NFL Nation: 2012 Divisional Rapid Reaction Broncos-Patriots

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.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A look at a classic playoff mismatch:

What it means: The Broncos’ season ended at 9-9. The Broncos were never in this game as New England was clearly out to show the rest of the playoff field that it means business. The upstart Broncos were nothing more than practice fodder for New England on Saturday night.

Huge gap: The Patriots led 35-7 at the half, and the Broncos could barely do anything on either side of the ball.

Denver still needs help: The Broncos made great strides on defense this season. They were 32nd in the NFL in most statistical categories in 2010. Yet, Denver became a solid unit this season under first-year head coach John Fox and first-year defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. But on Saturday night, the Patriots showed Denver it still has work to do on that side of the ball.

Miller gets jumped: After he fought with two New England offensive linemen late in the game, Denver rookie linebacker Von Miller was hammered by several New England players. Expect Miller to get fined for his actions.

Bradyed and Gronked: We saw New England quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski at their finest. Brady tied an NFL postseason record with six touchdown passes. Gronkowski had 10 catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns. They connected at will. Denver had no answer.

Tebow can’t help: Denver quarterback Tim Tebow wasn’t the reason why Denver lost. He started the game well, but as the game got out of hand he got more desperate and couldn’t do much. In a season in which Tebow was memorable, he really didn’t stand out in the finale.

What’s next: The Broncos stagger into the offseason, but they have to feel great about their progress this season. No one would ever had thought the Broncos’ 2011 season would have ended in the divisional round of the playoffs when this team picked No. 2 in the draft.




Thursday, 9/18
Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22