Bitter playoff losses a distant memory

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / January 15, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH - Given an extra week to face reminders about how he and the Patriots had fared in the playoffs lately, Tom Brady took the field last night intent on making those failures - team and individual - a distant memory.

He replaced them with a record-setting destruction of Denver’s defense in a dominating 45-10 victory at Gillette Stadium, more than enough to place the pass-happy Patriots one scintillating step from football’s promised land.

Reunited days earlier with newly rehired offensive coach Josh McDaniels, Brady turned last night’s AFC divisional game into a 2007 flashback, when the duo orchestrated an offense that played at a level never before seen, scoring a record 589 points in the regular season.

This team, like that one, has Super Bowl aspirations. With Brady having a game unlike any other in Patriots’ postseason history, home playoff losses the last two seasons seemed like a thing of the past, literally and figuratively.

“It’s all about winning. You lose a few playoff games and it’s a very bitter way to end the season, it sits on your mind for quite a long time,’’ Brady said. “For us to come out and play the way we did, have a very solid performance in the most important game of the year, is very gratifying.’’

Gratifying? That’s Brady simply being humble.

All Brady did against the Broncos was complete 26 of 34 passes for 363 yards, and toss six touchdown passes, five in the first half. Ho hum.

The yards are a franchise postseason record. So, too, the touchdowns, which also tied the NFL record for TD passes in a playoff game, matching Oakland’s Daryle Lamonica in 1969 and San Francisco’s Steve Young in the 1995 Super Bowl.

Oh yeah, Brady also had a 48-yard punt late in the fourth quarter, which was downed at the Broncos’ 10-yard-line. It was the first thing he wanted to talk about after the game.

“We’ve been practicing it for seven years,’’ Brady said.

It had been four years since the Patriots’ last playoff victory, a puzzling, frustrating postseason skid that saw Brady get pressured, sacked, and forced into costly interceptions.

Not this time. He completed his first eight passes, and found his four favorite receivers at different points of the game for emphatic touchdowns.

Rob Gronkowski caught three of them, including a 19-yarder with five seconds left that helped make it 35-7 at halftime. Deion Branch hauled in a 61-yarder on the previous possession. Those two scores guaranteed that the rout was on. The only question left was if Brady would equal the single-game touchdown record. It came on the Patriots’ first second-half drive, a 17-yarder to Aaron Hernandez.

“Yes,’’ Branch said, when asked if he’s ever seen Brady this good. “But hopefully that’s not the best of him.’’

Overshadowed by Denver’s Tim Tebow coming into the game, Brady made sure the only quarterback worth discussing afterward was the one driving home last night to the Back Bay, not flying home over the Rockies.

At one point, Brady had twice as many touchdowns in the game (six) as Tebow had completions (three). He didn’t bite, though, when asked if the game took on any added individual significance because of the pregame attention shoved Tebow’s way.

“I think everyone focused on one player, and I think all week we were focused on the entire Denver Broncos team,’’ Brady said. “We knew what kind of challenges they presented. Tim’s a very good quarterback, we knew the threats, we understood the danger of not playing our best game.’’

Thanks to him, they did, and can now sit at home today and watch the Baltimore-Houston game with a scout’s eye, knowing the winner comes to Gillette a week from today, with a Super Bowl spot at stake.

Brady professed no knowledge of the records set - “I have no idea what records and stuff like that, we just try to go out and execute well’’ - but couldn’t let his short postgame press conference go without mentioning the lone mistake he made, the first-quarter interception that led to Denver’s only touchdown. He even brought it up, unprompted.

“Certainly the turnover, I wish we didn’t have those, but we can learn from those and hopefully go out and play better next week,’’ Brady said.

Considering the numbers he put up, that’s a scary thought, no matter who lines up against the Patriots seven days from now in the AFC Championship.

Michael Whitmer can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.

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