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Dan Shaughnessy

QB and excitement held down

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / December 19, 2011
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DENVER - Leave it to the Patriots to ruin things for everybody else.

Sports fans of America yesterday turned their eyes toward this stadium one mile above sea level, hoping to see another miracle; a burning bush, a football Fatima, perhaps 80,000 fans feasting on a few fishes and loaves.

No. There was no Tebow Time this time. Instead, we witnessed another routine execution by the brutal New England assassins who’ve ruled the AFC East in nine of the past 11 seasons.

Patriots 41, Broncos 23. Praise the Lord and pass the humble pie. The Patriots are 11-3, division champs again, and look like they’re poised for a first-round playoff bye and maybe a couple of home games in a quest for Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady came into this western town, emptied the banks, then laughed all the way home. We’ve seen them do it a million times.

Tim Tebow and the Broncos? They’ll spend this week spitting out pieces of their broken luck wondering where the magic went in Week 15 against the Patriots. Winners of six straight, the Broncos did what so many others have done in this football century; they lost their way against Belichick and Brady and beat themselves with a bundle of fumbles, penalties, and stupid plays. As ever, the Patriots were happy recipients of the opposition’s meltdown.

There was no shortage of hype leading into this one. First-place Denver had won seven of eight since Tebow took over for Kyle Orton in October. The Broncos were America’s team and Tebow was the Mile High Messiah, spinning fourth-quarter gold, week after holy week. Three times in eight weeks he won in overtime. Last week against the Bears he put himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated, leading a comeback from a 10-0 deficit in the final 4:34.

There was none of that yesterday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Tebow and the Broncos gashed the Patriots defense out of the gate, driving for two touchdowns and a field goal in their first three possessions. Then they fumbled on three consecutive possessions, giving the Patriots the ball in Denver territory each time. Nobody who throws like Tebow (think Matt Young delivering to first base after handling a comebacker to the mound) is going to overcome those kinds of giveaways against a Belichick team.

“You’re not going to be minus-3 against the New England Patriots and win many ballgames,’’ said Denver coach John Fox. “Having played them very many times, I know that to be true.’’

Fox was coach of the Carolina Panthers when they almost beat the musclebound Patriots in the Super Bowl in Houston in 2004. The Patriots of today are nothing like the great team of ’03-04 and games like yesterday’s are useless in evaluating their present playoff chances - but they are not going to lose any game in which you give them the ball three times in your own end, and commit seven penalties to boot.

Predictably, Tebow opened his postgame news conference by thanking “the Lord Jesus Christ,’’ then talked about the turnovers and the Patriots and said, “We think we can compete with them and we thought we did. We’ve got to hang on to the ball and that’s my fault and we’ll get that straight.’’

The second fumble was Tebow’s. Trailing by a mere point with five minutes to go in the first half, he was blasted by Mark Anderson and coughed up the ball.

“I need to do a better job protecting the football,’’ said Tebow. “He came real fast and I should have handed it off. He did a great job and I’ve got to do a better job.’’

It was not all fumbles and follies for Tebow. He completed 11 of 22 passes for 194 yards and was not intercepted. He also led the Broncos in rushing with 93 yards in 12 attempts, good for 7.8 yards per carry and two touchdowns. He was sacked four times, losing 53 yards, including a 28-yard loss in the fourth quarter on fourth and 17 from the Patriots 37.

Brady and Belichick reached out to Tebow with words of encouragement.

“[Belichick] said he believes in me and to keep fighting,’’ said Tebow.

“He does a heck of a job,’’ said the Hoodie. “We know he can run. We know he can throw. He hurt us with some play-action. He’s a good quarterback. He certainly gave us plenty of problems and hopefully we gave him some, too.’’

The Broncos are still in first place in the AFC West and can finish 10-6 if they win their final two, against the Bills and Chiefs. It’s possible the Patriots could see Denver again in the playoffs. Who knows where Tebow’s game will be by then? He seems to be getting better and more confident with each game.

“He’s gotten better every week,’’ said Fox. “Six or seven weeks ago people said that he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, but I think he does that. I think he can do that.’’

Thanks, coach. Love you, too.

Hmmmm. Only in Denver, only in Tebow land, can everybody feel good because it’s now a matter of record that the QB finally can hit the broad side of a barn.

Tebow and the Broncos go to Buffalo next week. God will be watching. And we don’t mean Bill Belichick.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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