DENVER — The last time the New England Patriots played before Sunday night, Jimmy Garoppolo was riding shotgun behind Tom Brady. He was supposed to be the heir apparent.

But with Garoppolo shipped out to San Francisco and the Patriots essentially acknowledging that Brady is still on his game at age 40 and their man for the foreseeable future, No. 12 responded as only he can.

Brady kicked some serious butt and did it at a venue where he’s had some of his worst games.

Not that he had to show anyone, but if there were any lingering doubts about the Garoppolo trade, Brady wanted to make people at ease.

Does he still have his fastball? You bet he does. That was the post-Garoppolo message delivered in a three-touchdown effort, as Brady hit nine different receivers on 25-for-34 passing for 266 yards in a 41-16 rout of the Denver Broncos.

Mile High Stadium has been a House of Horrors for Brady. He was 3-7 heading into Sunday’s game, and without one of his favorite receivers – Chris Hogan.

No matter. After a bit of a slow start, Brady cranked it up toward the end of the first half, then buried the Broncos in the second half.

“It was fun for me to watch,” said his new backup, Brian Hoyer. “People ask me since I’ve been back what’s changed. I think Tom’s pretty much the same. So for me, it’s great to be out there on the field with him, and watch him perform and execute the game plan.

“He did such a great job. I had a smile on my face the whole time being back … watching him play. It was fun.”

Past trips to Mile High weren’t as fun, thanks to Denver’s Von Miller and others pressuring him and making his life miserable. Brady was running for his life much of the time. The past two trips, however, the Patriots have been able to neutralize Miller. LaAdrian Waddle, playing right tackle in place of the injured Marcus Cannon, did yeoman work with occasional help against the Pro Bowl linebacker.

With time in the pocket, Brady eventually was able to pick apart the secondary using his backs, tight ends (including newcomer Martellus Bennett) and wide receivers. Running backs Rex Burkhead and James White caught touchdown passes. Even tight end Dwayne Allen got into the act, catching his first touchdown pass.

“I don’t think it’s perfect. We have pretty high expectations for what we’re trying to do offensively,” Brady said. “When we play well, it looks pretty good. It’s probably been more uneven the first eight games.

“Tonight was a really good night for us. Hopefully we can build on this and gain some confidence in all three phases.”

Brady will continue to be in the discussion for MVP, along with Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. Wentz also whipped the Broncos’ defense in a 51-23 win a week earlier. The three TD passes give Brady 19 for the season, and he leads the NFL in completions with 231 and passing yards with 2,807.

“It was a fun win for us tonight,” said wide receiver Danny Amendola. “We have a lot of good players around Tom, and everyone came to play tonight.”

Rob Gronkowski, who caught four passes for 74 yards, hasn’t seen a difference in Brady since the first day the tight end walked in the door in 2010.

“He’s always fired up,” said Gronkowski. “He’s always practicing hard … he’s always on top of his game. It’s great. He just keeps going.”

For how much longer is anyone’s guess. Brady does make errant throws here and there. But by and large, he’s still amazing and cranking out near perfect performances.

His passer rating was 125.4 Sunday night. Denver’s Brock Osweiler was 72.9, just as a comparison.

“I do really love the game,” said Brady. “I love practicing and playing. I love being with my teammates and working hard. It is fun for me. I plan on doing it for a long time.”