- Associated Press - Saturday, January 14, 2012

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady silenced Tebowmania with a record-shattering performance.

Brady threw six touchdown passes, five in the first half, putting the New England Patriots into the AFC championship game after roughing up Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos 45-10 Saturday night.

The Patriots (14-3), winners of nine straight games, will host either Baltimore or Houston next Sunday for a spot in the Super Bowl. Saturday night’s romp snapped a three-game postseason losing streak, two of those at Gillette Stadium, and lifted the Patriots to the verge of their fifth Super Bowl appearance in 11 seasons. They’ve won three of those.

“We came in and started fast and it was a big win for us,” said Brady, who even got off a 48-yard punt on third down.

From the first snap, this was a mismatch. The Patriots were not going to make the same mistakes the Steelers made against this team.

“He’s been around the block a few times,” cornerback Champ Bailey said of Brady. “He knows how to win games. If you’re not ready to punch him in the mouth he’s going to eat you up all night.”

A nation transfixed by Tebow’s play, if not his principles, tuned in Saturday to see if he had more heroics in store for Brady and company. He had nothing left as the Patriots made this must-see TV only for those who live in New England.

With New England up 42-7, the fans began their derisive Teeee-bow chants. On the next play, the Broncos quarterback was sacked for an 11-yard loss — one of five sacks for New England’s 31st-ranked defense.

“We went out and played very hard and good things happened,” defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. “A great team win.”

And so ended one of the season’s most exciting story lines — one that began when Denver was 1-4 and made Tebow a starter. The one-time third-stringer promptly won six in a row and seven of eight, with a string of stunning comebacks.

“A lot of ups and downs,” Tebow said of his second NFL season. “Overall, it’s been a very special opportunity for me, something I’m really thankful for. There’s a lot of things we’re proud of. Obviously, it’s hard to see them all right now.”

That winning surge ended with a 41-23 home loss to New England, and the Broncos dropped their next two, backing into the AFC West title.

But they rebounded nicely in their first playoff game since the 2005 season with the longest overtime touchdown in playoff history, an 80-yard catch and run by Demaryius Thomas against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Like everyone else on the Broncos‘ offense, Thomas was invisible against the Patriots.

Denver couldn’t cover or tackle All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who tied a postseason mark with three touchdown catches, all in the opening half. Brady toyed with the Broncos (9-9), throwing more TD passes than Tebow had completions (three) in the first 30 minutes.

“We were playing complementary football, and it was awesome,” Gronkowski said. “Obviously, you can’t start off the game any better than that.”

Story Continues →