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Patriots embarrass Broncos on way to AFC title game

Divisional Playoffs - Denver Broncos v New England Patriots

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts to the fans as he warms up against the Denver Broncos during their AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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Tim Tebow was a great story this year. The Patriots are trying to show they are a great team.

New England looked every bit the No. 1 seed in the AFC Saturday night during a 45-10 demolition over the Broncos. Denver looked every bit like a 9-9 team that gave up 40 points in three of their last five games.

This was a night for the Patriots to savor after losing their last two home playoff games.

“They put up with me. They deserve this,” Bill Belichick said after the game.

Here’s what we learned:

1. Tom Brady is going to be tough to beat if he continues to get protection like this. Brady threw for six touchdown passes and 363 yards on 34 attempts. His tackles -- Matt Light and rookie Nate Solder -- did a fantastic job on Denver’s pass rushers.

2. The Patriots defense is in better shape than it has been all year. Having safety Patrick Chung and linebacker Brandon Spikes makes a big difference. The entire defense had depth problems all season, but they are healthy at the right time.

They created 14 negative plays, which is an astounding number.

3. Tebowmania ended with a thud. This was a complete team loss by the Broncos, but Tebow didn’t play well. He finished 9-for-26 for 136 yards, five sacks, and a lost fumble. The Broncos only had six yards passing late in the third quarter. Tebow only rushed for 15 yards. Denver is not built to play from behind.

4. Bill Belichick is a great game-planner when he gets a second crack at a team. The Patriots defense was disciplined and took away Denver’s option plays very well.

5. Rob Gronkowski had more receptions and receiving yards than the entire Broncos team. Aaron Hernandez led the Patriots in rushing with 61 yards, lining up out of the backfield often. He also caught four passes for 55 yards and a touchdown.

Brady is the constant, but Gronk and Hernandez make this offense unique. That combination is the key to this latest incarnation of the Patriots. It makes their offense almost impossible to defend.

6. Tebow’s future will be debated all offseason. He has a lot to work on, but he’s earned the right to learn it while starting games for the Broncos next year. This loss won’t be good for ESPN’s programming, but it could be good for Denver long term. The Broncos still have a long way to go to be a real title contender and this loss will remind them of that.

The Patriots, on the other hand, are only one home win away from their fifth Super Bowl appearance in the Bill Belichick era. This isn’t your typical Patriots defense, but this isn’t your typical era of football.

It’s all about the quarterback, as Brady reminded us once again Saturday night.