they would have in the whole of the first half. Tim Tebow and Willis McGahee took the team from there own 25-yard line to New England's 37 in just five plays, but the attack would stop there. Coming up on Tebow from behind, Rob Ninkovich would knock the ball from the quarterback's hand, allowing Brandon spikes to pounce on the fumble for a turnover. Tom Brady would complete four passes for 37 yards on his way to the red zone, where he found a diving Rob Gronkowski in the corner of the end zone for his second touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
After a strong defensive showing forced the Broncos to punt, the Denver defense showed their only real fight of the night on the next drive, with Quinton Carter picking off Brady at the 40-yard line on an overthrown pass intended for Rob Gronkowski. Returning it all the way to the 25, Carter set up a quick drive for the Broncos culminating in a 5-yard run into the end zone for McGahee.
That was the last time the game would really be close. After trading punts, the Patriots started their next drive near midfield. A check down to Gronkowski, a quick toss to Deion Branch, and another run from Aaron Hernandez brought Brady within striking distance, and he once again found Gronkowski in the end zone to make it 21-7.
After trading punts again, the Patriots lined up at their own 28 and ran Danny Woodhead for 11 yards, and then Brady let loose. Going to the deep ball, Brady hit Deion Branch perfectly in stride for 26 yards through the air, and then another 35 on the ground to take a 28-7 lead on a two play touchdown drive. Getting the ball back at midfield with 69 seconds to go, Brady went ahead and put the game away, completing three of four passes before Rob Gronkowski made a record-tying third touchdown reception in only his second postseason game.
While the game was essentially wrapped up at that point, there were still a few highlights to come. After yet another three and out from the defense to start the third quarter, Brady found Aaron Hernandez to tie another NFL record with six touchdowns in a postseason game. And while the offense would quiet down from there, adding just one more field goal, the defense held Tim Tebow and the Broncos to three points in the whole second half to keep this from ever becoming a game.
Things did get a little heated when, on a 3rd-and-10 play in the fourth quarter, Bill Belichick sent Tom Brady out to perform a quick kick. As the ball rolled inside of the 10-yard line, Broncos linebacker Von Miller lashed out at an unsuspecting Dan Connolly, sparking a brawl that resulted in two unsportsmanlike penalties for the Broncos. From there, however, it was a quiet run to the finish line, and into the AFC Championship Game for the New England Patriots.