Brady ends Tebow fairytale as Patriots beat Broncos to keep Super Bowl dream alive
All the heroics, all the big plays and quite a few records belonged to quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Saturday as they routed the much-hyped Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos 45-10 in their NFL divisional play-off.
Brady threw six touchdown passes, five in the first half, putting the Patriots into the AFC championship game and silencing the American frenzy surrounding Tebow.
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's romp snapped a three-game post-season 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, two with Brady as the game's MVP.
Bowing out: Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow could not help his side to victory
'We came in and started fast and it was a big win for us,' said Brady, who even had a 48-yard punt on third down in the last quarter.
'I have no idea about records and stuff like that. Anytime you score 45, with the help of our defense, and special teams played great – hopefully we can go out next week and play even better.'
From the first snap, this was a mismatch. The Patriots were not going to make the same mistakes the Steelers made against Denver.
A nation transfixed by Tebow's play, and overt Christian displays, tuned in Saturday to see if he had any more magic 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.
Calling the shots: Legendary quarterback Tom Brady gives his orders to the New England Patriots
With New England up 42-7, the fans began jeering Tebow. On the next play, the Broncos quarterback was sacked for an 11-yard loss – one of five sacks for New England's defense.
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. It's hard to see them all right now.'
Denver couldn't cover or tackle Patriots 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.
Fall guy: New England Patriots defensive tackle Gerard Warren (98) celebrates after sacking Tebow
Brady's sixth TD was to his other tight end, Aaron Hernandez, as the quarterback tied Steve Young and Daryle Lamonica for the most in a postseason game.
Brady moved to third place in career touchdown passes in the playoffs with 36, trailing Joe Montana (45) and Brett Favre (44).
He was 26 for 34 for 363 yards and Gronkowski made 10 catches for 145 yards as the Patriots gained 509 yards in all. In stark contrast, Tebow was nine for 26 for 136 yards.
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, threw up a surprise 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.
End of the road: Tebow walks off after the Broncos crushing divisional play-off defeat
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 and Willis McGahee scored on a five-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.
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 five early in the fourth period and Stephen Gostkowski made a 21-yard field goal to conclude New England's scoring.
49ERS 36 SAINTS 32
In San Francisco, quarterback Alex Smith completed a touchdown pass to Vernon Davis with 9 seconds left to give San Francisco a thrilling win over New Orleans.
Smith's 14-yard pass came just after New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees had put his team ahead, but the Saints were left to rue five turnovers which did as much as anything to hand the game to the resurgent San Francisco.
'This is big for us,' Davis said. 'It's history. It's legendary.'
Cheer we go: San Francisco 49ers kicker David Akers celebrates with cheerleaders after his team defeated the New Orleans Saints
Coach Jim Harbaugh's NFC West champions (14-3) proved that a hard-hitting, stingy defense can still win in the modern, wide-open NFL, holding off one of league's most dynamic offenses.
Smith also ran for a 28-yard TD with 2:11 left, but in a see-sawing finish, Brees completed a 66-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham with 1:37 left.
That seemed to be enough to complete a successful rally by the Saints from a 17-point deficit, only for Smith and Davis to deliver the winning score.
San Francisco triumphed in its first playoff game in nine years and will move on to face the New York Giants or defending champion Green Bay Packers, who play Sunday. A win by the Giants would give the 49ers the home field.
Harbaugh's 'Who's got it better than us Nobody!' group is drawing comparisons to the 49ers good ol' days of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and Steve Young.
With Donte Whitner bringing the bruising hits and Dashon Goldson, Patrick Willis and their defensive mates pressuring Brees and forcing turnovers from every angle, surprising San Francisco is a win away from returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since capturing the franchise's fifth championship after the 1994 season.
Brees, whose team was coming off consecutive 600-yard games, completed 40 of 63 passes for 462 yards and four touchdowns and was sacked three times. He also threw two interceptions, his first in the postseason in five years, and New Orleans (14-4) fell short again in its quest to get back to the Super Bowl after winning it all two years ago. The Saints are still searching for the first post-season road victory in franchise history after falling to 0-5.
Twist and shout: Vernon Davis was delighted with the 49ers victory
David Akers, the Niners' most experienced playoff veteran whose 44 field goals set a single-season record, kicked three more when it mattered most – from 25, 41 and 37 yards.
The underdog 49ers made the big plays on both sides of the ball and on special teams.
The Saints had lost five fumbles all season, then gave three away Saturday.
Brees drove the Saints close to the goal line on their opening drive but Pierre Thomas lost that fumble and was lost for the game to a head injury after being hit by Whitner. Two other turnovers came on special teams.
Smith, the 2005 No 1 overall draft pick booed so often his first six seasons, hit Davis on a 49-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and then Michael Crabtree on a 4-yard TD strike as the 49ers jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead. He finished 24 for 42 for 299 yards with a 103.2 passer rating, showing the world he might be an elite quarterback after all in his breakout season.
Disappointed: New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees trudges off at the end of the game
Brees threw two first-half interceptions and had his NFL-record streak of 226 postseason passes without an interception snapped on Goldson's pick in the opening quarter.
But he hit a well-guarded Graham for a leaping 14-yard touchdown catch at the 9:32 mark of the second quarter, then had a 25-yard TD completion to Marques Colston to send the Saints into halftime trailing only 17-14.
Any momentum New Orleans gained was hurt when return man Darren Sproles fumbled after the 49ers punted on their first possession of the second half. That set up Akers' second field goal of the day.
Brees shone late in the game, just as he did throughout a record-setting season, also hitting Sproles for a 44-yard TD with 4:02 remaining – one of Sproles' 15 catches for 119 yards.