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(Sunday, December 18th)
Final Score: New England 41, Denver 23
Denver, CO (Sports Network) - Tom Brady watched the resurgent Broncos score on their first three possessions, then led the Patriots to 27 straight points en route to a 41-23 victory to help New England clinch the AFC East for the ninth time in 11 years.
Brady threw for 320 yards with two touchdowns and ran in another score in the sixth straight win for New England (11-3), which trailed 16-7 early in the second quarter before taking control.
Aaron Hernandez had game-highs of nine receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown, and the Patriots' defense overcame a slow start and an injury to Andre Carter to silence the streaking Broncos.
"We knew it was going to a 60-minute game," Brady said. "I thought we played well for 60 minutes for the first time this season."
Tim Tebow, the undeniable catalyst behind the Broncos' 7-1 run, had two rushing TDs and threw for 194 yards on 11-of-22 passing.
But there was no fourth-quarter magic that has become commonplace over the past two months in Denver (8-6), which still leads the AFC West by one game thanks to the Raiders losing to the Lions on Sunday.
The Broncos uncharacteristically started fast and ended with a thud.
They ran for 167 yards in the first quarter, with Tebow plowing in for a nine- yard touchdown and Lance Ball rumbling for a 32-yard TD.
Between the scores, Chad Ochocinco caught his first touchdown as a Patriot, hauling in a 33-yard pass down the left sideline. It was the former Bengals star's only catch.
The Patriots punted on their second drive and had their sack leader, Carter, go down with a knee injury on the final play of the first quarter.
Matt Prater, who did not attempt an extra point on Denver's first TD because of a bad snap, made a 26-yard field goal early in the second for a 16-7 edge.
The Patriots answered with a 12-play, 80-yard march capped by Hernandez bringing in a one-yard score with 8:43 remaining in the half.
The wheels started falling off for Denver from there. Ball fumbled on the first snap of the ensuing drive, and the Pats turned the turnover into the go- ahead points via Stephen Gostkowski's 21-yard field goal.
Mark Anderson then stripped Tebow while he was running the option and recovered the fumble at the Denver 40-yard line.
Brady completed a 25-yard pass to Hernandez on 4th-and-1 to keep the next drive moving, then muscled into the end zone from a yard out with 1:12 showing.
Both teams quickly punted before the break, and Quan Cosby's muff led to Gostkowski's 34-yard field goal on the half's final play.
"We had things going pretty well early, but then we put it on the ground. That's something you can't do against a great team," Tebow said.
New England punted in enemy territory on the first possession of the second half, but an eight-play, 85-yard drive later in the third essentially sealed the outcome, as Danny Woodhead's 10-yard run to paydirt in the final minute made it 34-16.
Not even Elvis Dumervil's vicious sack of Brady early in the fourth, nor Tebow's two-yard touchdown run a little later sparked a comeback.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis accounted for the final score with a one-yard plunge.
The Patriots have won 11 straight games in December...Patriots head coach Bill Belichick improved to 4-10 in his career against Denver...Coming in, the Pats were 2-15 in Denver since 1969...New England's Wes Welker caught four balls for 41 yards and set a career-high with 1,380 receiving yards this season...Ball totaled 105 yards from scrimmage, while Demaryius Thomas led Denver's receiving corps with seven catches for 116 yards...Tebow ran for a team-high 93 yards on 12 carries.
12/18 21:31:12 ET