Final

Patriots 41

(11-3, 6-2 away)

Broncos 23

(8-6, 3-4 home)

Coverage: CBS

4:15 PM ET, December 18, 2011

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, CO 

1 2 3 4 T
NE 7 20 7 741
DEN 13 3 0 723

Top Performers

Passing: T. Brady (NE) - 320 YDS, 2 TD

Rushing: T. Tebow (DEN) - 12 CAR, 93 YDS, 2 TD

Receiving: A. Hernandez (NE) - 9 REC, 129 YDS, 1 TD

Tom Brady, Patriots lock up AFC East as Tim Tebow comes up short

ESPN.com news services

DENVER -- Not this time, Tim Tebow.

Not with Tom Brady on hand.

Brady threw for two touchdowns, ran for another and the New England Patriots shut down Tebow's late-game heroics and clinched a playoff berth with a 41-23 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

"It was a really good day for us," Brady said. "Very emotional game. It was really rocking early. We showed some mental toughness."

The Patriots (11-3) won their sixth straight game and another AFC East title by bouncing back from an early 17-6 deficit and an awful first quarter in which they were outgained on the ground 167 yards to 4.

This time, there was no last-minute magic from Tebow, who had guided the Broncos (8-6) to four straight fourth-quarter comebacks and six straight wins.

Instead of another slow start followed by a fantastic finish, the Broncos started fast and then fizzled.

They scored on their first three possessions and then were done in by a trio of turnovers in the final 8½ minutes of the second quarter.

"We did have things going pretty well early, scored on the first three possessions and felt like we were moving the ball good and then we put it on the ground," Tebow said. "That's something you can't do against a great team and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

"Besides that, we were right there with them."

Champ Bailey had said the Broncos needed a big game against a big QB to prove to themselves and others that they were not just a curiosity but a contender.

They didn't get it on this day.

"We showed today that we're not ready to go to the playoffs and make a push," Bailey said. "We've got to get better and we only have two or three weeks to do it. If we don't, then we'll be sitting home."

For a sixth straight season.

With their first loss since Oct. 30, the AFC West-leading Broncos face a tougher path to the playoffs, with a trip to Buffalo next week followed by a season finale against Kansas City, which ended Green Bay's 19-game winning streak Sunday behind Kyle Orton, the player Tebow replaced in Denver.

"I definitely feel like we're all right," said Tebow, now 7-2 as Denver's starter.

He threw for 194 yards and ran for 93 yards and two scores but was sacked four times, including a 28-yard loss in the fourth quarter.

"I thought he improved," coach John Fox said. "He'll continue to improve. This was a setback, no doubt about that. But sometimes setbacks are setups for bigger things to come."

After all, the last time Tebow lost, to Detroit on Oct. 30, he was put on notice that his starting job was a week-to-week proposition, and Tebow won his next six starts.

The one thing Tebow and the Broncos haven't been able to do is keep up with the league's elite passers. Denver has faced four QBs currently ranked in the top-10 in yards passing -- Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers (twice) and Brady. They're 1-4 in those games.

Asked if Tebow & Co. can keep up with the league's top passers if they make it into the playoffs, Fox said: "I can't predict that. He's gotten better every week. Six or seven weeks ago, people said he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. He does that. I think he can do that. I don't think that was why we lost the game tonight."

Brady was.

"He's still the best out there, in my opinion," Bailey said. "And you make mistakes against a guy like that, he's going to make you pay. That's pretty much what happened all day."

Safety Brian Dawkins missed the game with a neck injury and the Broncos missed him as they had to rely on rookies Quinton Carter and Rahim Moore.

"You can't expect to get the same results when you lose a guy like that," Bailey said. "But, at the same time, guys have to step up as professionals. You can't play like that and expect to get wins."

Brady was 23 of 34, including his first scoring toss to Chad Ochocinco. His TD was his first of the year.

Brady made up for another bad day by the Patriots' defense to beat the Broncos for the second time in eight career starts -- the only team with a winning record against the three-time Super Bowl champion.

The Broncos' 167 yards rushing in the first quarter -- 11 more than their league-leading per-game average -- represented the biggest output in any quarter of the Belichick era in New England.

But they would manage just 85 more.

After the Patriots fell behind 16-7, they went to the no-huddle and Brady threw a 1-yard TD strike to Aaron Hernandez, who set career highs with nine catches for 129 yards.

The Broncos' ball-control offense stumbled after that.

Lance Ball, who earlier scored his first TD in the NFL on a beautiful 32-yard scamper, fumbled at his own 19 and linebacker Rob Ninkovich recovered, leading to Stephen Gostkowski's 21-yard field goal put the Patriots up for good at 17-16.

Then, defensive end Mark Anderson, subbing for the injured Andre Carter, forced and recovered a fumble by Tebow at the Broncos 40. Six plays later, Brady took it in himself from a yard out to make it 24-16.

Brady celebrated his eighth career TD with a masterful spike.

"I don't get in the end zone very often," Brady said. "Maybe once a season. So, when I do I get pretty excited."

The Broncos' bumbling ways -- which included a bad snap on an extra point attempt -- continued when punt returner Quan Cosby tried to field a punt on the run and muffed it with three seconds left.

Dane Fletcher recovered for New England and Gostkowski trotted out for a 34-yard field goal to make it 27-16 at halftime.

