DENVER - Tim Tebow already had been proclaimed as the Mile High Messiah weeks before Christmas, so it wasn’t as though a Hallelujah chorus soared above the Rockies Sunday after he threw the one-pass knockout that staggered the Steelers. Tebowmania may have sent the TV ratings soaring and Twitterdom tweeting but the Broncos signal-caller still has managed to remain outside of the hurly-burly.
“I’ve either been at my house or been here and that’s pretty much the way it’s been for me most of the season,’’ Tebow said yesterday as he and his overachieving colleagues prepared for Saturday night’s AFC divisional showdown against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
Tebow’s 80-yard touchdown strike to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime was the most dramatic playoff climax in memory. “That memory will definitely be very special for me and a lot of my teammates and coaches,’’ he said. But the man himself conceded that all it bought the Broncos was another 60 minutes of bucking and snorting.
“Every week is a new week,’’ said Tebow, who was sporting a black knitted cap and the beginnings of a playoff beard. “You can’t focus on the past whether it’s good, whether it’s bad. Each week you learn from it but it’s a new game, it’s a new week, it’s a new stadium. We can’t be thinking about last week when we’re in Foxborough. We have to be focused on the Patriots and what they’re doing.’’
So Denver is counting on a better result than last month’s meeting here when three second-quarter turnovers - including a Tebow fumble - set up three Patriot scores that sent the visitors off to a 41-23 rout. “We feel like we gave them 13 points and that gave them the upper hand,’’ said Tebow. “So if we can eliminate turnovers, play a very sound game and execute, I think we’ll have a chance.’’
If the Broncos can play the way they did against Pittsburgh, when Tebow threw for 316 yards and had a hand in all three touchdowns and the defense strangled the Steelers’ last-minute drive, they’ll have a chance to make the conference final for the first time since the 2005 season when they throttled New England here to get there.
“You go into Foxborough and you’re playing Tom Brady and Bill Belichick,’’ said Tebow. “That’s enough motivation, let [alone] that it’s a huge playoff game. Our team will definitely go out there and play hard, play with a lot of passion and emotion and enthusiasm, which is all you can ask for.’’
Most folks didn’t think that Denver, which lost its final three regular-season games, belonged in the playoffs or would do much when it got there. But Tebow, whose throwing style has been likened to a shot putter’s, had himself a career day on just 10 completions, averaging more than 30 yards.
“We were able to do some good things in the passing game, had some big plays,’’ said Tebow, who joined Joe Montana and Jeff Garcia as the only quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards and two touchdowns and run for 50 yards and another touchdown in a postseason game. “A lot of guys stepped up and made me look a lot better than I really am.’’
But Tebow, whose quarterback rating of 125.6 was nearly as high as in his three previous games combined, also threw with confidence and boldness. “I think with each week he’s getting better with everything as a quarterback - more experience, he’s more comfortable,’’ said receiver Eddie Royal. “Watching the film, I was still amazed at how many tackles he breaks back behind the line of scrimmage. It’s hard to get a sack on this guy.’’
How good Tebow is or can be has become a matter of national debate. What’s clear, coach John Fox said yesterday, is that Tebow has been improving every day all season. Last weekend after John Elway, the club’s executive vice president of football operations, urged Tebow to “pull the trigger,’’ he was throwing missiles, four of them for 40 yards or longer. “He played the way he knows how to play,’’ observed Royal, whose 30-yard catch put Denver on the board. “Holding nothing back, just hanging it out there.’’
His teammates don’t care how their quarterback moves the chains or how unsightly his mechanics may be. “The biggest thing is, he’s got a ton of heart,’’ said backup Brady Quinn. “People try to look at his physical attributes but the one thing they can’t measure is heart and he displays it on the field every game.’’
There may or may not be a heavenly hand involved - amateur biblical numerologists pointed out that the 316 yards and 31.6 average against Pittsburgh corresponded to the John 3:16 verse that Tebow once referenced on his eye black. But nobody’s been disputing that Tebow has led his mates on the wildest ride of their lives.
“It’s definitely not Super Bowl-or-bust,’’ he said. “You have to just have fun every day and that was a lot of fun on Sunday. Enjoy it and enjoy the blessings that we have and not just look forward to the destination. But I’m having fun every day and whatever happens, I’ll definitely count the season as a blessing and be thankful for the opportunity.’’
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org