Tight end Aaron Hernandez #81 of the New England Patriots celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 18, 2011 in Denver, Colorado.

One former University of Florida Gator got all the pregame pub this week, that was of course, Denver QB Tim Tebow.  But it was another former Florida Gator, a former Tebow target in fact, New England TE Aaron Hernandez who stole the show Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver CO.

Hernandez led the Patriots to a 41-23 win over the Broncos and helped New England clinch it’s third consecutive AFC East Title and 9th in the last 11 seasons with a 9 catches for 129 yards and 1 TD performance.

While the Denver defense was looking to take away Hernandez’ counterpart, TE Rob Gronkowski they, they left the Connecticut native wide open to steal the game for New England.

It didn’t start out so good though as Tebow and the Broncos offense absolutely shredded the Patriots porous defense.   In the 20 minutes they racked up 133 yards on the ground alone plus another 68 yards by Tebow through the air as Denver jumped out to a 16-7 lead early in the 2nd quarter.  Then Denver imploded.

Three turnovers by the Broncos led to 13 Patriots points as New England rang up 20 unanswered points to close out the 1st half and go to the locker room leading 27-16.

In the second half New England, even though the defense was shaky at times, was able to contain Tebow and the Denver running game after allowing nearly 200 yards on the ground in the first two quarters.  They only allowed an additional 70 yards rushing and 73 yards in the air in the second half as they took away the game from the Broncos and made sure there was no such thing as “Tebow Time” on this Sunday afternoon.

Maybe we’ll get to see a rematch in the AFC Playoffs.

Patriots at Broncos Gamebook. This includes the box score, all the stats, play by play, drive charts and more.

Patriots at Broncos Game Recap.

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Turning Point(s) of the Game

The three Denver turnovers in the second quarter directly led to 13 of the 20 points New England had in the 2nd quarter.

Offensive Player(s) of the Game

Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez had 9 catches for 129 yards and 1 TD with a long catch of 46 yards.

Defensive Player(s) of the Game

Patriots DE Mark Anderson had 3 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 2 QB hits, 1 forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Game Notes

Starters for the Patriots were:

On Offense:

LT Light
LG Mankins
C Wendell
RG Waters
RT Solder
TE Hernandez
TE Gronkowski
WR Welker
WR Ochocinco
QB Brady
RB Faulk

On Defense:

DE Deaderick
DT Love
DT Wilfork
DE Carter
LB Mayo
LB Fletcher
LB Ninkovich
CB McCourty
CB Arrington
S Slater
S Ihedigbo

Inactives for the Game:


1. S Patrick Chung (foot)

2. T Sebastian Vollmer (foot)

3. LB Brandon Spikes (MCL)

4. WR Deion Branch (groin)

5. RB Shane Vereen (hamstring)

6. C Nick McDonald

7. QB Ryan Mallett


1. S Brian Dawkins (neck)

2. S David Bruton (Achilles)

3. LB Mike Mohammed

4. G Manny Ramirez

5. T Tony Hills

6. TE Julius Thomas

7. DE Derrick Harvey

The spread (Patriots minus 7) WAS covered.  The over/under (46) WAS covered.  I GAVE the points (Patriots) and took the OVER.  I am now 8-5-1 vs. the spread and 10 of 14 calling the under/over.

The Broncos lead the all-time series 27-17 including playoffs.

The Patriots are 9-18 as the road team in the series.

Patriots clinched the AFC East and their 13th playoff berth in the last 18 seasons with the win in Denver.

New England has won 6 consecutive games after a 2 game losing streak.  It is their longest win streak of the season.

New England is 39-5 in December games since 2001.  That’s the best in the NFL in that time period.

The Patriots have had 6 undefeated Decembers since 2001.  They are 3-0 this month.

Since 2000 have the Patriots the best road record in the NFL at 63-33.

Bill Belichick’s 188 wins are good for 9th all-time.  Chuck Knox, who coached the Rams, Redskins and Seahawks, is 8th all-time with 193.

Tom Brady is 2-6 vs. the Broncos including 0-1 in the playoffs.  Both wins have come in Denver.

Denver is the only team in which Brady has a losing record against.

Brady’s 2 TD passes give him 296 TD passes in his career he is now 6th all-time.  Hall of Fame QB John Elway is 5th with 300.

Brady has 122 career wins he is 6th all-time.  Fran Tarkenton is 5th with 124.

WR Wes Welker now has catches in 96 consecutive games including playoffs, 79 as a Patriot.  The last time Welker did not have a catch in a game was 12/24/05 as a Dolphin.

LB Jerod Mayo signed a five-year contract extension on Saturday.  It’s reported to be worth $50 million with $27 million guaranteed.

Earlier this weekend the Patriots released CB Malcom Williams and promoted S Ross Ventrone from the practice squad.

DE Andre Carter hurt his knee in the second quarter and did not return.  It didn’t look good as he was carted off.  My best guess based on the field tests is a possible ACL injury that would end his spectacular season.

The Patriots were 5 of 12 on 3rd conversions (42%) and 1 of 2 on fourth down (50%) while the Broncos were 4 of 10 on 3rd down conversions (40%) and 0 for 2 on 4th down.

New England was 4 for 6 (67%) on red zone efficiency and 3 for 4 (75%) on goal to go efficiency.  Denver was 2 for 3 (67%) in the red zone and 1 for 1 (100%) in goal to go situations.

New England is now plus 12 in turnover differential after recovering 3 Denver fumbles.

The Broncos had their 6 game win streak snapped and are now 7-2 since Tebow took over as the starting QB.

Denver is currently in first place in the AFC West with a one game lead over Oakland as both teams lost on Sunday.

Since 2002 Denver is 13-5 at home in December, it’s the 3rd best record in that span.

Denver head coach John Fox is now 1-3 vs. New England including 1 Super Bowl (0-1) in his career all with Carolina.  This was his first game against them as the head coach in Denver.

In case you didn’t catch it in the inactives list, Denver has a player named Manny Ramirez.

Denver sacked Brady 2 times while Tebow was sacked 4 times and fumbled once.

Mike Carey was the game referee.  The temp at kickoff was 63 and it was sunny.

Pro Bowl voting ends tomorrow, cast your votes for deserving players.

Game Attendance – 76,556 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High – Denver CO

The Broncos have sold out every game ever played at Sports Authority Field at Mile High which opened in 2001.  They have a continuous sell out streak of all home games dating back to 1970 in Mile High Stadium.

Post Game Interviews

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Patriots QB Tom Brady post game press conferences via patriots.com

This Week in the AFC East

Miami beat Buffalo, 30-23

Philadelphia routed the NY Jets, 45-19

AFC East Standings

Patriots                   11-3/3-1

Jets                        8-6/3-2

Bills                        5-9/1-4

Dolphins                  5-9/2-2

Next Game

The Patriots host the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA on Saturday.  Kick off is at 1 p.m. on CBS.

Follow Steve on Twitter @djstevem

Photo credit: Getty Images