Just when you thought that Tim Tebow Mania was on its way out, the Denver Broncos quarterback phenom did the unthinkable and launched an 80-yard game-winning pass to Demaryius Thomas (who?) to beat heavily favored Pittsburgh 29-23 on the first play of overtime in the 2011 AFC Wildcard game on Sunday.
And now, he and the Broncos go to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA for a rematch with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Saturday, January 14. The Patriots beat them 41-23 in Denver on December 18, but it was by no means a piece of cake.
Tebow, as he is wont to do, ran ragged on the Patriots' pathetic secondary and led the Broncos to three straight scoring drives, getting so far as a 16-7 lead in the second quarter of that game. Turnovers and the usual explosion of Brady's offense later in the quarter (20 points) gave the Pats a lead they would never relinquish.
The "experts" who thought Tebow couldn't beat two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger and his Steelers (no matter how hobbled they were) now think Tebow can't win on the road in the playoffs (in Foxborough this weekend), even though the Broncos got the majority of their wins on the road during the regular season (5-3 away versus 3-5 at home). Further, the Broncos have the best running attack in the NFL, and the Pats' run defense has worsened as the season has gone along. It can't afford to be anywhere near as bad as its secondary (Kyle Arrington and his league-leading 7 INTs aside), but stopping both Willis McGahee and Tebow from running wild is too tall a task.
My home team (Patriots) have one saving grace: the defense's ability to weather all storms thrown as it, and limit opponents' red zone production, especially in the second half of games (the New York Giants game and loss at home on November 6 aside. It, by the way, was the last time the Pats lost a game).
The way I see it, the first team to hit the 24-28 point range will win this game. The Pats have spotted recent (and inferior) opponents like Miami and Buffalo 17 and 21 points in the first half before waking up and beating them convincingly. But this is the playoffs, and you can't spot teams that many points and expect to come back and win.