Tebow sends Patriots back to the drawing board

By Arnie Stapleton

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 10 2012 5:16 p.m. MST

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (15) celebrates after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-23 in overtime of an NFL wild card playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012, in Denver.

Chris Schneider, Associated Press

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Bury the blueprints on how to thwart Tim Tebow. He can beat you with his arm as well as his legs.

The formula up until last weekend was to stack the box and dare him to beat you with all those errant passes.

But coming off his worst game as a pro, the most maligned quarterback in football morphed into a conventional quarterback Sunday in snapping out of a three-game funk and sending the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers to an early playoff exit.

Tebow, whose record-setting redemption kept Denver's thrilling roller coaster of a season roaring right along, is more challenging than ever to defend. So, the top-seeded New England Patriots are preparing for deep passes as much as the Broncos' bothersome read-option offense.

"They're a tough team to prepare for because they do a lot of different things," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "There aren't really any other teams like them in the league, so there's no other team you can really draw that experience from. What they do offensively is a little bit unique."

After relying all season on the league's best ground game, Tebow turned into an Aaron Rodgers-Drew Brees-Tom Brady lookalike by throwing for 316 yards against the league's No. 1 defense in his first playoff appearance.

It wasn't just his 80-yard bullet to Demaryius Thomas, which allowed the Broncos to beat the Steelers 29-23 on the first play of overtime. In the second quarter, Tebow completed four passes of 30 yards or better, something that hadn't been done in the NFL in half a century.

Belichick insists this isn't Tebow 2.0, however.

"I think he's done a lot of those things all year," Belichick said. "He had a great game against Pittsburgh, no doubt about it. But he's played well throughout the season, whether it be managing the team, making decisions, running the ball, throwing the ball, scrambling, any and all of the above. He's a good football player."

One who's now multidimensional.

At John Elway's urging, Tebow was more aggressive Sunday, heeding his boss's advice to "pull the trigger."

"Yeah, I think I did play pretty aggressive in the game," Tebow said Tuesday after the Broncos returned to work following their exhilarating weekend win. "We were playing a very good team, very good defense. And you have to be willing to take some chances to make some big plays against them, because they have so many good players and so many good guys that are rushing, getting to the quarterback. And the offensive line did a great job and the receivers stepped up and made huge plays."

The Broncos (9-8) need an encore performance to beat the heavily favored and well-rested Patriots (13-3).

Tebow's 31.6 yards per completion Sunday were the second-most ever for an NFL quarterback in the regular season or playoffs, surpassed only by Joe Namath's 33.7-yard average against Baltimore in September 1972.

"It was big for us because in this league, you have to keep people off balance," wide receiver Eddie Royal said. "Before last week, people knew they had to stop the run. Stop the run and shut down our offense. But now, they have to second-guess themselves, 'Oh, they can throw the ball and be explosive and make some pass plays.'"

It was the Broncos' reliance on the run that sold the play-fake on the first snap of overtime — they had rushed on 23 of 25 first downs up to that point.

"It's always good to see us get the big passes, especially because everyone says we can't throw the ball," said tailback Willis McGahee, who had implored the Broncos to improve their passing attack to enhance an already stout ground game.

The Broncos' formula during their eight wins under Tebow had been to play stout defense and spectacular on special teams to keep the grind-it-out offense within striking distance until Tebow could pull off his last-minute magic.

Now, they're mixing in explosive plays.

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