2011-12-19 / Sports

Brady, Pats slow down Tebow, Broncos 41-23

BY ARNIE STAPLETON The Associated Press

DENVER

Slow starts, solved. Furious finishes, those, too.

Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score and the New England Patriots shut down Tim Tebow’s late-game heroics with a 41-23 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

The Patriots (11-3) won their sixth straight game and another AFC East title by bouncing back from an early 16-7 deficit and an awful first quarter in which they were outgained on the ground 167-4.

Brady made sure there would be no last-minute magic on this day from Tebow, who had guided the Broncos (8-6) to four straight fourth-quarter comebacks and six wins in a row.

Tebow, who had managed just four scoring drives in 21 firstquarter possessions during his incredible six-week run, drove Denver to touchdowns on his first two drives and then a field goal to open the second quarter.

Brady went to the no-huddle and marched the Patriots downfield against a shuffled secondary that sorely missed safety Brian Dawkins to pull New England to 16-14.

That’s when Denver’s great ground game suddenly imploded with two lost fumbles, one by Tebow and one by tailback Lance Ball, followed by a muffed punt from Quan Cosby.

Brady turned the trio of turnovers into 13 points that put Denver in a 27-16 halftime hole.

Tebow’s 2-yard keeper pulled the Broncos to 34-23 midway through the fourth quarter, but Brady drove the Patriots 80 yards for his fifth scoring drive and that was that.

Instead of another slow start followed by a fantastic finish, the Broncos started fast and then fizzled.

With their first loss since Oct. 30, the AFC West-leading Broncos face a tougher path to the playoffs, with a trip to Buffalo next week followed by a season finale against Kansas City, which ended Green Bay’s 19-game winning streak Sunday behind Kyle Orton, the player Tebow replaced in Denver.

They’re a game up on Oakland and San Diego.

“I definitely feel like we’re all right,” said Tebow, now 7-2 as Denver’s starter.

Tebow threw for 194 yards and ran for 93 yards and two scores in what, in many ways, was his best game so far despite the lack of another amazing comeback.

The last time Tebow lost, to Detroit on Oct. 30, he answered with an improbable six-game run that captivated football fans and cemented his standing as a cultural icon.

During the week, Tebow was the subject of a skit on “Saturday Night Live,” his name was brought up in the Republican debate in Sioux City, Iowa, and two high school students were suspended for organizing several “Tebowing” kneel-downs in tribute to the quarterback.

On the football field, the Patriots figured him out, putting him behind early and never letting him get up to engineer another comeback.

Brady picked apart a secondary that included two rookie safeties and an undrafted cornerback and had a hard time stopping the tight end tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who set career highs with nine catches for 129 yards and a touchdown.

Brady was 23 of 34, including his first scoring toss to Chad Ochocinco.

That it came against the Broncos, his personal bugaboo, was all the sweeter for Brady, who beat Denver for just the second time in eight tries. The Broncos are the only team he doesn’t own a winning record against.

After the Patriots fell behind 16-7, they went to the no-huddle and Brady threw a 1-yard TD strike to Hernandez, Tebow’s former teammate at Florida who capitalized on the Broncos’ attention to Gronkowski, who was limited to four catches for 53 yards.

“He had a great game. He’s a beast out there,” Gronkowski said about Hernandez. “He gets that ball you never know what’s going to happen. You never know who’s going to have a great game in this offense, that’s why everyone has to come ready to play, every single person. Someone’s always going to be open.”

Lance Ball, who earlier scored his first rushing TD in the NFL on a beautiful 32-yard scamper, fumbled at his own 19 and linebacker Rob Ninkovich recovered, leading to Stephen Gostkowski’s 21-yard field goal put the Patriots up for good at 17- 16.

Then, defensive end Mark Anderson, subbing for Andre Carter, who seriously injured his left knee earlier in the game, forced and recovered a fumble by Tebow at the Broncos 40. Six plays later, Brady took it in himself from a yard out to make it 24-16.

Notes — Brady’s last TD run was Nov. 14, 2010, at Pittsburgh. ... Broncos RB Willis McGahee rushed for 70 yards on seven carries but left in the first half with a left leg injury.

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