Sunday, January 15, 2012

Patriots Decimate Denver, Advance to Conference Finals

I'll admit it, going into the postseason I didn't have too much confidence in the New England Patriots. Even though many have pegged them as Super Bowl favorites, the Pats were heavily favored last year, too, and we all know how that turned out.  More importantly, this year's squad provided plenty of reasons to doubt them; they had yet to put together 60 minutes of good football, don't run the ball particularly well, and their shoddy defense had just set the NFL record for most passing yards allowed in a season.  Sure, the Patriots are always dangerous, but they've only reached the Super Bowl once since 2005, and all those early playoff exits drained my confidence in them.  I was pessimistic about their chances, and conceded here that these Patriots were a flawed bunch and it wouldn't surprise me if they failed to make it out of January alive.

My initial doubts soon transformed into visions of victory
But after the Broncos (who the Patriots beat 41-23 in Week 15 to clinch their playoff berth) upset the Steelers (one of the three teams to beat the Pats this year) last weekend, I flip-flopped.  As Tebowmania reached its zenith, I told anyone who would listen that not only would the Patriots win, but also that they would crush Denver.  Blow them out of Gillette.  Tim Tebow would crap the bed, because he had exhausted his supply of magic pixie dust that had sustained all those miraculous comebacks.  The overhyped Tebow was in over his head; he had overachieved for so long that it was only a matter of time before he crashed back to Earth and reminded everyone why they thought he was a mediocre quarterback in the first place.  In addition, the Broncos were a perfect matchup for the Patriots, because Tebow isn't a good passer and wouldn't be able to exploit New England's awful defense.  And while Denver's defense was strong, it was nothing the always prepared Tom Brady and Bill Belichick couldn't handle.

Brady, as always, was at the top of his game
Sure enough, the Pats stomped all over the Broncos.  They came out guns blazing and quickly ran up the score.  The game was over by halftime, when New England led 35-7 and finally took their foot off the gas as they cruised to a 45-10 laugher.  Brady, the defending MVP who took a backseat while everyone fawned over Tebow all week, reminded everyone why he's an all-time great by reeling off six touchdown passes (five in the first half) to match the postseason single game record set by Steve Young and Daryle Lamonica (affectionately known as the "Mad Bomber").  Denver had no answer for him or Rob Gronkowski, who hauled in three of Brady's TDs.  Fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez also snagged a touchdown, but threw the Broncos D a curveball by getting five carries and gaining 61 rushing yards.  On the other side of the ball, New England's 31st ranked defense formed the Great Wall of Foxborough and recorded five sacks.  The overmatched Broncos quickly hoisted the white flag, running the ball throughout the second half instead of trying to hit home runs with long passes.  The only time they showed any life at all was when Von Miller started a brawl by blindsiding Dan Connolly after Brady booted a 48 yard punt on third and ten in the fourth, with the game well out of reach.

As for Tebow, the miracle worker who walks on water and heals the sick? No touchdowns and 136 passing yards with just nine completions (three in the first half) in 26 attempts.  He didn't throw any interceptions, but he helped give New England momentum by fumbling the ball early in the first quarter.  It was a disappointing, but rather predictable, ending to Tebow's three month stretch of glory.
Bundle up, Tim. It's gonna be a long winter.
Next Sunday, New England will square off with the winner of today's Ravens/Texans matchup.  The Texans will be a much easier matchup, since they don't have a quarterback, so hopefully they can beat Joe Flacco this afternoon.

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