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Record-smashing Brady leads Patriots past Broncos

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (L) is grabbed by New England Patriots defensive end Shaun Ellis in the third quarter of their NFL AFC
Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (L) is grabbed by New England Patriots defensive end Shaun Ellis in the third quarter of their NFL AFC

(Reuters) - Tom Brady put an end to "Tebow-mania" by tossing six touchdowns in a record-smashing performance as the New England Patriots demolished the Denver Broncos 45-10 on Saturday to storm into the AFC Conference Championship.

The divisional showdown began with the spotlight on Denver's intriguing quarterback Tim Tebow but ended with it firmly focused on Brady and the Patriots, who await Sunday's winner between the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens.

"It's all about winning," Brady told reporters. "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.

"So for us to come out and play the way we did and have a very solid performance in the most important game of the year was very gratifying."

Brady provided Tebow with a quarterback masterclass, the twice Super Bowl most valuable player putting the game out of reach with a record-breaking opening half, setting a new mark with five touchdown passes, three of them to hulking tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez also caught touchdown throws as Brady equaled the NFL record for most touchdowns passes in a playoff game.

The mark is also shared by Oakland Raiders Daryle Lamonica (1969) and San Francisco 49ers Steve Young (1994).

The Broncos had reached the divisional clash in spectacular fashion, Tebow hitting Demaryius Thomas with an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime to sink the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday but fell flat in frosty Foxboro.

Tebow, who had developed a reputation as a gridiron miracle worker and captured the imagination of the American public for an almost magical ability to pull out late wins, was out of tricks against the Patriots and completed nine passes for 136 yards.

"Everyone (fans and media) focused on one player, all week we were focused on the entire Broncos team," said Brady. "Tim is a very good quarterback but they've got a good defense, a good rushing team."

On a chilly night at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots gave the capacity crowd plenty to cheer with a dominating display that wiped away memories of home playoff failures the previous two seasons to the New York Jets (2010) and Baltimore Ravens (2009).

Brady needed less than two minutes to march his team 80-yards and capped the opening drive with an eight-yard strike to favorite target Welker.

Tebow's start was not nearly as positive, the Denver quarterback stripped of the ball on the New England 41-yard line to bring on Brady, who went right back to work converting the turnover into a 10-yard touchdown to Gronkowski.

While Brady was eight-for-eight to open the contest he was not perfect, intercepted late in the first quarter with Denver taking over on their 24 and Willis McGahee rumbling the final five-yards to chop the Patriots advantage to 14-7.

But Brady was quickly back on target with a 61-yard bomb to Branch sandwiched between a pair of touchdown passes to Gronkowski to take a commanding 35-7 advantage into the intermission.

Brady was not done, finding Hernandez for a 17-yard score to start the second half, finishing the night with a career post-season best 363-yards on 26 completions.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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