As much as I want to trash the New England Patriots and teenage-throb vampire-boy Tom Brady this week, I really can’t. Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos were handily beat by the Patriots 41-23 on Sunday in a game in which Bronco mistakes were very costly. Brady and Patriots coach Bill Belichick wanted to make put a huge stop to the hype of Tebow and the Broncos, and on Sunday, they did. It was the Patriots’ sixth straight win and it secured another AFC East championship. Leading up to this game (and loss), I wondered how much the national media was going to trash Tebow’s play once the Broncos finally lost a game. With every sports media talking head trashing Tebow’s throwing skills, yet praising his “intangibles,” I feared the media would just say, “See, we told you Tebow wasn’t that good,” once the Broncos lost. Well, besides a few jackasses out there, there was really no such talk. In fact, many praised Tebow’s play in Sunday’s game, understanding that his play wasn’t at the heart of the loss.
Mistakes were at the heart of the Broncos’ loss.
The game started out as the opposite of what we are used to. Tebow looked to be right in “Tebow Time” from the very start, scoring on the first three possessions of the game. Everyone knew if the Broncos were going to stand a chance against Brady, they’d have to score, and score often. So things seemed good when Tebow’s offense seemed unstoppable in the first quarter.
It was in the second quarter that the Broncos lost the game, when they turned the ball over three times. One of those turnovers was Tebow’s fault, when he hesitated during an option play, fumbling the ball. Running back Lance Ball coughed up a fumble when was tackled at the line of scrimmage on Denver’s own 19-yard line. It was about as costly as it gets. But Denver’s fumbling woes got worse.
Denver’s punt returner Quan Cosby must have been hung over or something, because he played terribly. Cosby muffed a punt return and basically handed New England three points as the half ended. With those three turnovers, the Broncos not only allowed New England to regain the lead, they gave them a substantial lead. This may not be crippling when you are playing the Minnesota Vikings, but when you are playing the likes of Tom Brady and Belichick, it’s just not going to work. The Patriots are too good of a team to make those kinds of mistakes.
As the second half ticked away, and the Broncos couldn’t really stop Brady, I realized this shouldn’t be a heartbreaking loss. Yeah, the loss sucked, but it wasn’t a heartbreaker. The Patriots are a damn good team, and it’s tough to beat them. The odds were against the Broncos in this tilt. Yes, we wanted to see some Tebow magic, but it just wasn’t to be. All is not lost for the Broncos.
In fact, I was rather encouraged by Tebow’s play on Sunday, particularly in the first quarter. Besides having a very effective running game, Denver was able to sprinkle in a nice passing attack as well. Despite some happy feet in the pocket, Tebow’s passing looked to be his best yet. He hung in the pocket and made some very accurate throws down the field. They looked to be a multi-dimensional offense that couldn’t be stopped. And when they got inside the red zone, guess what? They scored. This is something the Broncos have always struggled to do. Under former QB Kyle Orton, the Broncos would effectively move the ball to the red zone, and then have to settle for a field goal. It killed the Broncos too many times. With Tebow under center, they are not only getting to the red zone – they are punching it in for a touchdown, many times, thanks to Tebow himself. (How about Tebow’s strength to break that linebacker’s tackle and run it in for a touchdown on Sunday? Awesome.)
Of course the spotlight was on the Tebow-run offense on Sunday but we shouldn’t discount the struggles of Denver’s defense in the loss as well. When Chad Ochocinco burned the Denver secondary for a touchdown, it was obvious the team is desperately missing the elderly wisdom and stalwart play of Brian Dawkins. If the Broncos were going to effectively shut down Brady’s offense, a good pass rush was needed. Brady got too much time to pick apart an injured secondary. Elvis Dumervil’s hit on Brady was fantastic, but the defense didn’t do it enough. Kudos to Belichick for shutting down Von Miller and Denver’s pass rush; it was key to the Patriots’ win.
Thanks to Ndamukong Suh’s blocked field goal on Sunday, the Raiders lost as well, and remained one game behind the Broncos in the AFC West. San Diego won later that evening, and moved up to within a game of the Broncos as well. If the Broncos can beat Buffalo in Buffalo this weekend, and with an Oakland loss to the Chiefs, Denver secures the AFC West title. This is Denver’s best route to the playoffs – and it would be the first AFC West championship since 2005.
If Buffalo, which is on a bumpy seven-game losing skid, comes up with a win, the New Year’s day game against the Chiefs is a must-win for the Broncos. (Think Kyle Orton wants some revenge?) If the Broncos for some reason lose that game, as well, well, there are other bleak wild card scenarios we can get into here, but I’d rather not.
The important thing is that the Broncos control their destiny. They find wins, they find and AFC West Championship. If Denver’s offense gets a start like they did against the Patriots, Denver really could be unstoppable. Somehow I believe Denver’s best football lies in the future.
I guess Tim Tebow gives me reason to believe. And yes, I wouldn’t mind another crack at the Patriots. This time in Foxborough. Maybe for AFC Championship. I’ll take the Broncos in that tilt for sure.