Tebow's 2-yard keeper with 8:41 left pulled the Broncos to 34-23 and had the crowd thinking comeback again, but Brady led the Patriots on another 80-yard scoring drive, this one culminating in BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 1-yard TD run.

"The more we fight, the better this team gets," defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "We knew they were going to come out fighting. They were going to come out fast and explosive. Our main goal was to weather the storm."

Game notes


The Patriots qualified for the playoffs for the 13th time since Robert Kraft bought the team in 1994. ... The Broncos haven't won seven straight since 1998. ... New England hadn't won in Denver since 2003. ... Brady's last TD run was Nov. 14, 2010, at Pittsburgh. ... Carter suffered what the team called a serious left knee injury. However, Carter's agent, Carl Poston, told ESPN's Josina Anderson that the early diagnosis "looks like Andre has a quad-related injury that will require surgery." Poston also said X-rays for Carter's knee were negative.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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Team Stat Comparison

 
NE
DEN
1st Downs2623
Passing 1st downs
159
Rushing 1st downs
813
1st downs from Penalties
31
3rd down efficiency
5-124-10
4th down efficiency
1-20-2
Total Plays7258
Total Yards451393
Yards per play6.36.8
Total Drives1311
Passing310141
Comp - Att
23-3411-23
Yards per pass
9.16.1
Interceptions thrown
00
Sacks - Yards Lost
2-104-53
Rushing141252
Rushing Attempts
3631
Yards per rush
3.98.1
Red Zone (Made-Att)4-62-3
Penalties4-307-39
Turnovers03
Fumbles lost
03
Interceptions thrown
00
Defensive / Special Teams TDs00
Possession33:4126:19

Passing Leaders

NEC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Brady23/343209.4202-10
DENC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Tebow11/221948.8004-53
Thomas0/100.0000-0

Rushing Leaders

NECARYDSAVGTDLG
Ridley11655.9024
Woodhead7405.7110
DENCARYDSAVGTDLG
Tebow12937.8230
McGahee77010.0029

Receiving Leaders

NERECYDSAVGTDLGTGTS
Hernandez912914.314611
Gronkowski45313.30385
DENRECYDSAVGTDLGTGTS
Thomas711616.603913
Ball24120.50344

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERNEDEN
denTD09:49Tim Tebow 9 Yd Run (Two-Point Run Conversion Failed) 06
neTD07:24Chad Ochocinco 33 Yd Pass From Tom Brady (Stephen Gostkowski Kick) 76
denTD05:01Lance Ball 32 Yd Run (Matt Prater Kick) 713
SECOND QUARTERNEDEN
denFG13:47Matt Prater 26 Yd 716
neTD08:43Aaron Hernandez 1 Yd Pass From Tom Brady (Stephen Gostkowski Kick) 1416
neFG05:49Stephen Gostkowski 21 Yd 1716
neTD01:12Tom Brady 1 Yd Run (Stephen Gostkowski Kick) 2416
neFG00:00Stephen Gostkowski 34 Yd 2716
THIRD QUARTERNEDEN
neTD00:39Danny Woodhead 10 Yd Run (Stephen Gostkowski Kick) 3416
FOURTH QUARTERNEDEN
denTD08:41Tim Tebow 2 Yd Run (Matt Prater Kick) 3423
neTD04:10BenJarvus Green-Ellis 1 Yd Run (Stephen Gostkowski Kick) 4123

Research Notes

Punter of the Day Zoltan Mesko, Patriots Mesko grossed only 40.5 yards on his four punts, but he gets the honor because he placed the last three of his four punts inside the 20-yard line (the Broncos ended up starting at the 17, 10 and 7 on those three drives). Mesko finished with a 39.5 net average. He's fared very well this season at not having much damage done on the punts that got returned. He ranks tied for 16th in the NFL in gross punting average (45.7), but 7th with a 40.6 net average.
The Patriots have won 6 straight games after posting a 5-3 record in the first half of the season. Tom Brady has thrown 15 touchdown passes compared to just 1 interception during the win streak and his Patriots are putting up 35.8 points per game while defeating opponents by an average of 17 points.
  [+]

BroncosThe Broncos started the game off with their best rushing quarter of the season, but quickly went away from it and attempted only 16 designed rushes in the last three quarters.

  [+]

BradySince Week 9, only the Packers had used a pass rush with five or more defenders more often than the Broncos, but Tom Brady and the Patriots were ready for Denver's blitz Sunday.

  [+]
Aaron Hernandez, not Rob Gronkowski, was the tight end threat the Broncos could not contain Sunday. Hernandez finished with a career high in receptions (nine) and receiving yards (129) and was Tom Brady's best defense against added pass-rush pressure from the Broncos. Hernandez had five receptions on five targets, including a touchdown, for 96 yards when the Broncos sent extra pass rushers.
The Patriots' defense prevented a Broncos' fourth-quarter comeback by pressuring Tim Tebow. New England sent extra pressure toward Tebow on 9 of 17 fourth quarter dropbacks (52.9 percent). Entering this game, teams had been blitzing Tim Tebow 11.6 percent less in the fourth quarter than in the first three, the largest disparity against any quarterback in the NFL.
  [+]
Tom Brady's 2nd pass TD vs the Broncos was his 35th this season. It is his 3rd season with 35+ pass TD. He joins Brett Favre as the only players in NFL history with 3 seasons of at least 35 pass TD.
This is the first time the Broncos have scored more than 7 points in the 1st quarter all season. The last time they were in double digits in the 1st quarter was in Week 15 last season.

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