Patriots Live Blog: Pats Advance to AFC Championship Game With 45-10 Rout of Broncos

Patriots Live Blog: Pats Advance to AFC Championship Game With 45-10 Rout of Broncos

Final score, Patriots 45-10: That's all she wrote, and the Patriots will play next Sunday for a chance to play in the Super Bowl.

The big story in this one is obviously Brady, who threw six touchdowns. Three of them went to Gronkowski, with one to Welker, one to Hernandez and one to Branch.

Tim Tebow was terrible, but so was everyone else on the Broncos. Thanks for following along and we'll see you next week.

Fourth quarter, 2:00, Patriots 45-10: Well, the Patriots tried to do the right thing by punting on third down, and Von Miller started a brawl. Go figure, right?

The punt was fro Tom Brady, out of the shotgun formation, and it was downed inside the 6-yard line.

The Broncos are now driving for what is likely the final time of the night.

Fourth quarter, 7:14, Patriots 45-10: The Patriots defense forces a turnover on downs after Tebow misfires on third- and fourth-and-goal. On fourth down, he evaded sacks from Wilfork and Ellis, which was impressive at least.

Tom Brady is jogging to the New England huddle.

Fourth quarter, 7:39, Patriots 45-10: This is now Mike Hurley, and I can say that I finally know what Brian Hoyer feels like. In real news, Aaron Hernandez left the game with a head injury and his return is questionable.

But given the score, there's no chance he'll return.

Fourth quarter, 10:00, Patriots 45-10: The medical staff appears to have been checking Aaron Hernandez for a possible concussion, so again, that's going to be a storyline going forward, particularly since he's played so well down the stretch.

Mike Hurley will now take the hand-off and drive the live blog through the goal line. It's been fun, foiks.

Fourth quarter, 12:39, Patriots 45-10: Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 20-yard field goal after the Patriots ran the ball on three straight plays after first-and-goal. Aaron Hernandez took the first hand-off and got whacked, and he left the field in pain. That's going to be something to monitor after this game.

Funny, though, the crowd actually booed the decision to kick the field goal. This is all while some in the national media are busy slamming the Patriots for throwing the ball with the game in hand.

Rob Gronkowski made another spectacular catch down the right sideline. Just a catch only someone of his size can make. He's got 10 receptions for 145 yards and three touchdowns.

Third quarter, 2:14, Patriots 42-10: Nothing like a 14-play, six-minute drive to amass three points when you're trailing by five touchdowns. Anyway, Matt Prater's 41-yard field goal has gotten the Broncos to double digits.

Rob Ninkovich was in on that series, too, so the wrist injury wasn't serious.

Third quarter, 8:30, Patriots 42-7: Well, that's a hard lesson learned for Stevan Ridley, who caught a pass in the left flat, stutter-stepped and was then hammered by three Broncos before fumbling the ball at the Denver 19-yard line.

Ryan Wendell replaced Logan Mankins on that drive, which makes sense. But I don't see Mankins on the sideline, so that's curious. He could be covered up in one of those gigantic winter jackets, but if he's in the locker room, I wouldn't really view that as a positive sign. Yeah, it would make sense to tell him to go get warm if he's done for the day, but that stuff doesn't really happen in football, especially when it involves a captain who would certainly prefer to stay on the sideline with his teammates. (Update: OK, it took a while, but I finally found Mankins. He's in a big winter jacket and hat.)

Third quarter, 10:29, Patriots 42-7: The Broncos have no chance on offense, and it's just gotten beyond ugly. Vince Wilfork got his second sack of the game, but Rob Ninkovich injured his right wrist on the play. He stayed in for third down but was clearly favoring the wrist, then went to tell Matt Patricia on the sideline before finding a trainer.

Tom Brady and the offense start at their own 49 after the punt.

Third quarter, 11:46, Patriots 42-7: Now he's just showing off. Tom Brady hit Aaron Hernandez on a quick slant over the middle, Hernandez made a move and high-stepped his way into the end zone for a 17-yard score.

That's Brady's sixth touchdown of the game to tie an NFL playoff record. It's also the third time he's thrown for six scores in a game in his career. And since there's no sign of the Patriots slowing down, well, he might be staring at the record books on the sideline. I mean, at this point, does he even need to study the photos of the Denver defense anymore? It looks like he knows more about their defense than they do.

The Patriots came out in the no-huddle on that drive, too. It's obviously worked well for them, both in this game and throughout the season. It's the playoffs, and they're trying to move on. There's really no room for slowing down.

Third quarter, 13:26, Patriots 35-7: Remember how helpless the Dolphins looked when they couldn't get the Wildcat going against the Patriots? It's turning into the same thing here with the Broncos' offensive unit. Tim Tebow's got no chance to get into a throwing rhythm because that's not his game, and the Patriots are giving him all sorts of issues with their pressure. They're much less conservative, and the linemen are trying to slice the gaps like they did later in the first game against Denver.

New England takes over at the Denver 44 after the punt.

Third quarter, 14:55, Patriots 35-7: The Broncos will start the second half on their own 15, and they've got a heck of a climb ahead of them.

Halftime, Patriots 35-7: This has been a clinic.

It's also just the fifth game of Tom Brady's career with five passing touchdowns and the first since the snow game against the Titans in 2009.

Second quarter, 0:05, Patriots 35-7: How this Broncos defense kept its team in games might be more of a miracle than anything else that's happened with this team all season. Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for another touchdown — Brady's fifth and Gronkowski's third — and it was just too easy. There was a wide-open pocket in the zone right before the goal line, and Brady delivered a 19-yard strike. The Patriots went 58 yards on five plays in a little more than a minute, and they weren't ever in a rush, either.

Gronkowski's third touchdown reception set the single-game franchise record and tied the NFL's single-game postseason record. Things are breaking here at Gillette — records, the Broncos' confidence and the lore of Tebow.

Second quarter, 1:57, Patriots 28-7: How the tide has quickly turned. Tom Brady hit Deion Branch with a 61-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline. Branch might have gotten away with a little push on cornerback Andre Goodman, who had a poor game the first time around, but he hauled in the long throw and scampered down the sideline nonetheless. That was a quick, two-play drive that might be a ratings killer if this thing doesn't get any better for Tim Tebow and the Broncos.

Tom Brady has four touchdown passes, too, which is a new franchise record. Like he needed any more postseason accolades, right?

Second quarter, 2:27, Patriots 21-7: Huge series from the defensive linemen. Kyle Love, Vince Wilfork (one sack) and Gerard Warren all had big stops in a four-play stretch to force the Broncos to punt. After Warren (a Florida alum) took down Tim Tebow for a six-yard loss, Warren did the Gator Chomp celebration with Brandon Spikes. Gator-on-Gator crime.

Second quarter, 5:44, Patriots 21-7: Nothing doing on that series, as the Patriots went three-and-out and Zoltan Mesko punted it to the Denver 11. This is an important drive for Denver if it can orchestrate a score before the half. The Broncos get the second-half kickoff, too.

Second quarter, 6:31, Patriots 21-7: Another stout job on defense, as the discipline has been so much better this time around. The only big running plays have come on blown containments and one scramble by Tim Tebow. Other than that, the Broncos have done very little on the ground.

On the third-down stop, Niko Koutouvides subbed in extremely late for Shaun Ellis, and there was a ton of defensive confusion. I mean, a ton. It took two guys to tell Ellis to get off the field, then Mayo had to tell Koutouvides where to line up. Then, naturally, after dropping into his zone, Koutouvides rushed Tebow to force an incompletion. Had 'em all the way.

The Patriots take over at their own 48 again.

Second quarter, 7:42, Patriots 21-7: The Patriots went back to making it look easy on an eight-play, 52-yard touchdown drive that was capped by Rob Gronkowski's second touchdown and Gronkulean spike.

Brady now has the fifth most passing yards in playoff history.

Second quarter, 11:17, Patriots 14-7: Logan Mankins returned to the game. This could be similar to Dan Connolly's first game back when he only played a minimal amount, though Mankins is obviously getting more than just that. What I mean is he's probably just playing through some serious pain, and the coaching staff doesn't want to run him into the ground with a full workload. This could just be a planned rotation.

Good job by the defense to force a three-and-out. They were dead on with their run assignments, and the Broncos didn't even think about going to the air on that drive. New England takes over at its own 48.

Second quarter, 13:27, Patriots 14-7: Logan Mankins was replaced by Ryan Wendell on that last offensive series, and Mankins remained on the sideline wearing a winter hat. Not sure if he's done, but he clearly knew he wasn't playing on that series. There has been no announcement from the team.

Tom Brady missed his last two passes on the series, and the Patriots punted. Zoltan Mesko sent a nice one to the Denver 5-yard line, though. The Patriots' defense has a chance to recreate some momentum here in a big spot.

Second quarter, 14:54, Patriots 14-7: After the Patriots' strongest start in a while, they've got to show some resiliency now. Willis McGahee's five-yard touchdown run helped the Broncos capitalize off Tom Brady's interception. I'd expect the Broncos to try to feed off of this momentum and dial it up on defense here.

End of first quarter, Patriots 14-0: Tim Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas for a 12-yard gain on third-and-3 to get the Broncos to the 5-yard line here.

Over the last eight games of the regular season, the Patriots had three total turnovers, and two of those were interceptions from Tom Brady. To my last point, that's how rare the turnovers have become for their offense.

First quarter, 2:00, Patriots 14-0: Wow, Tom Brady was intercepted by safety Quinton Carter on an overthrow over the middle, and they have it at the New England 23. Brady was trying to hit Rob Gronkowski, but I'm not sure if Brady just sailed the ball or Gronkowsi didn't see it coming. The wind isn't a factor, so I'm not sure what happened.

Brady's interception derailed him last year against the Jets. This is a big moment, both for the Patriots' defense and for Brady and the offense to see how they respond after a rare turnover.

First quarter, 3:22, Patriots 14-0: During the Broncos' punt, the Gillette Stadium crowd started a loud "Te-bow! Te-bow!" mock cheer. It's getting amped up here.

Kyle Arrington briefly left the field during the last defensive series and was stretching out his left foot, but he returned. He had been suffering from a foot injury for several weeks.

The Patriots take over at their own 13.

First quarter, 6:42, Patriots 14-0: After spending a drive and a half getting Hernandez'd, the Broncos just got Gronk'd. Rob Gronkowski made a terrific 10-yard touchdown reception in the left corner of the end zone by tipping Tom Brady's pass and somehow corraling the ball with one hand before it hit the ground. And he did it all while falling forward. That explanation didn't do it any justice.

Hernandez, by the way, has rushes for 48 yards and one catch for nine yards through two possessions. The national media really focused on the Patriots' tight ends this week (aside from Denver's quarterback, of course), and they've shown up in a big way so far.

Logan Mankins really got after it with linebacker D.J. Williams on that drive, too. So yeah, what knee?

Julian Edelman has played a few snaps at wide receiver through two series. No catches yet, though.

First quarter, 10:07, Patriots 7-0: The Patriots have picked up where they left off in Denver, as Rob Ninkovich forced Tim Tebow to fumble, and Brandon Spikes recovered it. Credit Mark Anderson for the front-side pressure to push Tebow, who had no chance to avoid Ninkovich. The Patriots take over at their own 41.

They played with three down linemen (Vince Wilfork and Brandon Deaderick at end with Kyle Love on the nose) and Mark Anderson as a rush linebacker on the right side. There seemed to be similar spacing, with Love on the nose, as the Patriots opened with last time, though the personnel was different.

Devin McCourty opened at cornerback but shifted to safety when Sterling Moore came in on nickel formations.

First quarter, 13:09, Patriots 7-0: That was about as easy as it gets, and that's why teams probably don't like giving the Patriots the first opportunity to possess the ball off the opening kickoff. Tom Brady hit Wes Welker on a crossing pattern for a seven-yard touchdown to cap a quick, five-play scoring drive that was run with the no-huddle.

Tight end Aaron Hernandez took a hand-off out of a single-back set (where he was the running back) for a 43-yard gain off the left tackle, and the Broncos weren't even close to prepared to stop it. It looked like Hernandez's speed surprised them once he got into the second level.

It was so easy the Patriots only had one second down on the drive.

Tim Tebow, now it's your turn.

First quarter, 15:00, 0-0: Danny Woodhead took a knee, and the Patriots will start at their own 20. Logan Mankins is starting at left guard.

8:13 p.m.: The Patriots will receive the opening kickoff after the Broncos called heads, won the toss and deferred.

Ronan Tynan killed it with the national anthem, and this place was buzzing with energy. Amazing, though, that no one could see the end of that amazing 49ers-Saints game.

7:55 p.m.: The teams have completely cleared the field as they conduct their final meeting before the game. There's about 20 minutes before kickoff, and this is the quietest it will be for the rest of the night.

By the way, John Fox is big on deferring the kickoff, so the coin toss might actually be important for this game.

7:39 p.m.: The Patriots have started their full-team warmups. Brandon Spikes is still wearing a bulky brace on his right knee, but Patrick Chung doesn't have one. Chung may still have a sleeve or wrap over the knee, but he's not wearing anything heavy.

Oh, and Bon Jovi is on the field.

7:30 p.m.: Here are more details on the Patriots' inactive list. By the way, their six healthy scratches are the most of the season.

6:45 p.m.: Logan Mankins will return to the field for the Patriots, but Sebastian Vollmer will sit out his sixth consecutive game. Vollmer, Gary Guyton, Ron Brace, Nate Jones, Donald Thomas, Shane Vereen and Ryan Mallett are the Patriots' seven inactive players.

