The hour of reckoning is upon us. That's right, the Patriots, 1-5 during the Brady era against the Broncos, travel to Denver to face Tim Tebow. Suggest that New England might lose this game a month ago and people would laugh in your face. Now, with Tebow leading the Broncos to a 7-1 record, including six in a row, it's not quite so funny.
There's the very real chance that Denver could continue to do what they've done over the last eight weeks: win in last-minute dramatic fashion.
But this is Bill Belichick, a man who is seldom out-schemed. A hall-of-fame coach who will have an answer to the Broncos' college offense led by Heisman Trophy-winning Tim Tebow. Yes, the Pats' defense has been dreadful, but Denver's offense hasn't been much better. Not until the final five minutes of recent contests.
So Belichick's plan might go something like this: let's keep Tom Brady and our offense on the field as long as possible, effectively mixing runs and passes, and wearing out the Broncos' defense while Tebow will be relegated to performing miracles from the sidelines. (Of course, he did just that against the Bears last week; forcing Chicago running back Marion Barber out of bounds late in the game to stop the clock, and then causing a Barber fumble in overtime to set up the Broncos' game-winning drive.)
And the Pats' coach readily acknowledges that Tebow is a special player.
“I don’t know if there’s another quarterback in the league that has Tim Tebow’s skills,’’ Belichick said earlier this week. “He can run, he can throw, he’s got good poise, doesn’t turn the ball over, makes good decisions. We’ll have to play disciplined against an offense we’re really not familiar with.’’
So what happens if New England finds itself on the field facing Tebow late in the fourth quarter with the game on the line?
“Everybody just needs to do their job and be disciplined. If we do, it’s going to work,’’ said linebacker Tracy White, according to the Boston Globe. “Every offense is different. Our coaches are the smartest coaches I’ve ever been around, so we’ve got a package for everything.’’
“We just have to prepare this week like any other week, and know his strengths and his weaknesses, and know that he’s a quarterback that can make plays with his feet,’’ linebacker Rob Ninkovich added. “He obviously has a skill set as a quarterback that not many have."
“Any quarterback you go against who can run, obviously you don’t want to let them get out of the pocket and scramble, and do all those things that they can do. We’ve played a few quarterbacks that have the ability to get out of the pocket and make some plays, so we just need to make sure we do a good job of not letting him do that to us.’’
Except that last week against the Bears, Tebow also threw the ball relatively well. Yes, he was just 3 of 16 in the first half, but some of that was because his receivers dropped catchable balls.
ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi, who played in four Super Bowls with the Patriots during his career, weighed in on the matchup too.
"When it comes to Tebow, I think one of the most important things from a defensive perspective is not to get too emotionally involved," he told ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss. "I think that's what happened with the Chicago Bears last week. It sounded to me like linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher maybe didn't take the Broncos' offense seriously -- Briggs before the game and Urlacher afterward when he called Tebow a good running back. Once you start buying into all this Tebow hype and Tebowmania, you can find yourself just like the Bears defense late in that game when all they were doing was watching Tebow. They weren't worrying about the receivers behind them, who were wide open, and that's where Chicago's main problem was -- not focusing on the offense as a whole, and focusing too much on the quarterback."
Also not helping the Bears: their quarterback's name is Caleb Hanie, not Tom Brady.