The two-time league MVP threw for 5,235 yards during the season, second in NFL history to Drew Brees’ 5,476 in 2011. He looked ready to get that much against the Broncos as he moved to third place in career touchdown passes in the playoffs with 36, trailing Joe Montana (45) and Brett Favre (44).
The Broncos won the coin toss and elected to defer. Bad idea: They never were in the game after that.
Brady hit his first eight passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who’s leaving to become Penn State’s coach once the Patriots are done, threw in a wrinkle by using Hernandez as a running back. On one of those plays, Hernandez broke free down the left sideline for a 43-yard gain, the team’s longest run this season.
But with the ball in his hands and a 14-0 lead, Brady momentarily stumbled. His throw over the middle for Julian Edelman sailed directly to safety Quinton Carter, whose weaving return set up Denver at the New England 24.
Willis McGahee scored on a 5-yard run.
Carter left the game moments later with a neck injury; Denver was already without strong safety Brian Dawkins with a neck problem. And it’s secondary had no chance without them.
Yes, Brady had cooled off in the 24-degree temperature (wind chill of 12), but only for a while.
Using the no-huddle, and aided by an effective running game, Brady hit three passes for 31 yards, with Gronkowski getting free over the middle this time for the 12-yard score. Several times, and not just on his romps into the end zone, Gronkowski simply shoved aside would-be tacklers to tack on yards after catches.
Brady’s TDs covered 10, 12 and 19 yards to Gronkowski, 7 to Wes Welker, 61 to Deion Branch and 17 yards to Hernandez early in the third quarter. Coach Bill Belichick wasn’t about to back off at that point, but the Patriots stalled inside the Denver 5 early in the four period and Stephen Gostkowski made a 21-yard field goal to conclude New England’s scoring.
Hernandez left in the fourth quarter with a head injury.
On Brady’s surprise punt, which Belichick said they had worked on for years without using, Broncos rookie linebacker Von Miller slammed into the back of New England’s Dan Connolly, who wasn’t looking. Matt Light then shoved Miller, Connolly turned around and got into a pushing match with Miller as several players joined in and shoved each other, spilling onto the Patriots‘ sideline.
Miller drew an unnecessary roughness penalty.