FOXBOROUGH – So that’s what a post-season victory feels like?
Not bad. Not bad at all.
Let’s take a quick look back:
WHY DID THE PATRIOTS WIN?
Because they’re that much better than the Broncos in their offensive and defensive matchups. Besides the interception by Tom Brady and fumble by Stevan Ridley, the offense was basically flawless from start to finish. The defense was incredible throughout as well — gave up only 10 points (all off turnovers) and racked up 14 negative plays — as the Patriots exposed the Broncos’ offense for a one-trick pony that is difficult to execute and plan for if you’ve never seen it before, but in the hands of a veteran defense, it’s really not much to look at.
- TE Aaron Hernandez (head) did not return. After apparently undergoing concussion tests, he said he was fine after the game.
- DE Mark Anderson (shoulder) returned.
THREE THINGS TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT
- Sixty minutes: When was the last time the Patriots started fast and played well on both sides of the ball from the start of the game till the end — in a big game? Maybe the Jets’ home win last year? It had that type of feel. The Patriots haven’t been that dominating in a long time.
- Defense: That was more like it. The Patriots played sound fundamentally up front, swarmed when they needed to, and basically were disruptive sideline to sideline. It really seems that getting Patrick Chung and Brandon Spikes back and fully healthy made a big difference. That needs to continue if the Patriots are to make the Super Bowl.
- Offensive line: Tom Brady was terrific but that doesn’t happen unless his protection is sound. The Patriots had it all covered. They didn’t allow a sack and only allowed two official quarterback hits. If the Patriots continue to get protection like that, they’re going to be next to impossible to stop.
THREE THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT
- Ridley’s ball security: That’s now two-straight games that the rookie has put the ball on the ground (the other one went out of bounds), and ball security is a big coaching point on this team. Ridley was sent to the bench for the rest of the bench, and you wonder if the coaching staff will trust him again. The Patriots need his explosiveness. They don’t have anyone like him.
- Hernandez’s injury: Sure looked like a concussion to us. It doesn’t appear that he has a history with that, so we have little doubt he’ll be back next week. But concussions are always something to be worried about, especially with a young player that is playing so well.
- That’s it. Really, we don’t have anything else.
The Patriots’ performance was that good.
- QB Tom Brady: He was 26 of 34 for 363 yards, six touchowns and a rating of 137.6. He even punted once for 48 yards. The man was on top of his game.
- OLB Rob Ninkovich: Think he wanted to make up for the last Broncos game? He certainly did that with 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, tackle for a loss and a key third-down stop. This is basically a total defensive game ball.
- LT Matt Light and RT Nate Solder: DE Elvis Dumervil had one assisted tackle. OLB Von Miller had one quarterback hit (matching his cheapshot total of one in the back of Dan Connolly). That’s all they had. Both the Broncos’ most impactful defensive players were invisible. That has to be applauded.
- TE Rob Gronkowski: Have to give out one more star. Gronk had 10 catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns on 12 targets. Guess that’s pretty good.
TBA in AFC Championship Game, Jan. 22, 3 p.m.
Result: Who ya got, the Texans or the Ravens? Who do you want to face?