Brady, Pats slow down Tebow, Broncos 41-23By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer Monday, Dec 19, 2011
DENVER (AP)—Slow starts, solved. Furious finishes, those, too.
The Patriots (11-3) won their sixth straight game and another AFC East title by bouncing back from an early 17-6 deficit and an awful first quarter in which they were outgained on the ground 167 yards to 4.
Brady made sure there would be no last-minute magic on this day from Tebow, who had guided the Broncos (8-6) to four straight fourth-quarter comebacks and six wins in a row.
Tebow, who had managed just four scoring drives in 21 first-quarter possessions during his incredible six-week run, drove Denver to touchdowns on his first two drives and then a field goal to open the second quarter.
Brady went to the no-huddle and marched the Patriots downfield against a shuffled secondary that sorely missed safety Brian Dawkins to pull New England to 16-14.
Brady turned the trio of turnovers into 13 points that put Denver in a 27-16 halftime hole.
“If we hold onto the ball in this game,” Tebow said, “who knows what happens?”
Tebow’s 2-yard keeper pulled the Broncos to 34-23 midway through the fourth quarter, but Brady drove the Patriots 80 yards for his fifth scoring drive and that was that.
Instead of another slow start followed by a fantastic finish, the Broncos started fast and then fizzled.
“We did have things going pretty well early, scored on the first three possessions and felt like we were moving the ball good and then we put it on the ground,” Tebow said. “That’s something you can’t do against a great team and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
“Besides that, we were right there with them.”
And yet, so far away.
“We showed today that we’re not ready to go to the playoffs and make a push,” Champ Bailey declared. “We’ve got to get better and we only have two or three weeks to do it. If we don’t, then we’ll be sitting home.”
For a sixth straight postseason.
With their first loss since Oct. 30, the AFC West-leading Broncos face a tougher path to the playoffs, with a trip to Buffalo next week followed by a season finale against Kansas City, which ended Green Bay’s 19-game winning streak Sunday behind Kyle Orton, the player Tebow replaced in Denver.
They’re a game up on Oakland and San Diego.
“I definitely feel like we’re all right,” said Tebow, now 7-2 as Denver’s starter.
Tebow threw for 194 yards and ran for 93 yards and two scores in what, in many ways, was his best game so far despite the lack of another amazing comeback.
“I thought he improved,” coach John Fox said. “He’ll continue to improve. This was a setback, no doubt about that. But sometimes setbacks are setups for bigger things to come.”
After all, the last time Tebow lost, to Detroit on Oct. 30, he answered with an improbable six-game run that captivated football fans and cemented his standing as a cultural icon.
During the week, Tebow was the subject of a skit on “Saturday Night Live,” his name was brought up in the Republican debate in Sioux City, Iowa, and two high school students were suspended for organizing several “Tebowing” kneel-downs in tribute to the quarterback.
On the football field, the Patriots figured him out, putting him behind early and never letting him get up to engineer another comeback.
Brady picked apart a secondary that included two rookie safeties and an undrafted cornerback and had a hard time stopping the tight end tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who set career highs with nine catches for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Brady was 23 of 34, including his first scoring toss to Chad Ochocinco.
That it came against the Broncos, his personal bugaboo, was all the sweeter for Brady, who beat Denver for just the second time in eight tries. The Broncos are the only team he doesn’t own a winning record against.
After the Patriots fell behind 16-7, they went to the no-huddle and Brady threw a 1-yard TD strike to Hernandez, Tebow’s former teammate at Florida who capitalized on the Broncos’ attention to Gronkowski, who was limited to four catches for 53 yards.
“He had a great game. He’s a beast out there,” Gronkowski said about Hernandez. “He gets that ball you never know what’s going to happen. You never know who’s going to have a great game in this offense, that’s why everyone has to come ready to play, every single person. Someone’s always going to be open.”
Lance Ball, who earlier scored his first rushing TD in the NFL on a beautiful 32-yard scamper, fumbled at his own 19 and linebacker Rob Ninkovich recovered, leading to Stephen Gostkowski’s 21-yard field goal put the Patriots up for good at 17-16.
Then, defensive end Mark Anderson, subbing for Andre Carter, who seriously injured his left knee earlier in the game, forced and recovered a fumble by Tebow at the Broncos 40. Six plays later, Brady took it in himself from a yard out to make it 24-16.
Brady celebrated his eighth career TD with a masterful spike.
“I don’t get in the end zone very often,” Brady said. “Maybe once a season. So, when I do I get pretty excited.”
Dane Fletcher recovered Quasby’s muffed punt with three seconds left in the half and Gostkowski trotted out for a 34-yard field goal to make it 27-16 at halftime.
“Man, it was one of those nights,” Cosby said. “I think whoever had that voodoo doll needs to put it up and never bring it back out. It was a rough night. Fortunately, were still in the hunt. Fortunately, we can correct it. Tomorrow is a new day.”
If the Broncos make the playoffs, however, they know they’ll be facing another elite quarterback, but Tebow thinks he can keep up even though the Broncos are 1-4 against the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford and Brady.
“I know for the most part that when we held onto the ball we were able to move the ball. So, that was a good sign,” Tebow said. “We’ve just got to find a way to get a little bit better and improve, and I know we’re going to do that.”
Notes: Brady’s last TD run was Nov. 14, 2010, at Pittsburgh. … Broncos RB Willis McGahee rushed for 70 yards on seven carries but left in the first half with a left leg injury.
Connect with AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton