FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tight end Aaron Hernandez ran 43 yards to set up Tom Brady's first touchdown pass, and Tim Tebow's fumble set up another Saturday night as the Patriots opened a 14-0 first-quarter lead over the Broncos in the second round of the NFL playoffs.
The quarter ended with the Broncos on the New England 5 yard-line after Quinton Carter intercepted Brady.
With a wind chill of 12 degrees and a strong wind from the north, the Patriots tried to earn their first playoff victory in four years and — for a second time — end Tebow's remarkable run. The Denver quarterback, who won his first six starts before losing 41-23 to New England on Dec. 18, led the AFC West champion Broncos to a 29-23 overtime victory over Pittsburgh in the opening round on the first play of overtime.
But this time, it was the Patriots who struck quickly.
On their first drive, Hernandez lined up in the backfield, took the handoff and ran the ball to the 7; Brady connected with Wes Welker on the next play to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead. The Broncos took over and moved the ball well before Tebow was strip-sacked by linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who also recovered the ball.
It took Brady only seven plays to take New England 59 yards, hitting Rob Gronkowski on a diving catch for the 10-yard touchdown.
Brady completed his first eight passes for 79 yards before throwing an incompletion — and then an interception that set up the Broncos at the Patriots 24.
New England (13-3) has not won a playoff game since losing the 2008 Super Bowl to the New York Giants to blow a chance at a 19-0 season. The Patriots have lost at home in the postseason in each of the last two years.
The Broncos (9-8) beat New England in the 2005 divisional round — Brady's first career playoff loss — but missed the playoffs in each of the next five seasons. Denver ended its slump last weekend with a 29-23 victory over the Steelers that lasted just 11 seconds into overtime, when Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas on a short pass and the receiver ran the rest of the way for an 80-yard score.