DENVER -- This time, the Broncos dug a hole too deep for even Tim Tebow to haul them out of.
The Patriots capitalized on a string of Broncos' mistakes in the second quarter and turned them all into points as they defeated the Broncos, 41-23, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The Patriots (11-3) clinched the AFC East title for the third straight season and ninth time in 11 years. They scored 20 points in the second quarter to turn an early deficit into a rout, converting a pair of fumbles into a touchdown and a field goal, then adding another field goal after the Broncos muffed a punt.
Chad Ochocinco and Danny Woodhead scored their first touchdowns of the season for the Patriots and Tebow, who had led the Broncos to six straight victories, could not save this one for Denver.
In-game scoring updates:
4th quarter, 4:10, Patriots 41-23: BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran 1-yard to cap a 9-play, 80-yard drive.
4th quarter, 8:41, Patriots 34-23: Tim Tebow ran 2 yards to cap an 89-yard drive and re-energize the hometown crowd.
3d quarter, 0:39, Patriots 34-16: Danny Woodhead ran 10 yards for his first touchdown of the season. The score capped an 8-play, 85 yards drive that took 3:28.
Halftime, Patriots 27-16: Another Broncos mistake led to more Patriots points. Quan Cosby muffed a punt with three seconds left in the second quarter and the Patriots converted that into a 34-yard field goal as time expired.
2d quarter, 1:12, Patriots 24-16: Brady plunged 1 yard for a touchdown, then Gronked the ball for emphasis, possibly because of some abuse he received at the bottom of the pileup at the goal line. After playing a miserable second quarter, the Patriots defense has now forced turnovers on Denver's last two possessions -- Brady's TD was set up when Mark Anderson forced and recovered a fumble by Tim Tebow.
2d quarter, 5:49, Patriots 17, Broncos 16: Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 21-yard field goal to give the Patriots the lead. Patriots LB Rob Ninkovich recovered a fumble by Lance Ball on the Broncos' 19 on Denver's first play after the Hernandez touchdown.
2d quarter, 8:43, Broncos 16-14: The Patriots pulled within 2 on a 1-yard TD pass from Tom Brady to Aaron Hernandez to cap a 12-play, 80-yard drive. The Patriots went to the no-huddle throughout the drive and moved the ball efficiently. It had appeared Wes Welker had scored on a 19-yard strike after stretching out to haul in a pass over the middle, but he was ruled down at the 1.
2d quarter, 13:47, Broncos 16, Patriots 7: Matt Prater kicked a 26-yard field goal to add to the Broncos' lead after a drive stalled at the eight.
End 1st quarter: The Patriots defense has looked terrible, and it suffered a huge blow when DE Andre Carter was taken off the field on a cart with a left quad injury. The Broncos have already rushed for 167 yards, and that's setting up some play action. On one, Tebow missed a wide-open receiver with a badly underthrown pass.
1st quarter injury update:: Patriots DE Andre Carter was taken off on a cart after suffering a left quad injury. Carter put no weight whatsoever on the left leg when he was lifted from the ground.
1st quarter injury update: Press box announcer just said Broncos RB Willis McGahee is probable to return. Not in on current possession, though.
1st quarter, 5:01, Broncos 13-7: Shootout anyone? Lance Ball ran 32 yards through a gaping hole to put the Broncos ahead. Broncos went 82 yards in 4 plays in 2:22.
Broncos RB Willils McGahee was off to a great start with 59 yards on five carries, but came off the field holding the back of his leg and is currently receiving treatment on a trainer's table behind the Broncos' bench.
1st quarter, 7:24, Patriots 7-6: Ochocinco's first regular-season TD as a Patriot happened because of two things -- Ocho beat man-to-man coverage by Andre Goodman, and Brady hit Ocho in stride.
1st quarter, 7:24, Patriots 7-6: Chad Ochocinco hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to put New England on top. The key play on a short 5-play, 80-yard drive was a 46-yard catch-and-run by Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez.
1st quarter, 9:49, Broncos 6-0: Patriots LB Rob Ninkovich couldn't bring down Broncos QB Tim Tebow despite getting to him in the backfield, and Tebow ran 9 yards for a touchdown on Denver's opening possession. The Broncos botched the extra-point attempt. Broncos drive was nine plays, 80 yards.
Coin toss: Patriots have won the toss and deferred to the second half. As usual.
It's a warm and sunny day in Denver -- it'll be 63 degrees at kickoff but the temperature is expected to dip into the low 40s by game's end. Tebow was warming up in a sleeveless shirt, and many players are getting loose in shorts and light clothing. There is no wind -- the flags atop the field goal posts and hanging straight down.
The pregame warmups featured quite a display of field goal kicking. Broncos K Matt Prater, who has hit from 59 yards twice in his career, hit from 63 yards in warmups. And Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski hit the uprights from 64 yards, and then switched ends of the field and connected from 64 yards. Both kickers had the leg to go longer.
Today's officials are Mike Carey, referee; Chad Brown, umpire; Dana McKenzie, head linesman; Tim Podrazza, line judge; Mike Weir, field judge; Boris Cheek, side judge; and Kirk Dornan, back judge.
We'll have updates and postgame reaction right here in Extra Points, so stay tuned.