Patrick Chung, Brandon Spikes and Deion Branch will all play after missing the first meeting between the teams.

6:33 p.m.: Rob Ninkovich and Matthew Slater warmed up with assistant strength coach Moses Cabrera. Ninkovich was in game pants, so he'll be good to go. Slater was in sweats, but he'll probably be fine.

Surprisingly, or not, there has been no sign of Logan Mankins, Patrick Chung, Sebastian Vollmer or anyone else who I believed might be a true game-time decision. That's not to say they didn't work out elsewhere before the game, but the game-time decisions usually run through a full workout by this time.

That could also — and more likely — mean the decision had already been made on their availability.

6:28 p.m.: The video boards here remained on FOX during the halftime show of the Saints-49ers game. Tim Tebow started to laugh when he heard the crew talking about him.

6:19 p.m.: Wes Welker has also been warming up on the field in a sleeveless T-shirt. Apparently, not to be one-upped, Tim Tebow has returned to warm up in his sleeveless shirt for the second time.

6:07 p.m.: Danny Woodhead, Brian Waters, Nate Solder, Kevin Faulk, Chad Ochocinco, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett and Sterling Moore have started to warm up for the Patriots.

With kickoff at 8:15 p.m., I believe the inactives will be released at 6:45 p.m.

6:02 p.m.: Tim Tebow threw passes for 25 minutes and just departed for the locker room.

5:44 p.m.: Robert Kraft is walking around the field, shook Tim Tebow's hand and then started to speak with Phil Simms. The Patriots' specialists have started to warm up, too.

5:36 p.m.: Tim Tebow has started to warm up on the field. He's thrown about a dozen passes so far, and he's wearing a sleeveless workout shirt. By the way, it's freezing here. His frostbite might get frostbite.

5:33 p.m.: If you're interested in this sort of thing, here is my view from Gillette Stadium. The Saints-Niners game is on the video boards, and yes, everyone in the press box is just as surprised about the start as you.

5:25 p.m.: Safety Patrick Chung is here at Gillette, which is notable because he was added to Friday's injury report with a mysterious knee ailment. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean Chung will play, but it's a likely sign that he wasn't ruled out Saturday morning after the team meeting. He could still be a game-time decision, or this note could be meaningless. Either way, I wanted to pass it along that he's in the building.

5:12 p.m.: Hello from Gillette Stadium, where it's starting to get really cold. It's about 30 degrees, give or take, and there's a light breeze outside the stadium. The flags over the goal posts aren't moving, though.

The traffic on the way in was as crazy as I can ever remember. It took nearly twice as long to get here as it usually does on a game day, and Route 1 is jammed up all the way back to I-95.

11:30 a.m.: There are three key injury situations to monitor Saturday, and it will be noteworthy if any of the three players are on the field warming up with the medicial staff, signifying they're a game-time decision.

First is left guard Logan Mankins, who missed the first game of his career in Week 17 with a knee injury. He was still hobbled this week, but he was at all three practices. If he can't start, look for Ryan Wendell to fill in for him.

Second is safety Patrick Chung, who dealt with a foot injury for two months. It kept him out of seven consecutive games before he returned for the finale. Chung was on the injury report Wednesday with the foot ailment before being removed Thursday. But Friday, he was added with a knee injury, which was strange considering the Patriots only had a closed walkthrough. There's been no indication about the severity of the injury.

Finally, let's look at right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. He's missed 10 games this season, including the last five, with foot and back injuries. But he was limited in practice all week. Rookie Nate Solder has done a pretty good job in his place, and if Vollmer is healthy enough to play, will he start or be used in a rotational basis? I'd lean toward the latter.

8:00 a.m. ET: The playoffs are officially upon the New England Patriots, who are roughly 12 hours away from kickoff in their divisional round game against Tim Tebow and the Broncos.

The winner moves on to the AFC Championship and will play the winner of Sunday's Texans-Ravens game.

Every conceivable angle has been covered in the days leading up to this game, which is being anticipated as one of the most heavily-viewed events in television history. While the off-the-field storylines have been covered to no end, let's run through the X's and O's that will actually determine the winner of Saturday night's affair.

Why the Patriots are better equipped to handle the Broncos this time around. 

Tebow has shown precision with the deep ball, and the Broncos are doing a nice job setting it up.

The Patriots' defensive adjustments in Week 15 helped them cruise past the Broncos.

How to contain Tebow and Denver's running attack.

Stay with's live blog throughout the day to stay up to speed on everything happening at Gillette Stadium.

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