The only thing preventing this from being an A+ was a first-half interception that led to Denver's only score (and made things interesting for a fleeting moment). But otherwise Tom Brady was phenomenal, completing 26-of-34 passes for 363 yards while matching an NFL record with six touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski hauled in a game-high 10 passes for 145 yards and matched another NFL postseason record with three TD grabs. Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Deion Branch got in on the end-zone party too.
The Patriots got an early spark by utilizing tight end Aaron Hernandez at running back and his 43-yard jaunt set up New England's opening-drive score. Hernandez finished with a team-high 61 yards on five trots. Overall, the Patriots ran for 146 yards on 30 carries (4.9 yards per trot), though no pure back had more than 28 yards (BenJarvus Green-Ellis).
Go ahead, make the excuse that it was Tim Tebow on the other side. The guy did throw for 316 yards against the Steelers last week, but the Patriots bottled him up as he completed a mere 9 of 26 passes for 136 yards (41 coming on one play). The Patriots didn't intercept Tebow, but he mustered only a 52.7 rating and was sacked a whopping five times for 28 yards. New England's offensive fireworks forced him to pass, and he couldn't beat a Patriots defense that was battered through the air all season.
Sure, the Broncos gained a respectable 144 yards on 40 trots (3.6-yard average). But considering how mightily New England struggled to defend the Broncos rushing attack in Denver, this effort was downright brilliant. Tebow picked up only 13 yards on five carries and Willis McGahee's 17 carries for 76 yards didn't hurt New England much given the comfortable cushion it built early on. No run of more than 19 yards was a big plus for the Patriots.
Zoltan Mesko only punted twice, but he put both inside the 20 (one at the Denver 5, the other at the 11). What's more, the Broncos were forced to punt on both ensuing drives, and the favorable field position led to a pair of Patriots touchdowns. If that wasn't enough, quarterback Tom Brady produced a 48-yard punt that, aided by a penalty, pinned Denver at its own 5 late in the game. The return units were solid and Stephen Gostkowski made a chip shot in a solid all-around effort.
Good luck finding fault here. What were two of the biggest criticisms of the Patriots this year? They struggled at the start of games and their defense gave up big yards. Well, New England scored two first-quarter TDs and 35 points in the first half -- both playoff highs in the Brady/Belichick era -- and the defense gave up only 252 total yards. Denver created some problems in the regular-season meeting, but that didn't happen this time around as the Patriots turned in their most complete effort of the season.