FOXBOROUGH — Even though he has been used sparingly at quarterback, deployed in a number of other roles, Tim Tebow gives the Patriots’ defense plenty to ponder leading up in Sunday’s game against the Jets.
“Absolutely,’’ said nose tackle Vince Wilfork. “I mean, he’s shown up on offense and special teams. They use him, so you have to account for him. The guy’s a playmaker. He’s a winner and he’s passionate about playing football, so we have to be able to understand, when he’s in [the game], how they’re trying to use him.’’
When he was acquired March 26 from the Broncos, Tebow triggered a quarterback controversy in New York, where Mark Sanchez remains the starter. Tebow, meanwhile, has completed two of three passes for 32 yards and rushed 18 times for 64 yards.
He’s also made an impact on special teams, converting three fake punts for first downs, on a pair of runs and a pass.
“I think the alertness level has to go up tenfold,” said Matthew Slater, the Patriots’ special teams captain. “This guy is capable of running it and throwing it. Say what you want about the guy, when he has the ball in his hands, he makes plays, and he’s been able to do that for them in the special teams area of the game, and we’re just going to have to play disciplined this week and do our job as a unit.’’
Defensively, the Patriots will have to take the same approach with Tebow, whose last visit to Gillette came Jan. 14, as the Broncos’ starting quarterback in a divisional playoff game. Tebow was held to 136 yards passing and 13 yards rushing, and was sacked five times as the Patriots won, 45-10.
“It’s a different year, so you can’t really focus on last year,’’ said Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo. “He’s playing receiver, he’s playing fullback, he’s playing every position on the field. You have to know where he is, but at the same time they do some of the things you see on film.’’
As for tackling Tebow, he will present a different challenge than the one posed by Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson, who overcomes his small stature (5 feet 11 inches) by using his speed and athleticism.
Tebow? “Very tough,’’ Mayo said. “He’s a big, strong guy. He breaks a lot of tackles . . . He’s a physical guy. He tries to run you over.’’
Asked if he’s ever had to prepare for a team that uses its backup quarterback in such a manner, Mayo replied, “I don’t think so. He doesn’t only play quarterback, he plays a lot of different spots. I don’t know how much he’ll be playing quarterback against us, but we’ll be ready for it.’’
Counterfeit ticket alert
The Patriots warned fans Thursday to be extra vigilant when buying tickets online to Sunday’s game.
Spokesman Stacey James said the team experienced a proliferation of counterfeit ticket sales to home games against Arizona and Denver.
“People have purchased them on Craigslist and they all have Ticketmaster logos on them,’’ said James, producing a counterfeit ticket to the Week 2 game against the Cardinals. “It feels like a real ticket, but we don’t print any of our tickets on Ticketmaster stock. Ticketmaster prints them, but they don’t print them with their logo on them.’’
James said counterfeiters “somehow got a hold of Ticketmaster stock and they print out our information on them.’’
The team encouraged fans suspicious about their online purchases to contact the Patriots’ box office at 1-800-543-1776 to verify their validity.
“We invite them to come down and show it to us and we can identify if it’s a real ticket or not,’’ James said. “The two places we can verify it’s a legitimate ticket is if you buy it from the Patriots’ box office or through Ticketmaster, but Ticketmaster does not print with the Ticketmaster logo on our tickets.
“We want to get the message out that since we’ve been in this building, we’ve always said, ‘Buyer beware.’ You have to make sure you buy them from someone you know and trust, and if you’re selling them, we always remind people, ‘Seller beware,’ because if a person who is using your ticket and becomes drunk or disorderly, you can lose your season-ticket account.’’
Center Nick Mangold (ankle) was one of six Jets who did not practice Thursday, but Wilfork expects him to play Sunday.
“Trust me, I think everybody is going to be pretty healthy for this game,’’ Wilfork said. “You don’t want to miss these types of games. If I was on the opposite side, I would want to play in this game, a division game. There’s a lot riding on this game, for both sides. So, if you’re healthy enough to play, you have to expect everybody will. He’s one of those guys I’m pretty sure will be ready to go, no matter what is being said or what his injury may be. Trust me, he’ll be there.’’
Sit this one out
Five Patriots missed Thursday’s practice in shorts and shells, including three — safety Steve Gregory (hip), guard Logan Mankins (calf/hip), and tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) — who were limited during Wednesday’s walk-through.
Running back Brandon Bolden (knee) and linebacker Tracy White (foot) also did not practice for the second time this week.
Defensive lineman Ron Brace (back), who showed up on the injury report Thursday, was one of nine players who were limited, including safety Patrick Chung (shoulder), tight end Rob Gronkowski (hip), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (hamstring), tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee), and wide receiver Wes Welker (ankle).