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Halftime analysis: Patriots 35, Broncos 7

01.14.12 at 9:48 pm ET
By

FOXBORO — Two quarters are in the books here at Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots hold a 35-7 lead on the Broncos. Here are a few quick notes:

‘€¢Tom Brady is 18-for-25 for 246 yards with five touchdowns and one interception, with Rob Gronkowski catching eight balls for 97 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Tim Tebow (who hasn’t gone deep once in the first half) is 3-for-10 for 28 yards and a fumble, while Willis McGahee has 12 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown.

‘€¢Throughout much of the first quarter, the Patriots’ pass catchers were getting a free release downfield, with Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker getting separation on several occasions. Hernandez spent several snaps in the backfield, working as a fullback, which is pretty much in line with what a scout told us earlier in the week about what New England was planning to do. Hernandez lined up in the backfield for a majority of the plays on New England’s opening scoring drive, a five-play, 80-yard sequence that was highlighted by a 43-yard run by a Hernandez around left end and ended with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Welker.

‘€¢After a Tebow fumble (forced by Rob Ninkovich and recovered by Brandon Spikes), the Patriots were able to rip off more chunk plays utilizing their tight ends, who accounted for 44 of the 59 yards on that scoring drive, which ended with a 10-yard pass to Gronkowski in the corner of the end zone to make it 14-0 late in the first quarter. The Patriots would add to that with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Gronkowski midway through the second quarter to give New England a 21-7 lead. The Patriots finished the half in style with a 61-yard scoring strike to Deion Branch down the New England sidelines that made it 28-7 with 1:57 left in the first half.

‘€¢The Broncos were able to generate some good pressure in the second quarter, and ended up stopping the Patriots on New England’s initial possession of the second quarter. But that was their lone highlight, as Brady had more touchdown passes in the first half than Tebow had completions.

‘€¢The worst moment of the first half for the New England offense came just before the end of the first half when Brady airmailed a pass for Gronkowski over the middle and Quinton Carter picked it off, setting the Broncos up with great field position at the Patriots’ 24-yard line. They cashed in four plays later when Willis McGahee busted up the gut for a five-yard run into the end zone to make it 14-7 with 14:54 left in the half.

‘€¢Defensively, the Patriots flashed some unique looks, with the most interesting coming with the constant shuffling of Devin McCourty between cornerback and safety. More often than not, McCourty was at corner over the first two downs and then moved to deep safety on third down. The best defender on the field over the first two quarters was Ninkovich, who was able to bring some good pressure, coming away with a sack. He was also able to do a good job with contain, setting the edge nicely.

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