- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 45-10 win over the Broncos in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs:
What it means: The Patriots win their first playoff game since the 2007 season and looked impressive in doing so. There were media-based questions on the Patriots’ ability to win in the playoffs after two straight one-and-done appearances and those questions were answered with authority as they jumped out to a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter. The Broncos had a little life after closing to 14-7 before the Patriots raced away. It was 35-7 at the half, making the remaining 30 minutes a Gillette Stadium party.
Brady fires six touchdown passes: Last year, quarterback Tom Brady's early interception on a screen pass changed the complexion of the game against the Jets. Brady had 363 days to digest that postseason disappointment and he was on fire early against the Broncos, ultimately finishing with an NFL playoff record-tying six touchdown passes (also a Patriots record), while also setting the team postseason record for passing yards (363). Brady had five touchdown passes in the first half, the first time that’s happened in NFL playoff history. Brady added a 48-yard pooch punt late in the fourth quarter.
Gronkowski & Hernandez shine: Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were immense, a lethal complement to each other. Gronkowski finished with three touchdown receptions, tying an NFL playoff record, while Hernandez’s versatility as a pass-catcher and runner produced big results. Gronkowski had 10 catches for 145 yards and Hernandez had 4 catches for 55 yards (and a touchdown) and 5 carries for 61 yards.
Head injury for Hernandez bears watching: Hernandez didn’t finish the game, leaving with a head injury in the fourth quarter on a rush near the goal-line. Hernandez went through what looked like a concussion test on the sideline. This makes the availability of Hernandez a key storyline in the coming week.
Defense, led by Ninkovich and pass rush, delivers a gem: The much-maligned Patriots defense brought its ‘A’ game, looking like a different unit from the one that struggled for stretches of the season. Outside linebacker/defensive end Rob Ninkovich was the tone-setter, with a first-quarter strip sack that was recovered by the Patriots and turned into a touchdown. Ninkovich also shined as an edge-setter against the option. Wearing No. 50, he looked Mike Vrabel-like. The pass rush, with Mark Anderson and Co. making life hard for Tim Tebow, was notable.
Chad Ochocinco – one snap: From the “Miscellaneous Stats File”, veteran receiver Chad Ochocinco played one snap, coming at the start of the team’s third drive. No injury was announced at the game, as this reflects how he’s not a big part of the team’s attack. Tiquan Underwood and Julian Edelman played over him as the No. 3 receiver behind Wes Welker and Deion Branch.
What’s next: The Patriots will face the winner of Sunday’s Texans at Ravens game in the AFC Championship Game (Sunday, Jan. 22, 3 p.m. ET) at Gillette.
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