FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 6: Aaron Hernandez #81 of the New England Patriots scores against the defense of Kenny Phillips #21 of the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium in the second half on November 6, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
The Broncos' resurgence coincided with Tim Tebow being named the team's starter. Denver was 1-4 under Kyle Orton, who gave way to Tebow and two months later, they were 8-5 and atop the division. The final three weeks of the season -- all losses -- were rightly characterized as a setback although those concerns were mitigated with Tebow's 316-yard passing effort against the Steelers in the wild-card round.
The Broncos' offensive success has been attributed to the coaches ditching the round hole/square peg approach that forced Tebow into a system in which he was bound to fail, and instead going with what made him a Heisman Trophy winner at Florida: the read option.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady admitted earlier this week that he's never faced an option offense so he wouldn't know how to defend it, but given New England's array of weapons, they have their own version of option football. At least to hear Aaron Hernandez, one of Tebow's favorite targets in college, tell it. Via the Boston Globe:
“Plays called for me, and they were obviously focusing on Gronk and Wes,’’ Hernandez said, referring to fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Wes Welker, who combined for 212 receptions, 2,896 yards and 26 receiving touchdowns this season. “Left me with some opportunities to make plays.’’
The options, in this case, are that the Broncos can't cover everybody. If they chose to focus on Gronkowski, that leaves Hernandez and Welker in single coverage. The same if Welker draws the pre-snap attention.
“They got to pick their poison,’’ Hernandez said. “Whoever they want to focus on, we got more options than they can focus on.’’
And that doesn't even include workhorse running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and veteran wide receiver Deion Branch. (We didn't mention Chad Ochocinco here just because he's completed a full season in New England and is still looking for his first breakout performance. Then again, Tebow waited until Week 18 to prove that he really could throw the ball downfield so who knows. Maybe this is Chad's week.)
Whatever, the most important piece to all this, of course, is Tom Brady. Because no matter who runs the routes, and how effectively they do so, the Pats are only going as far as their Hall of Fame quarterback takes them.
Defensive-minded Broncos head coach John Fox certainly recognizes that stopping the Patriots' multiple offensive weapons will be his team's biggest task. They couldn't do it during the Week 14 meeting, a game New England won, 41-23.
“The fact that there are more than one or two names . . . makes it hard for any defensive coach to defend the New England offense,’’ said Fox, who also lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl following the 2003 season when he coached the Carolina Panthers.
“You just try to mix it up and win some of those matchups. Tom’s as good as anybody at finding those matchups, and it will come down to that again this time, I’m sure.’’
Of course, it could come down to Tebow, too. Particularly if he plays this week like he did against the Steelers.