DENVER — Not this time, Tim Tebow.
Not with Tom Brady on hand.
Brady threw for two touchdowns, ran for another and the New England Patriots shut down Tebow’s late-game heroics and clinched a playoff berth with a 41-23 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
“It was a really good day for us,” Brady said. “Very emotional game. It was really rocking early. We showed some mental toughness.”
The Patriots (11-3) won their sixth consecutive game and another AFC East title by bouncing back from an early 17-6 deficit and an awful first quarter in which they were outgained on the ground 167 yards to 4.
This time, there was no last-minute magic from Tebow, who had guided the Broncos (8-6) to four consecutive fourth-quarter comebacks and six wins in a row.
Instead of another slow start followed by a fantastic finish, the Broncos started fast and then fizzled.
They scored on their first three possessions and then were done in by a trio of turnovers in the final 8½ minutes of the second quarter.
“We did have things going pretty well early, scored on the first three possessions and felt like we were moving the ball good and then we put it on the ground,” Tebow said. “That’s something you can’t do against a great team and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
“Besides that, we were right there with them.”
Champ Bailey had said the Broncos needed a big game against a big quarterback to prove to themselves and others that they were not just a curiosity but a contender. They didn’t get it on this day.
“We showed today that we’re not ready to go to the playoffs and make a push,” Bailey said. “We’ve got to get better and we only have two or three weeks to do it. If we don’t, then we’ll be sitting home.”
With their first loss since Oct. 30, the AFC West-leading Broncos face a tougher path to the playoffs, with a trip to Buffalo next week followed by a regular-season finale against Kansas City.