The New England Patriots’ 45-10 dismantling of the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional Round was a dispiriting finish to the remarkable run of Tim Tebow.
In the weeks leading up to the matchup, much of the chatter revolved around Tebow’s impressive performance in his playoff debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unfortunately, the Broncos could not defy the odds again, this time on the road against the top-seeded Patriots. New England’s future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady threw for 363 yards and six touchdowns, a tally that tied a postseason record.
While the final score reaffirmed why Brady is considered one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks of all time, it also brought into perspective why Tebow’s success was truly remarkable.
At the beginning of the year, it seemed unlikely that Tebow would emerge even as Denver’s starting quarterback. In the preseason, Tebow had struggled with his accuracy and footwork. The experts believed he would never succeed as a professional quarterback. Tebow could succeed only if the Broncos adopted the option offense, which worked for Tebow at the collegiate level, but was thought to be ineffective against NFL defenses.
Following the preseason, the Broncos discussed cutting ties with Tebow and set their sights on drafting his replacement in the upcoming 2012 draft. But Tebow had won the support of the Broncos’ fan base. The Denver faithful’s wishes were soon granted, after the team had a 1-4 record to start the season.
From the time Tebow was named the starter, Denver, with the option offense, emerged from the precipice of futility into a playoff contender.
Denver won five of its next six games and Tebow displayed his uncanny knack for making the impossible seem possible when he engineered fourth-quarter comebacks against the Dolphins, Jets and Chargers.
As a consequence, “Tebowmania” ensued, a phenomenon reflective of America’s fascination with the man who was winning in spite of his “deficiencies.” America’s infatuation was also based on the character of Tebow, who had distinguished himself as separate from the typical overpaid jock by being unapologetic about his devotion to God.
As much as Tebow’s play and spirituality had mesmerized fans across the country, it was equally as vexing to the critics and opposing NFL defenses that were expecting to have an easy time in stopping a quarterback who simply could not throw the ball accurately at a consistent rate.
But the peaks in Denver’s season were met with as many valleys. The team lost three of its four final regular season games — including a downright embarrassing defeat against a struggling Buffalo team — to finish at 8-8, and Tebow’s critics resurfaced once again to voice their skepticism. But Denver still qualified for a postseason date with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the opening round.
Despite injuries to some of its key position players, Pittsburgh was still expected to come out on top. The eventual outcome, which was determined by Tebow’s game-winning touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in overtime, epitomized the Broncos’ season up to that point. It was a mediocre team that had thrived in the face of adversity because it was led by a man who willed his team to succeed.
Unfortunately, the underdog story of the Broncos came to an end against New England. But it was an inspirational run that showed that no one has the power to place an arbitrary ceiling above another’s potential.