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Patriots 41, Broncos 23

Tight end Aaron Hernandez celebrates a 1-yard touchdown catch from Tom Brady in the second quarter that brings New England within 16-14. The score begins a 27-0 spurt for the Patriots.

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Tight end Aaron Hernandez celebrates a 1-yard touchdown catch from Tom Brady in the second quarter that brings New England within 16-14. The score begins a 27-0 spurt for the Patriots.

DENVER — Not this time, Tim Tebow.

Not with Tom Brady on hand.

Brady threw for two touchdowns, ran for another and the Patriots shut down Tebow's late-game heroics and clinched a playoff berth with a 41-23 victory over the Broncos on Sunday.

"It was a really good day for us," Brady said. "Very emotional game. It was really rocking early. We showed some mental toughness."

The Patriots won their sixth straight and another AFC East title by bouncing back from an early 17-6 deficit and an awful first quarter in which they were outgained in rushing yards 167-4.

This time, there was no last-minute magic from Tebow, the former Heisman winner from Florida who had guided Denver to four straight fourth-quarter comebacks and six straight wins.

This time the Broncos started fast, then fizzled. They scored on their first three possessions, then were done in by a trio of turnovers in the final 8½ minutes of the second quarter.

"We did have things going pretty well early, scored on the first three possessions and felt like we were moving the ball good and then we put it on the ground," Tebow said. "That's something you can't do against a great team and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

"Besides that, we were right there with them."

Cornerback Champ Bailey had said the Broncos needed a big game against a big QB to prove to themselves. They didn't get it.

"We showed that we're not ready to go to the playoffs and make a push," Bailey said after his team's first loss since Oct. 30. "We've got to get better, and we only have two or three weeks to do it. If we don't, then we'll be sitting home."

Because the Raiders lost Sundays, the Broncos retained a one game lead — and the edge in tiebreakers — in the AFC West.

Asked if Tebow & Co. can keep up with the league's top passers if they make it into the playoffs, Broncos coach John Fox said: "I can't predict that. He's gotten better every week. Six or seven weeks ago, people said he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. He does that. I think he can do that. I don't think that was why we lost the game tonight."

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Patriots 41, Broncos 23 12/18/11 [Last modified: Sunday, December 18, 2011 10:53pm]
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