FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A week after one of the most exhilarating Broncos victories in team history, Saturday brought a defeat equally as deflating.
New England beat Denver 45-10 Saturday night at Gillette Stadium in the Divisional round of the AFC Playoffs.
And just like that, the Broncos' 2011 season is over.
"It's frustrating," said Willis McGahee, who led all players with 76 rushing yards. "It's one of those games that you don't want it to end like this. Unfortunately it did and you can't do anything about it right now."
The first three possessions of the evening foreshadowed what was to come.
After receiving the opening kickoff, the Patriots drove down the field in five plays for a touchdown to Wes Welker.
On the Broncos' promising first possession, which reached the New England 37-yard line, Tim Tebow was sacked by Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich, fumbling the ball in the process. Linebacker Brandon Spikes recovered for New England.
The following possession was another successful one for the Patriots. It culminated in a 10-yard Rob Gronkowski touchdown -- the first of his three for the game -- to open up a 14-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the contest.
"It's (Tom) Brady being Brady," Champ Bailey said of the Patriots quarterback. "What more can you say? He's been around the block a few times. He knows how to win games. If you're not ready to punch him in the mouth, he's going to eat you up all night."
The Broncos got right back in it shortly thereafter, as Quinton Carter intercepted Tom Brady -- the rookie's second pick of the playoffs -- returning it to the 24-yard line.
The offense capitalized, as Willis McGahee gashed through the defense for a 5-yard touchdown to make it a one-possession game six seconds into the second quarter.
"We just felt like we had a chance to get back in it," McGahee said. "But it didn't go the way we wanted it to go and they took advantage of us."
The Broncos didn't score again until 2:14 remained in the third quarter with a 41-yard Matt Prater field goal. In between, the Patriots put up 28 unanswered points.
Denver kept battling, forcing a fumble in the third quarter, but the Patriots offense was too potent and the Broncos offense couldn't ever get on track.
"Any time you're getting beaten like that you just continue to fight," said Tebow, who finished with 136 passing yards. "It doesn't change who you are, how you play, how you go out there – you should be the same at all times. That's what I wanted to show."
By the end of the night, Gronkowski had tied an NFL postseason record with his three touchdowns, Brady had tied an NFL postseason record with his six passing touchdowns and Denver had allowed its second-highest point total of the season.
"It's like night and day," Bailey said of the atmosphere in the locker room on Saturday compared to last week. "You win a close game and then come in here and get your butts handed to you. It's disappointing because I know how hard we worked. We played a good football team. They were ready to go and we weren't."
Although it wasn't the ending the team wanted, Head Coach John Fox said the players shouldn't let that take away from what they accomplished this season.
"I thought they accomplished a lot," Fox said. "I thought they came a long way from a 1-4 start with a football team that had no offseason, no OTAs -- really, I was as proud of them as any team I've ever coached."
The offseason for the Broncos begins Sunday, as players will clean out their lockers, the final act of the 2011 campaign.
Demaryius Thomas, for one, is already excited for what the future holds.
"We came in this year, nobody gave us a chance," Thomas said. "They were saying we were going to win two games, three games. We came out and were 8-8 and won the first round of the playoffs.
"I feel like we can build on this."