AFC East: 2012 Divisional Round
January, 15, 2012
By James Walker | ESPN.com
David Butler II/US Presswire Tom Brady leads the Patriots into the AFC title game on a nine-game winning streak.FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- These are not your 2009-10 New England Patriots.
These Patriots didn't go one-and-done. These Patriots crushed the myth of Tim Tebow with a convincing 45-10 victory over the Denver Broncos.
These Patriots have a killer instinct in the postseason. These Patriots aren't playing around.
New England led by as many as 35 points in the second half -- and starting quarterback Tom Brady played every snap. He threw for 363 yards and tied an NFL playoff record with six touchdown passes.
These Patriots are scary. They saved their most complete game of the season -- on both sides of the football -- for the playoffs.
These Patriots are dangerous. They won an NFL-high ninth game in a row.
These Patriots even brought a few smiles to coach Bill Belichick's face after the game. Everyone knows that's no small feat.
"I'm really happy for the players; I'm really excited for them," Belichick said. "They worked hard, and they put up with me. So they deserve this."
These Patriots have tight end Rob Gronkowski. And Aaron Hernandez. There is no better tight end duo in the NFL.
Gronk tied an NFL record with three first-half touchdowns. He finished with 10 receptions and 145 yards. The 22-year-old could be on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
Hernandez caught four passes for 55 yards. To everyone's surprise, he also is a pretty good running back. Belichick had two weeks to prepare for Denver and added another wrinkle by giving Hernandez five carries for 61 yards. New England's versatile backup tight end, who played some running back in high school, led the team in rushing.
"Everybody makes plays on this team, and that is why our offense is so dangerous," Hernandez said. "It is hard [for the defense] because they don’t know who to cover."
Patriots Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters played most of his career with another great tight end in Kansas City: Tony Gonzalez. But Waters said he's never had two tight ends on the same team who were this talented.
"I mean, what do you do?" Waters asked. "The fact that Gronk is able to block as well as he does and the fact that he can be a mismatch problem anywhere on the football field is a great thing. But his ability to block allows us the ability to do some things with Aaron that a lot of teams can't do."
These Patriots don't have a great defense. But that's OK. At least it played lights-out for one postseason game.
These Patriots held the Broncos to 252 total yards and made Tebow look like a Division II quarterback. He was baffled and battered. He was 9-for-26 for 136 yards and a fumble. He also was sacked five times.
Mark L. Baer/US PresswireRob Gronkowski, here making one of his three touchdown catches, leads the Patriots' formidable tight-end duo.
Can these Patriots keep up this level of defense the entire playoffs? Who knows? But New England's defense looked great for one night.
"Really, this was our first four-quarter game," Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich (1.5 sacks) said of the defense. "This is a one-game season now. So coming into this game, we knew the loser is going home and they’re not playing again. So we put in a lot of work."
Enough about the defense. Because New England's offense is averaging 40.5 points in its past four games. These Patriots are extremely hard to beat with that kind of production. On Saturday, these Patriots had 42 points with 11:53 left in the third quarter. How scary is that?
Most importantly, these Patriots have Brady. He looks as sharp and focused as ever. Brady, 34, knows his title window won't stay open forever. He sliced the Broncos with precision and completed 26 of 34 passes.
These Patriots have a chance as long as Brady is at the top of his game. With Drew Brees eliminated Saturday, Aaron Rodgers is the only playoff quarterback remaining on Brady's level. But Brady won't have to see Rodgers unless they meet in Indianapolis.
Speaking of the Super Bowl, these Patriots have an intense sense of urgency to get there. In large part, it comes from Brady, who is already looking beyond Saturday's record-setting performance.
"I think we have eight days until the biggest game of the year," Brady said. "From this point on, everyone will be focused on what we need to do to be better next week and hopefully come out and play for another championship."
These Patriots (14-3) will host the AFC Championship Game next week at Gillette Stadium against the Houston Texans or Baltimore Ravens. These Patriots will be favored at home against either team, especially after a 35-point drubbing of Denver.
This AFC East blogger predicted these Patriots would represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
These Patriots are one step away from getting the job done.
January, 14, 2012
By James Walker | ESPN.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Here are some thoughts on the New England Patriots' 45-10 playoff victory over the Denver Broncos:
What it means: The Patriots won a postseason game for the first time in four years and ended a three-game playoff skid. The AFC East blog said this was the easiest matchup possible for New England, and it turned out that way. Denver was no match for the Patriots, who punched a ticket to the AFC Championship Game and will host the winner of Sunday's divisional game between the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans.
Fast starters: New England was criticized for its slow starts in the final two regular-season games. But the Patriots exploded in the playoffs by taking an astounding 35-7 lead at halftime. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw five touchdowns in the first two quarters and tight end Rob Gronkowski had eight receptions for 97 yards and three touchdowns at intermission. "Gronk" tied a playoff record for first-half touchdowns. The Broncos had no answer.
Brady ties TD record: Brady wasn't done in the first half. He threw another touchdown in the second half to tie an NFL playoff record. Brady finished with 363 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Brady also had a 48-yard punt during a quick kick in the fourth quarter.
Don’t forget Hernandez: The Patriots have the best tight-end duo in the NFL. They used both weapons by also getting backup Aaron Hernandez. Usually when you give Patriots head Bill Belichick two weeks, he finds a new wrinkle. New England put Hernandez in the backup where he could show off his tailbacks skills. Hernandez led the Patriots in rushing with 61 yards, including a 43-yard scamper on the first drive. He also caught four passes for 55 yards and a touchdown.
Ninkovich shines: New England needed someone to step up defensively, and the team got a great effort from linebacker Rob Ninkovich. The Patriots baffled Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow with a solid pass rush. Ninkovich tied defensive tackle Vince Wilfork for a game-high 1.5 sacks. Ninkovich also had five tackles and two quarterback pressures.
What's next: The AFC Championship Game comes to Gillette Stadium next weekend. New England will try to advance to its first Super Bowl since losing to the New York Giants following the 2007 season.