Every week, PFW associate editor and Patriots writer Kevin Fishbain will identify three up-and-comers and three players/units going in the opposite direction in the Patriots stock report.
1. QB Tom Brady: He would never say it, but you have to wonder if Brady's two-interception game in last year's playoff loss to the Jets was still on his mind. That, or all the hoopla surrounding his opponent, Tim Tebow. Either way, Brady had the best offensive game of the divisional-round weekend, completing 26-of-34 passes for 363 yards and six touchdowns.
2. Run defense: The entire front seven deserves mention for its performance against a Denver team that rushed for 252 yards against New England in Week 15. On Saturday night, the Broncos rushed for 144 yards on 40 carries, a 3.6-yard average, and the Patriots forced 14 negative plays. OLB Rob Ninkovich did a good job setting the edge, MLB Brandon Spikes and DTs Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork clogged the middle and Gerard Warren and Shaun Ellis were often in the backfield. It was the unit's best performance of the season.
3. Offensive line: The only way the Broncos were going to slow down the Patriots' attack was going to be if they pressured Brady. Instead, Patriots OTs Matt Light and Nate Solder pitched a shutout. The Broncos totaled zero sacks and only two QB hits. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil combined for one tackle on the night. It was the only time all season that the Broncos did not record a sack in a game.
1. WR Chad Ochocinco: There was some thought that maybe the playoffs would be the perfect time for Ochocinco to make an impact. Instead, he played only one snap in the win, according to ESPN Boston. The offense clearly didn't need Ochocinco, and the no-huddle grouping doesn't include him.
2. RB Stevan Ridley: This is pretty ticky-tack, but Ridley's fumble was one of the only Patriots miscues all game. He did have 21 rushing yards on four carries, but wasn't used as much as he was in the final three games of the season.
3. LB Dane Fletcher: Likely not a knock on Fletcher, but scheme-wise the Patriots were better off with Spikes on the field against a Broncos offense that was pretty one-dimensional, and Spikes is more of a sure tackler. Fletcher was in on only 14 snaps, and didn't play until the second half, per ESPN Boston's game charting. Against the Ravens and Ray Rice, though, expect to see more of Fletcher to help shut down the screen play.