Brady threw a record-tying six touchdown passes as the Patriots beat Tebow and the Denver Broncos 45-10 to advance to the American Football Conference title game against the winner of today’s contest between the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans.
Vernon Davis caught a 14-yard pass from Alex Smith with 14 seconds remaining to give the San Francisco 49ers a 36-32 win over the New Orleans Saints and a spot in the National Football Conference championship game against the winner of today’s matchup between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers.
The conference title-winners on Jan. 22 will play for the NFL championship in the Super Bowl in Indianapolis on Feb. 5.
New England’s win in Foxborough, Massachusetts, last night ended the run of the Broncos and Tebow, who had led Denver to five fourth-quarter comeback victories in the regular season and an overtime triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the playoffs a week ago.
The fourth-quarter rallies had been labeled “Tebow Time” by ESPN, and the second-year quarterback from the University of Florida became known for his on-field performance and his post- victory ritual of kneeling in prayer. That pose took on its own name -- “Tebowing” -- and the attention helped lead to television ratings for the Denver-Pittsburgh game that broke records for a first-round playoff contest.
Last night in Gillette Stadium, the opposing quarterback had the upper hand.
Brady matched the NFL record for touchdown passes in a playoff game set by Oakland Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica in 1969 and tied by the 49ers’ Steve Young in 1995.
“It sounds rhetorical, but it’s a one-game season,” Brady said in a televised interview after last night’s game.
Brady threw five touchdown passes in the first half, an NFL playoff record, as the Patriots took a 35-7 lead. Rob Gronkowski caught three of his scoring throws, matching the league record for touchdown receptions in a postseason game.
“We knew we had to execute, we knew we had to play four quarters,” Gronkowski, who finished with 10 catches for 145 yards, said in a televised interview.
Brady completed 26 of 34 attempts for 363 yards, with one interception. The Patriots had 509 total yards compared with Denver’s 252 yards.
Tebow completed nine of 26 passes for 136 yards. The Broncos’ scores came on a five-yard run by Willis McGahee in the second quarter and a 41-yard field goal by Matt Prater.
‘Work to Do’
“Kind of like our football team, I was really proud where he started and where he brought this team,” Denver coach John Fox said of Tebow in a news conference. “We are a work in progress. We have got a lot of work to do.”
Tebow said the early deficit was a difficult hurdle.
“Even at halftime when we came in and said we were going to play one play at a time, you never know what’s going to happen,” he said at a news conference. “We just weren’t able to get it done.”
Davis caught a 49-yard pass from Smith with just over two minutes left in the first quarter in San Francisco to give the 49ers a 7-0 lead over the Saints. He finished with seven catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
“I had to take it upon myself to step up and make plays,” Davis said in televised interview. “We practiced the play all week. It was rehearsed.”
The 49ers had a 17-0 lead 43 seconds into the second quarter on Davis’s touchdown, Smith’s four-yard pass to Michael Crabtree and David Akers’s 25-yard field goal.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees connected with Jimmy Graham on a 14-yard pass and Marques Colston on a 25-yard throw in the second quarter to narrow the gap to a 17-14 at halftime.
Akers kicked a 41-yard field goal to give the 49ers a 20-14 advantage in the third quarter.
The Saints took their first lead with 4 minutes, 11 seconds left in the game on Brees’s 44-yard pass to Darren Sproles for a 24-23 advantage. Two minutes later, Smith ran 28 yards for a 29-24 lead for the 49ers, who failed on a two-point conversion.
Brees put the Saints back on top with a 66-yard scoring pass to Graham. New Orleans’ two-point conversion was successful for a 32-29 lead with 1:48 remaining.
Smith passed for his third touchdown to Davis for the victory.
“On that last drive, three points down, we knew a field goal would take us into overtime,” Smith, who passed for a total of 299 yards, said in a televised interview. “We got a play with a shot at the end zone. Vernon got a great catch in traffic.”
Brees entered the game as the all-time record holder for consecutive postseason passes (215) without an interception, a streak that was broken by two interceptions. Brees completed 40 of 63 passing attempts for 458 yards and four touchdowns for the Saints who had five turnovers.
“These were two great teams that know how to win, how to finish and are used to winning,” Brees said at a news conference. “Unfortunately, there can be only one winner.”
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