FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – To everybody who thought this neat thing the Denver Broncos and Tim Tebow were doing was going to last, the New England Patriots and Tom Brady made an emphatic, yet rhetorical, statement:
Are you freaking kidding?
New England advanced to next weekend's AFC championship game at home against the winner of Sunday's game between the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens game with a 45-10 thrashing of Denver. The Patriots, as they have been wont to do over the years, played at a relentless pace for much of the game as Brady finished with an NFL playoff-record-tying six touchdown passes and a team record for passing yards (363) in a playoff game.
"This was Tom and what he does," wide receiver Deion Branch said with a broad smile. "I wouldn't say it was his best game. There have been some others like this, but this was right up there with all the good ones."
While Brady wouldn't bite on whether this game had become somewhat personal with all the attention placed on Tebow, he politely chided the media and public for focusing so much on one person. Throughout the week, front-page stories on newspapers and media sites around the country and relentless coverage on ESPN (the network did a full hour of coverage on Tebow at one point in the week) were dedicated to the game's other signal caller.
Never mind that Tebow's counterpart is one of the greatest to ever play the game.
"A lot of people focused on one player," Brady said. "We were focused on the entire Denver team because we knew the challenge we were facing."
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Still, the gap in this game was a chasm defined by the art of the forward pass. How staggering was the difference between Tebow and Brady? Entering the fourth quarter with the score 42-10, Brady had more touchdown passes (six) than Tebow had completions (five).
It would be enough to say this game was a rollover, a superior team and quarterback putting away a lesser team and inexperienced passer. But that wasn't all. What the Patriots did was reaffirm what today's NFL is all about.
This is a passing league and, as of now, Tebow's skills in that regard are at best primitive. Yeah, the young man had a nice first-round win against Pittsburgh when the Steelers played one of the most undisciplined defensive schemes you'll see.
By contrast, New England's defense was a blueprint for stopping Denver's various option and triple-option plays. The Patriots, who came into this game with some of the worst defensive statistics in the league and got lit up by the Broncos in the first quarter a month ago, were impressively disciplined. Time and again, the defenders forced Tebow to commit on the run (the Broncos had 100 mostly empty rushing yards in the first half) and then harassed him when he had to throw (three for 10 for 28 yards in the first half).
If not for some meaningless yards in the fourth quarter, Tebow's night would have been a complete embarrassment.
"We were truly prepared for what we saw and how to handle it," said New England linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who had 1½ sacks. "We had problems with them the last time and we focused on making sure we fixed that."
And Tebow got a full look at what a great passer looks like at the height of his powers. Brady, a three-time Super Bowl champion and perhaps the best quarterback of his generation, had to answer questions all week about a guy who hasn't started a full season of games, let alone done anything of significance in this league.
Not that Brady, who threw five touchdown passes in the first half, needed additional motivation. He and the Patriots had plenty coming in without the specter of Tebow. They came in with a three-game postseason losing streak. Brady came in having thrown seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in his past four postseason games, leading to a ragged 72.7 rating.
Most of all, Brady came in knowing that between being 34 years old and having an often faulty offense, it was time to get things done.
"It's all about winning," Brady said. "You lose a few playoff games and it's a very bitter way to end the season and it sits on your mind for quite a long time. For us to come out and play the way we did, have a very solid performance in the most important game of the year is very gratifying."
The Patriots played to Brady's strength by putting him in a no-huddle attack for the first three quarters. From there, Brady turned this into a clinic and New England reached the AFC title game for the sixth time in 11 years. The Patriots are one game from a fifth Super Bowl appearance in that time. Brady completed his first eight passes as they scored on their first two possessions.
After a couple of scoreless possessions, the Patriots scored three more touchdowns in the final 7:42 of the first half to put the game away. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was the biggest beneficiary of Brady's record-setting evening, grabbing three touchdown catches to tie a postseason mark held by 17 other receivers. He is only the second tight end in that group, joining Oakland's Dave Caspar.
Gronkowski finished with 10 catches for 145 yards. Brady completed 26 of 34 with one interception. And there was no longer any question who was the dominant figure on the field.
The curiosity show that is Tebow's game faded under the wave of Brady's greatness. All that remained was for Patriots fans to derisively chant, "Teee-bow, Teee-bow, Teee-bow."
[ Related: Tim Tebow gives Broncos hope ]
His rise to prominence, at least for this season, is over. The stage is left to quarterbacks who can really wing it, not one who gets by on a wing and a prayer.
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