First and foremost, I’d like to thank Tebow. His story — agonizingly overplayed as it may have been — added a unique element to the 2011 NFL season, creating the kind of discourse and debate that made dinner parties and bar conversations at least 316 times more interesting than usual.

But let’s face it: Tim Tebow and the Broncos weren’t consistent enough to merit a spot in the AFC championship game, let alone the Super Bowl. #TebowTime had run its course, and the clock struck midnight appropriately.

We probably should have seen it coming. The Broncos were tired and depleted, while the Patriots were fresh and healthy. New England had beaten the Broncos handily only a few weeks prior to this debacle, and that was back in Colorado.

But many of us — GLS included — were apprehensive. We didn’t trust anyone against Tebow and his seemingly destined Broncos. Denver hadn’t shown up for much of December, but boy did they ever show up only six days ago against the Steelers.

Had they turned a corner? Or was that just the latest peak for a team fated to plummet to a valley (and not that kind of valley)?

The Tebow story is far from dead. He’s likely done enough to earn himself the starting job from the get-go in 2012, which means he’ll enter training camp as a starter for the first time ever. The circus won’t dissolve as long as Tebow is a relevant football player.

But we can put that narrative on hold while the Patriots fight the Ravens or Texans as well as maybe the 49ers or Packers or Giants for Lombardi.

The Pats have now won nine straight games overall. That Gillette Field playoff victory monkey is off their backs, and the curse of David Tyree has at least been eased. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker look as close to unstoppable as an offense can get. Tonight, Brady tied an NFL playoff record with six touchdown strikes while Gronkowski tied the single-game playoff receiving touchdowns record with three. Through three quarters, Brady had more touchdown passes than Tebow had completions.

They were lights out. At home. Against a team that went just 8-8 in the regular season. And against a defense that treated wild-card Sunday like Super Bowl Sunday and divisional Saturday like the Pro Bowl. The Saints proved early on Sunday that momentum can only take you so far. And this is a New England team that still has yet to defeat an opponent that finished the regular season with a winning record.

The storylines will still be quite palatable. Patriots-Ravens would speak for itself, as two of the most dominant teams of the last decade go head-to-head in your classic battle of offense versus defense. Texans-Patriots: David (T.J. Yates) and Goliath (Brady). Can the Packers repeat? Will we get a Pats-Giants rematch of Super Bowl XLII? What about New England-San Francisco, with Brady going up against the team he cherished growing up, the one that crushed his soul when it passed on the Michigan quarterback nine times in the 2000 draft?

We’ll miss Tebow, but he was just a delicious appetizer.