FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Tim Tebow phenomenon died tonight.
It died painfully, in the wind-chilled air of Gillette Stadium. It was a miserable and ugly finish to a season of hope, hysteria and promise. Last week, after beating the Steelers, Tebow was the toast of pop culture. This time, on the backend of a 45-10 beatdown of the Broncos, he was just toast.
The best defensive mind in the history of football, Bill Belichick, despite possessing the worst defense in the sport, deconstructed Tebow like the quarterback was a pasta dish on Top Chef. Who knows what will happen to Tebow next season. That's not important for the moment. What is important is right now and how this was bad. This was as bad as it gets.
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Tom Brady's record game emphasizes Tim Tebow's flaws
One small indicator of what the Patriots did to Tebow comes out of this little statistic. Tebow had three pass completions in the first half. Tom Brady tossed five touchdown passes in the first half, the most in NFL postseason history. Repeating: that's five touchdown passes to three completions.
The reason the Patriots were able to do to Tebow what the Steelers -- owners of the best defense in football -- could not last week smarter strategy. The Patriots basically ignored Tebow as a run threat in the option plays and on passing downs rushed with discipline, limiting escape routes for Tebow and mixing their coverages to confuse. You could almost see Tebow straining to think.
Against Pittsburgh, and as he has done much of the season, Tebow's reads were uber-simplified. But the single-read-and-done approach can be dangerous, and against a smart mind like Belichick it can be lethal. As the Patriots piled on points the stress applied to Tebow's shoulders grew until his back broke.
It is true Tebow wasn't helped much and he can't be solely blamed for what will be one of the worst playoff losses in the history of the Broncos. There were moments when, literally, Denver's defense was afraid to tackle 265-pound tight end Rob Gronkowski. I mean, flat-out scared. And the Broncos secondary couldn't cover a beached whale.
As a result of Denver's total collapsing in on itself, the Patriots assembled a slew of offensive marks. They scored more points than the Sacramento Kings. But that's the story for this coming week as the Patriots are now the clear favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The story for now -- for right now -- is Tebow.
"The run was a lot of fun," Tebow said of the year. "A lot of ups and downs but we really try to block everything on the outside off and just enjoy the relationships with teammates and coaches, and work and try to get better. And I feel like we did that all year. We just didn't put together a good enough performance tonight."
In the end, he proved a great many people both wrong and right. His doubters, like me, didn't believe Tebow could win a single NFL game, let alone reach the divisional round of the playoffs. Yet Tebow also showed his main weakness -- throwing the football -- can at times be impossible for Denver's offense to overcome. It's difficult for a quarterback to win consistently if he can't throw and damn near impossible to beat the Patriots.
Tebow completed just 9 of 26 pass attempts for 136 yards. Those aren't isolated numbers for him. He's had statistics like that before. The Broncos can cover Tebow's weakness in spots or even in longer stretches, but it can't consistently be done in the playoffs.
In the end, Tebow was more Saturday Night Live than Saturday night special.
Watching the juxtaposition of the two throwers was remarkable. Brady tossed one interception but otherwise was flawless, his throwing motion perfect, his aim locked. Tebow again had difficulty reading defenses and when he couldn't run, his poise disintegrated. The biggest reason Tebow was sacked five times is because he held onto the football too long.
Towards the end of the game Brady punted on third down (there was a brawl between Patriots and Broncos players after it). It was a beautiful kick. A tighter spiral than almost all of Tebow's throws on the evening.
Yes, the Tebow phenomenon is dead. For now.