ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Tim Tebow needs more R&R than anyone thought. The Broncos quarterback played through rib, lung and chest injuries he sustained in Denver's 45-10 loss at New England in the AFC divisional playoffs last weekend.
He won't need surgery, is expected to make a full recovery with some down time and his offseason training program shouldn't be affected in any way.
ESPN first reported Wednesday that Tebow got hurt on a third-quarter tackle, then had trouble sleeping because of the pain and underwent an MRI on his chest Monday.
Team spokesman Patrick Smyth said that while he couldn't confirm the exact extent or nature of the injuries due to team policy, he acknowledged that Tebow finished the game in considerable pain.
Backup Brady Quinn quickly got ready to go into the game after Tebow was hit by Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich, but Tebow stayed in and finished up.
"It's just the physicality of playing football. Sometimes you get hit and it can hurt a little bit. But, I wanted to play a lot of the game," Tebow said after the game.
The outcome had long been decided by the time Tebow got hurt.
"I just wanted to show character. You just continue to fight and it doesn't change who you are, how you play, how you go out there, you should be the same at all times," Tebow said. "That's what I wanted to show, it didn't matter if it was the first play or the last play or you were down by 42. I was going to be the same player and I was still going to give everything I have. Because that's all I have to give."
Tebow wasn't in the locker room during a one-hour media window on Sunday, emerging with a smile from the trainer's room as reporters were filing out as the players streamed to their end-of-season meeting with coach John Fox.
On Monday, Broncos boss John Elway declared Tebow the incumbent starting QB entering training camp next summer and reiterated his plan to work with him during the offseason to help polish his passing game.
Tebow went 8-5 as the Broncos starter after supplanting Kyle Orton following a 1-4 start. He engineered a six-game winning streak that included four straight fourth-quarter comebacks that sent Tebowmania into full pitch.
He faded at the end, losing his last three starts, including one to the Kansas City Chiefs and Orton, but the Broncos backed into the playoffs nevertheless at 8-8 as champions of the middling AFC West.
Tebow had the best game of his pro career in the wild card round, when he averaged 31.6 yards per completion, the best in the NFL in 40 years, and threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime for a 29-23 win over heavily favored Pittsburgh and the league's No. 1 defense.
That was Denver's first playoff game in six seasons.
While the Broncos brass was delighted at returning to the postseason party a year after a franchise-worst 4-12 season, they said the 35-point loss to the Patriots showed just how far they need to go to return to the AFC's upper echelon.
Tebow, who didn't get the first-team snaps during training camp or for the first month of the season, realizes he has a long way to go himself.
"Just work and improve, fundamentals, understanding defenses, footwork, everything," he said.
Tebow might also have to get accustomed to a new offensive coordinator in 2012. Mike McCoy has interviewed for head coaching vacancies in Miami and Oakland.
McCoy is a hot commodity after retooling Denver's offense midstream to capitalize on Tebow's unique skill set. He implemented the read-option that turned the NFL on its ear at midseason and resulted in the Broncos soaring to the top of the league in rushing.
Tebow ran for 660 yards, most by a quarterback in team history, in the regular season and another 63 in the playoffs, leading to concerns among some that he was exposing himself to injury. But Tebow noted that he actually takes glancing blows, if any, from smaller defenders while on the run, making him less vulnerable than when he stays in the pocket and might get sandwiched by 300-pound linemen.
He took every snap for Denver after replacing Orton at halftime Oct. 9 against San Diego.
Tebow ran for six TDs in the regular season and one in the playoffs while averaging 5.3 yards a carry. But he completed just 46.5 percent of his passes last season and just 40.4 percent in the playoffs.
"We're always looking for balance," Elway said. "Balance is what we won Super Bowls with."
Elway and Tebow are eager to see what a difference an offseason can make — they didn't have that luxury last year during the NFL lockout.
"I feel like I've improved a lot in a lot of different forms of my game," Tebow said. "And I continue to improve and continue to get a lot better, and I believe I can, and I'm looking forward to putting in work."