FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots have been proud of their resilience throughout the season, and while they faced very little adversity during Saturday's 45-10 victory against the Broncos, they owned one key situation to grab complete control of the game.
Tom Brady's lone interception set up the Broncos for their only touchdown of the game. Prior to the pick, Brady completed 9 of 10 passes for 86 yards and two scores, and the Patriots led 14-0. After the interception, the Broncos cut the lead in half and the Patriots sputtered on their next offensive possession.
It set up the Broncos with the ball at their own 5-yard line with a chance to tie the game after an atrocious start. But the Patriots' defense took advantage of their favorable field position, forced a three-and-out and gave the offense an opportunity to reestablish their momentum.
"That's always big," cornerback Devin McCourty said. "We talk about if we get them in good field position for us, let's keep them down there. Let's give our offense a short field and give them a chance to punch one in. We talk about that every week, and to get it done was big."
The Patriots proceeded to score three touchdowns in a span of four possessions, including a pair of scores in the final two minutes of the half to extend the lead to 35-7. At that point, the lights were out on the Broncos' season.
The Patriots' resilience had shown up on plenty of occasions recently — too often for their liking. They erased multiple-possession deficits four times in their last six regular-season games, and they closed the regular season by digging themselves out of holes of 17-0 to the Dolphins and 21-0 to the Bills.
But the character was more important Saturday for a different reason. After Brady's early interception in last year's playoff loss to the Jets, he and the offense were rattled. Their comfort level disappeared almost at the snap of their fingers, but that was hardly the case this time around.
The Patriots were put on alert when the Broncos made some noise, and it caused them to put together their best stretch of the game, which vaulted them into the AFC Championship.
"That was huge, really, to get those points to come in before halftime was big," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "And then we got a stop to start the third quarter, so that kind of sequence there at the end of the second and start of the third quarter was big for us. I mean, we had the lead, but then the game kind of got out of hand at that point, so that was really well-executed by our football team, especially offensively."