The Book of (2) Timothy states: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
The Book of Tom states: “Good for you. I just whomped your ass.”
Any comparisons between Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos and Tom Brady and the New England Patriots died following Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game. Brady tied the NFL postseason record with six passing touchdowns, the defense squished Tebow under hundreds of pounds of linemen and linebackers, and the Patriots cruised to a 45-10 gelding of the Broncos.
With a victory as complete as the Patriots’ over the Broncos, did anyone not earn academic honors? Here’s my first report card of the playoffs.
Brady set a first-half playoff record with five touchdown passes, then tied the single-game record with a sixth in the third quarter. He completed over 75 percent of his passes, averaging better than a first down per reception. He finished the game with 363 passing yards, six touchdowns and an interception. He orchestrated a masterful 58-yard drive with a minute left in the half, needing just five plays to hit Rob Gronkowski in the end zone for a 35-7 lead with 5 seconds left in the half.
Brady’s best touchdown pass came with just under two minutes left in the first half, when he hit Deion Branch perfectly in stride after Branch ran past cornerback Andre’ Goodman. Not needing to slow down to catch the ball, Branch easily got to the end zone for the 61-yard score and a 28-7 lead.
Brady also executed the best quick-kick I’ve ever seen.
Running Backs: A-
The Patriots’ three running backs combined for just 74 yards and no scores, with none out-performing Aaron Hernandez (61 rushing yards). Stevan Ridley also fumbled the ball late in the game, though the turnover came during garbage-time.
Still, the running backs performed well enough to sell three successful play-actions, two of which led to touchdown passes. And despite the low yardage, the Patriots still averaged over a yard more per rush than the Broncos – primarily a rushing team – did.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A
The Broncos double-teamed Gronkowski in their first game against the Patriots, and Hernandez killed them. This time they tried single- and zone-coverage, and Gronkowski finished with 10 catches, 145 yards and three touchdown passes. Branch backed him up with 85 yards yards, and Hernandez and Wes Welker each chipped in 55. All four receivers caught at least one touchdown pass. Though Branch did his damage along the sidelines, the other three all earned their yards over the middle of the field, wreaking havoc on the Broncos’ safeties and linebackers.
Offensive Line: A+
Getting Dan Connolly and Matt Light back clearly makes a difference. The line allowed zero sacks, committed no penalties and helped the Patriots accumulate 146 rushing yards. This allowed the Patriots to balance their attack, using just four more passing than rushing plays. An outstanding performance from an oft-maligned unit. If the line can protect Brady as well this week against the Ravens as they did Saturday, the Ravens’ secondary won’t be able to hang with the receivers long enough to contain them.
Defensive Line: A
The Patriots’ defensive linemen dominated the line of scrimmage. Vince Wilfork sacked Tebow 1.5 times, while Shaun Ellis got to him once, slamming into him from behind in the third. Gerard Warren and Mark Anderson each added tackles behind the line as well, and Anderson and Kyle Love each defensed a pass. The defense completely stonewalled the Broncos’ vaunted rushing attack, and that started right up front with terrific pressure from the defensive line.
Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich combined for 2.5 sacks, hitting Tebow four times. Ninkovich also stripped Tebow in the first, setting up the Patriots’ second touchdown. Spikes recovered the fumble and later deflected a pass at the line, while Jerod Mayo and Dane Fletcher each made a tackle behind the line. The linebackers usually stopped running backs who got through the line before they could get to the secondary.
Saturday’s pass-rush looked a lot more like the aggressive, up-tempo defense we saw during the preseason. Perhaps health really was the main reason the defense foundered in the regular season.
Defensive backs: A-
Tebow only passed 26 times Saturday – fewer than 40 percent of the Broncos’ total plays. The Patriots’ secondary just didn’t have to make that many plays, which is why the grade isn’t higher. When they did have to make plays, however, they usually did. Tebow completed barely a third of his passes, and the Broncos went 7-for-18 on third downs. Sterling Moore and Kyle Arrington combined for three defensed passes, but Patrick Chung‘s hit out of bounds on Willis McGahee was an unnecessary cheap-shot that ultimately led to the Broncos’ only score in the second half (a field goal).
Special Teams: A
Stephen Gostkowski converted a field goal and six extra-points. No one committed a block in the back on a return. Meanwhile, the Patriots’ average drive following a punt or kickoff started beyond the 36. The Broncos’ started behind the 17. That’s an awesome performance from special teams.