Rapid Reaction: Patriots 45, Broncos 10

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Here are some thoughts on the New England Patriots' 45-10 playoff victory over the Denver Broncos:

What it means: The Patriots won a postseason game for the first time in four years and ended a three-game playoff skid. The AFC East blog said this was the easiest matchup possible for New England, and it turned out that way. Denver was no match for the Patriots, who punched a ticket to the AFC Championship Game and will host the winner of Sunday's divisional game between the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans.

Fast starters: New England was criticized for its slow starts in the final two regular-season games. But the Patriots exploded in the playoffs by taking an astounding 35-7 lead at halftime. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw five touchdowns in the first two quarters and tight end Rob Gronkowski had eight receptions for 97 yards and three touchdowns at intermission. "Gronk" tied a playoff record for first-half touchdowns. The Broncos had no answer.

Brady ties TD record: Brady wasn't done in the first half. He threw another touchdown in the second half to tie an NFL playoff record. Brady finished with 363 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Brady also had a 48-yard punt during a quick kick in the fourth quarter.

Don’t forget Hernandez: The Patriots have the best tight-end duo in the NFL. They used both weapons by also getting backup Aaron Hernandez. Usually when you give Patriots head Bill Belichick two weeks, he finds a new wrinkle. New England put Hernandez in the backup where he could show off his tailbacks skills. Hernandez led the Patriots in rushing with 61 yards, including a 43-yard scamper on the first drive. He also caught four passes for 55 yards and a touchdown.

Ninkovich shines: New England needed someone to step up defensively, and the team got a great effort from linebacker Rob Ninkovich. The Patriots baffled Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow with a solid pass rush. Ninkovich tied defensive tackle Vince Wilfork for a game-high 1.5 sacks. Ninkovich also had five tackles and two quarterback pressures.

What's next: The AFC Championship Game comes to Gillette Stadium next weekend. New England will try to advance to its first Super Bowl since losing to the New York Giants following the 2007 season.