Impressive display of horsepower by hosts
FOXBOROUGH - Let’s table the defense concerns for another week, OK?
Denver clearly doesn’t count.
Is there a word beyond “exposed’’? Perhaps the eminent wordsmith William F. Buckley had one at his disposal, but we verbal inferiors lack the means to convey the scope of the humiliation the New England Patriots inflicted on the utterly hapless Broncos, who came in to the playoffs as the - are you ready to laugh? - “champions’’ of the pitiful AFC West, and who then were incredibly fortunate to draw a battered team masquerading as the noble Pittsburgh Steelers a week ago.
In Denver this 45-10 defeat will undoubtedly be remembered in years to come as the Saturday Night Massacre.
And guess what? With the elimination of the Saints, Green Bay is the only team left in the tournament whose calling card is offense. The Patriots could be riding the Duck Boats with people still wondering how a defense like theirs could possibly be good enough to win a championship.
The Big D was certainly up to the task of stopping the Broncos, however. The quarterback who averaged 31 yards a completion last week once again looked like the guy who was lucky to complete a 5-yard pass during the month of December, and it didn’t help that his receivers had major cases of the dropsies on the rare occasions he did deliver the mail in the right time and place.
There is no real way to judge the defense against a team as pathetic as the Broncos were on offense, but it would be impossible to heap too much praise on a Tom Brady-led offense that tore into the Broncos for 42 points in the first 33:14 of the game.
They were certainly aided by some juicy field position, but what Brady did with what he was given was merciless. None of the first six TD drives took longer than 3:35 to execute, and the longest one took eight plays. It was bang-bang-bang right from the start, as the Patriots took the opening kickoff and entered the Denver end zone five plays later, the result of a 7-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Wes Welker.
Yes, that’s correct. The Patriots actually had the ball first. Denver won the toss and elected to defer. The Patriots never have the ball first. Brady treated this circumstance like the belated Christmas present it was, orchestrating an 80-yard drive highlighted by a 43-yard run on a handoff to erstwhile tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Sure. Hand the ball to a motivated Tom Brady, who only has had 12 months to smolder over losing a second consecutive first-round home playoff game. I thought someone said John Fox was a smart coach.
Full disclosure: Brady wasn’t perfect. A pass late in the first quarter supposedly intended for Rob Gronkowski missed the target by several yards and wound up in the clutches of Denver safety Quinton Carter, who took it 17 yards to the Patriots’ 24. The Broncos punched it in to make it 14-7, but a knucklehead named Zane Beadles was guilty of unnecessary roughness on the Willis McGahee 5-yard touchdown run, and that set off a chain of events that led to the Patriots getting the ball on their 40, a nice launching spot for the aforementioned eight-play, 52-yard drive ending with the second of three first-half TD receptions by The Gronkenstein Monster, who must have watched the afternoon heroics of both Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis and said, “Anything you can do, I can do better.’’
A 61-yard TD pass to Deion Branch - remember him? - was bad enough (28-7), but the final indignity of a half the Broncos will never forget came when Brady got the ball back on his 42 with 1:09 left and completed four more passes, the last being a pass over the middle to Gronkowski, who shrugged off a couple of Broncos defenders like so many Lilliputians as he blasted his way into the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown grab that made him the 17th man in NFL playoff history to catch three TD passes (but only the third tight end).
As befits the extraordinary athleticism of this truly amazing player, the best Gronkowski catch of the night showcased something other than his great strength. No, his Play of Plays last evening came in the first quarter, with the Patriots ahead, 7-0. Brady threw one to the deep left corner of the end zone, seemingly out of Gronkowski’s reach, but he was able to tip the ball to himself, fully extended, before crashing to the turf to complete the spectacular 10-yard touchdown.
By halftime Brady had five touchdown passes and added a playoff record-tying sixth early in the third quarter. The Denver quarterback, that lefthanded guy who has been getting so much attention of late, was 3 for 10 for 28 yards in the first half. Aside from the Brady gift interception, the Broncos only had their hands on the ball in Patriots’ territory one time, an advance to the New England 37 that ended with a Rob Ninkovich forced fumble by the lefthanded quarterback and a Brandon Spikes recovery.
So what did we learn about the Patriots last night that we didn’t already know?
Not much. Did anyone really think they were going to lose a first-round playoff game three years in a row? Did anyone doubt that Tom Brady was going to play a third consecutive sub-standard playoff game? Did anyone doubt that the Broncos and their lefthanded celebrity quarterback had exhausted their Warholian time limit in their attempt to hobnob with the NFL elite?
So this bizarre season, in which the Patriots have now gone 17 games without defeating a team of real substance, will continue with a berth in the AFC championship game. And then it will be against a team they should beat, especially here in Foxborough.
Don’t ask. Don’t question. Just enjoy. As the lefthanded quarterback might say, perhaps the Man Upstairs has made them His company team.