DENVER -- One of the hits on Tim Tebow came late in the blowout, when it was clear the magic had worn off, and a spattering of boos rang down.
The score was 34-16 and Tebow had dropped back into his own end zone when he was pressured, spun around, and lost the football. Tebow picked it up and managed to dump the ball off but milliseconds after the throw he was blasted into a front row of cameras by 268-pound New England defensive linemen Eric Moore.
This was a microcosm of Tebow's day. There would be no miracle comeback. There would be no extension of Tebow heroics. No lifting of a franchise on his muscled shoulders. No last-second Tebowing. Just ... pain.
It's the ultimate irony on a day of NFL ironies that the worst defense in football played Tebow the best and was the catalyst for a 41-23 destruction of Denver. Finally, someone defended him the right way.
|More on Patriots-Broncos|
|NFL coverage on the go|
The core of what New England did was force Tebow to stay in the pocket and throw. Since he still possesses the accuracy of a malfunctioning Scud missile he was relegated to 11 completions and no throwing touchdowns.
With the exception of the first quarter, and some playing of a prevent defense late in the fourth, the Patriots still showed the blueprint on how to beat Tebow. Everyone knew it, the Patriots actually did it. They forced him to sit back and throw.
Of course, the Broncos weren't having any of that. To them, it was all about the miscues and the fumbles. Those were factors, but the truth is an NFL team finally found an antidote to Tebow. This was, quite likely, the first step in the NFL's defense system to forming Tebow antibodies.
"I feel we've gotten better throwing the ball," Tebow explained. He added his receivers "are definitely making me look better than I am."
"He's gotten better every week," said Denver coach John Fox. "Six or seven weeks ago people said he couldn't hit the broadside of a barn."
He still can't. Not for four quarters, anyway. Not yet.
|New England Patriots|
|Things didn't look good for the Patriots when they gave up 218 total yards in the first quarter and lost leading pass rusher Andre Carter (knee) for the game, but the team rallied with its highest scoring quarter of the season in the second (20 points, all off three turnovers) to get the ball rolling. Mark Anderson (two sacks, forced fumble), Aaron Hernandez (nine catches, 129 yards) and Tom Brady (320 yards, two touchdowns) had huge games. This was a good, tough road victory for the Patriots.|
|It would be difficult to imagine as well as things started for Denver with gashing run after gashing run that things would end so badly -- the opposite MO for a Denver team that's built its postseason resume on fourth-quarter comebacks after slow starts. But a Broncos team that turned the ball over only five times during a six-game winning streak that ended Sunday lost three fumbles within the final 8:37 of the second quarter, leading to 13 of New England's 20 points in the period. The Denver defense couldn't get the key takeaway it needed vs. Tom Brady and Co. while missing a slew of tackles in the open field and busting several coverages. The division title now is on the line with a trip to Buffalo and home game against KC.|
|By Lee Rasizer |
Whenever a writer attempted to ask Bill Belichick after the game to praise an individual Patriots player, he refused, instead circling the conversation back to an overall team effort. It's understandable why. This was as brilliant a defensive performance as the Patriots have had all year. One of the plays that typified Tebow's struggles came when he was sacked for a 28-yard loss. Twenty. Eight. Yards. Perhaps most of all, the Patriots, to put it bluntly, physically beat him to a pulp. He was sacked four times and was hit repeatedly while in the pocket. At times it was brutal to watch.
The game didn't start that way for Tebow. The reaction of the Patriots' defense to the Broncos early was the same as that of many teams that have faced Tebow this year. It's one thing to try and simulate the Denver offense in practice; it's another to try and actually stop it for real. One reason for Tebow's success is due to most NFL players not facing an option offense since high school.
When they see it in the pros it's a shock to the system. Combine that fact with Tebow's athleticism and a strong Denver running game and you get what you did in the first quarter. Tebow ran through massive holes. Then the Broncos backs took their turn. Denver finished with 157 first-quarter rushing yards and a 13-7 lead. It was the most rushing yards the Broncos have had in the first quarter in more than two decades.
But something interesting happened. The Patriots, unlike other teams during Tebow's emergence as a star, cult figure and symbol of everything wholesome in the known universe, adapted to the Broncos. They didn't fall for Tebow's ball fakes and began getting very hard hits on him. The running lanes tightened and Tebow was forced to throw more. That's not what he does.
The Patriots did better after that initial first-quarter disaster because, players said, they basically trashed their defensive game plan and started anew. It was smart, tactical coaching (defensive backs coach Matt Patricia did a lot of the redesigning on the fly).
There was one play later in the game in which Tebow began to nervously dance around the pocket, running a little, stumbling a lot, and then he was absolutely crushed by two New England defenders. There were many other hard hits like that which didn't end in sacks.
Then the Patriots offense took control. By the time the first half ended, New England would score 20 unanswered points.
There would be no Tebow magic. The Patriots are too good, too well coached. Now, Brady would never admit this, but I'm certain he made this game personal. He wanted to crush Tebow. You could see it and mission accomplished.
Brady did his usual part, but New England's defense takes the bow. They won by corralling a growing legend.
And in the process maybe showed the rest of the league a permanent blueprint.