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Divisional grades: Broncos-Patriots


Grading out the performances from San Francisco's New England's dominant 45-10 beatdown of the Denver Broncos in Saturday's AFC divisional round matchup.

Quarterback: Was this loss all on Tim Tebow's shoulder? Absolutely not. The Broncos melted down in just about all aspects of the game Saturday. And yet ... at halftime, Denver's QB had as many completions (three) as Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski had touchdowns. There was none of the deep passing magic Denver used to burn Pittsburgh, and Tebow even looked hesitant making decisions on option plays. Grade: D-

Running Backs: Considering Denver's offensive line couldn't block anyone and Tebow had no luck throwing, this group did a decent job. Willis McGahee wound up carrying 17 times for 76 yards, plus a touchdown that looked -- for a brief moment, at least -- like it might give Denver some life in the first half. Grade: B

Receivers: Demaryius Thomas finished with six catches for 93 yards, but even he had a drop early on. Aside from Thomas, it was a wasteland. Eddie Royal caught two passes for 25 yards and Matt Willis had one grab for 18. That was it from a positional group that needs an upgrade before the 2012 season. Grade: D+

Offensive Line: This was a letdown of the highest order. The Broncos had no answers for any of New England's looks. They failed to slow down Vince Wilfork and New England's big tackles, couldn't pick up any attacking linebackers and allowed five sacks. All told, Denver finished with an amazing 15 negative plays, most of them due to awful blocking. Grade: F

Defensive Line: Denver needed to generate consistent pressure on Tom Brady to have any chance of slowing down the Patriots' offense. Instead, the D-line barely managed to infiltrate the backfield all day. New England even found some success on the ground, with the worst moment for Denver in that category being a 43-yard run by Aaron Hernandez. Grade: D-

Linebackers: Von Miller's arrival turned this unit into a strength this season. That wasn't the case Saturday, though. The Broncos' linebackers were torched by New England's tight ends on passing plays -- no huge disgrace, given what Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have done this season -- and Miller put the humiliating icing on the cake with a dumb personal foul that set off a melee just before the fourth quarter's two-minute warning. Grade: D

Defensive Backs: Quinton Carter's interception of Brady late in the first quarter was, by far, Denver's biggest defensive play, and it set up a TD to pull the Broncos within 14-7. Other than that, there was nothing to put on the highlight film. Brady went to all corners of the field to find open receivers, time and again. Grade: D+

Special Teams: Matt Prater hit his only field goal and only extra point, but punter Britton Colquitt put up his lowest per-punt average of the entire season. Willis had a couple of decent returns but nothing off the charts. Grade: C

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Coaching: For all the good things Denver did last week in upsetting Pittsburgh, there were no answers Saturday. The Broncos struggled out of the gate on both sides of the ball and failed to adjust in any meaningful way. Grade: D

Quarterback: Take away one awful overthrow for an interception, and this was Tom Brady at his absolute finest. He threw for 363 yards and six touchdowns, while spreading the ball around just enough to keep Denver way, way off balance. The TD pass he threw to Deion Branch late in the first half was a thing of beauty. To top things off, Brady even turned in a 48-yard, quick-kick punt late. Grade: A

Running Backs: Do we judge this group on the backs alone? In that case it wasn't a great performance -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley managed a combined 74 yards on 21 carries, with Ridley coughing up a fumble. But the Pats also utilized Hernandez as a back several times, and he pitched in 61 yards, including a huge 43-yarder in the first quarter. Grade: B-

Receivers: Hard to nitpick anything here. Gronkowski continued his monster season with 10 grabs for 145 yards and a TD, while Hernandez, Deion Branch and Wes Welker all topped 50 yards receiving and all found the end zone. Grade: A

Offensive Line: Denver sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times last week. New England provided no such access to Brady, as the line shut the Broncos out in the sack column. This may never be a great run-blocking group, but the wrinkle to move Hernandez to the backfield gave the whole team a little boost, and the line seemed to feed off that early success. Grade: B+

Defensive Line: The Pats' D-line turned in the type of high-energy effort that wins games this time of year. Wilfork led the charge, collapsing the middle of Denver's offensive line on numerous plays en route to 1.5 sacks. Shaun Ellis added a crushing sack of Tebow in the third quarter, and the Patriots also batted down several passes before they got past the line of scrimmage. If there's any spot to criticize, it's that New England gave up a little bit more than it would like against the run. Grade: B+

Linebackers: Rob Ninkovich set the tone early, forcing a Tebow fumble and getting into the Denver backfield on at least two other plays. The rest of this group followed Ninkovich's lead, both against the run and the pass. The Patriots' front seven simply did not allow Denver to generate any big plays. Grade: A-

Defensive Backs: The Patriots did, essentially, what Pittsburgh failed to do last week -- namely, keep the Broncos' receivers in front of them. Thomas had a big catch-and-run play late, but that was all Denver managed downfield. The secondary also collapsed the line on runs, with Kyle Arrington leading the team in tackles. Grade: A-

Special Teams: We won't count Brady's tricky little punt in here, but Zoltan Mesko turned in a couple of solid tries, pinning Denver inside its own 20 on both of his attempts. Stephen Gostkowski went 6-for-6 on extra points and hit a 20-yard field goal. Julian Edelman aided the cause, too, with two punt returns for a 14-yard average. Grade: B+

Coaching: The game plan was flawless. When these teams met during the regular season, New England had all sorts of trouble stifling the Broncos' ground attack. That wasn't the case in the rematch -- Tebow had no room to free up his option looks, no matter where he went with them. New England raced out to an early lead, then kept its foot on the gas until late in the fourth. The only head-scratcher from Bill Belichick: Leaving his offensive starters on the field throughout, despite enjoying a comfortable lead and seeing Hernandez exit with a possible concussion. Grade: B+