New England's defense was much more tenacious in the rematch and exposed Tebow in the biggest game of his professional career, hitting him eight times — including five sacks — in a 45-10 victory Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
There were no issues with gap control, and the tackling was far better Saturday. Before Tebow knew what hit him — both literally and figuratively — the Broncos were in a massive hole and stranded without a shovel.
The Patriots were more aggressive up front as they shot the gaps rather than playing in containment mode, as the two-gap approach was countered in Week 15 by Denver's effective double teams in the running game. Saturday, though, there were continuous streams of pressure, and they brought it from both sides of the line more often than usual, a change in the game plan that yielded players to say they were "excited" about turning it loose.
New England primarily used three down lineman — Kyle Love started at the nose with Vince Wilfork and Brandon Deaderick at either side — while Mark Anderson played to the outside as a rush linebacker, and linebacker Rob Ninkovich had a combination of assignments on the other side.
This was the same personnel package the Patriots used in the second half in Week 15, though the spacing was slightly different, as Love stayed on the nose rather than a little more to the outside. And the Patriots attacked, and attacked and attacked much more than they did in the first half in their initial meeting.
The Broncos had some success in their first three drives, amassing 90 yards, five first downs and seven points (on a short field after Tom Brady's interception).
But after that, they were completely neutralized. In their next six possessions (not including one kneel-down before halftime), the Broncos registered 29 total yards on 22 plays (1.3 yards per play) and two first downs. Throughout that stretch, the Patriots turned a 14-7 lead into a 42-7 shellacking.
Tebow was so bad that backup Brady Quinn started loosening up on the sideline, though he never set foot on the field. Tebow finished 9 of 26 for 136 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions, and he was limited to five rushes for 13 yards, which matched his career low in games that he's started.
There was no adjustment period this time around. The Patriots brought it on defense and admitted they were much better prepared after stepping into the ring with Tebow and the Broncos last month.
New England's game plan — and more importantly, its execution — crippled Tebow and the Broncos, and it helped carry the Patriots to their sixth AFC Championship game in the last 11 years.