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All eyes on Tebow, but Denver D on spot

Play Like A Champ
Champ Bailey and Denver allowed 41 points the first time they played the Pats.
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Mark Kriegel

Mark Kriegel is the national columnist for FOXSports.com. He is the author of two New York Times best sellers, Namath: A Biography and Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, which Sports Illustrated called "the best sports biography of the year."

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When last seen, at a press conference celebrating his parting of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tim Tebow was asked about his brief chat with Tom Brady last Dec. 18.

TEBOW TIME

Can't get enough Tebow? Then hang out here.

For those of you who still require something so antiquated as context: New England had just destroyed Denver, 41-23. It was an afternoon that began the Broncos late-season slide and energized (yet again) the Tebow-haters.

“He said some very nice things and I really appreciated it,” said Tebow.

In fact, Brady predicted that the two quarterbacks would meet again in the playoffs.

“He might’ve said something like that,” Tebow conceded. “So I guess he’s a prophet.”

The remark elicited great guffaws, as Brady would be the first prophet who goes home to a supermodel. But it also anticipated the hype that precedes this Saturday’s AFC playoff game. It’s all about the quarterbacks, and now more than ever.

This rematch between the Pats and the Broncos in New England pits the two most famous figures in the game against each other. For once, however, Brady is not the most talked-about. If this comes as something of a relief for him, it’s a boon for everyone else with a hand in selling the game. Still, for one week at least, all the quarterback hype misses the point.

Brady represents the drop-back passer in his most elegant form. Tebow, on the other hand, is an anomaly. The reasons are many and varied, but none as bizarre as Tebow’s unique ability to inspire doubt on the occasion of his first 300-plus yard passing game. Really? The guy just threw for 316 yards, beat a 9-point favorite in the playoffs, and the conversation is still about whether he’s qualified to be the Broncos’ starter next year.

Again, that little bit of mass psychosis misses the point. Sure, Tebow had some lousy games toward the end of the regular season, the most ignominious of which was his 6-for-22 finale against the Kansas City Chiefs. But he didn’t suck so much against the Pats. In fact, he wasn’t that bad at all: 11-for-22, 194 yards. He also ran for 93 yards and a couple of touchdowns.

The Broncos didn’t lose because of Tebow. Rather, they got smoked because their defense couldn’t keep pace with the AFC's best offense. In other words, what happens this Saturday night isn’t on Tim Tebow. It’s on Denver’s defense.

It’s one thing to fall behind a couple of field goals against Pittsburgh. It’s quite another to fall behind against New England. You don’t come back from that. Nine Patriots caught balls that day. It was all the Broncos could do to muster a couple of sacks on Brady.

“We know what we can’t do,” said Champ Bailey, who, at 33, is one of football’s great cornerbacks at the twilight of his career. “So now we have to figure out what we have to do to win.”

“This game we played today won’t be good enough next week,” Denver’s other corner, Andre Goodman, said after the Pittsburgh game. “We’re going to have to make a whole lot more plays.”

“I wouldn’t prefer it any other way,” said defensive end Robert Ayers. “… Despite all of the scrutiny and the doubters and whoever, we just keep fighting.”

Fighting, at least in football, may be a virtue. But a couple more sacks would do more to help the Broncos’ cause. Ayers had none last time around. Elvis Dumervil had one. But it came, as noted by the Boston Herald’s Mark Daniels, with 12:48 left and the game already out of reach, 34-16.

Tebow has unique assets as a quarterback. But he’s not the type, certainly not yet, to make up large deficits in a hurry. If Denver is to have a chance, its defense has to keep the game close.

To be sure, they have their stars, the Broncos. There’s the aforementioned Bailey. Von Miller is the best rookie defender in the league. And of course, Dumervil.

In 2009, he had 17 sacks. Then he missed an entire season due to a torn pectoral muscle. It seems that he’s finally getting back to form.

The Broncos sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times last Sunday. They’ll need at least that many if they’re to have a chance against Brady and the Patriots.

For once, this isn't on Tim Tebow. It's for Denver’s defense to win or lose.

You don't need a prophet to figure that out.

Tagged: Broncos, Patriots, Tom Brady, Tim Tebow

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