Patriots Stop Tim Tebow: Why He Will Be Missed

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Charles Krupa / AP

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (15) scrambles to avoid a tackle by the New England Patriots, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, in Foxborough, Mass.

(FOXBOROUGH, Mass.) – America, you may now dial back your obsession with Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, for now at least: the New England Patriots abruptly ended Denver’s season Saturday night, in a 45-10 trouncing of Tebow’s team at Gillette Stadium.  We’ll miss all the fuss about Tebow-mania, because of the rigorous debate it created about religion and the place of faith in public life. To wit: according to a poll released last week, 43% of Americans believe that Tebow’s dramatic success can be attributed to divine intervention, though it would seem Father, Son, and Holy Ghost couldn’t help Tebow last night.

Before the game, NewsFeed asked a few Patriots fans tailgating in the Gillette Stadium parking lot, in sub-20-degree wind-chill temperatures, whether they agreed that God was blessing Tebow. The results of our unscientific survey of 13 freezing cold New Englanders, most of whom were warming up with alcohol: 0% believe that divine intervention was fueling Tebow’s comebacks.

(PHOTOS: John 3:16 in Pop Culture)

So if God was not responsible for Tebow-mania, who, or what, is? Blind luck, athleticism, talented teammates were among the reasons our respondents offered. “He’s just a good quarterback,” said one Pats fan, the kind of understated, uncomplicated response most Americans are inclined to reject. One fan credited Tebow’s lack of, er, experience. “Since he’s still a virgin, he hasn’t been sapped of all this strength,” says Don Colligne, a Patriots supporter from Dracut, Mass. “Tebow is a typical pro athlete,” says another man. “He’s strong, and in great shape. If a guy like that was winning games,” says the man, pointing at Colligne, who’s not exactly svelte, “then I’d credit God. That would be a miracle.” The man expressing this opinion, it should be noted, was Colligne’s son.

Thank you, Tim Tebow.

When the most exciting thing about a football game is a 48-yard-punt by a quarterback – Tom Brady tried a rare third-down “quick kick” late in the game, simply because, it seemed, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was bored out of his skull – you know you’re watching a stinker: San Francisco’s wild 36-32 win over New Orelans was the real football highlight of the day. The Patriots scored two touchdowns in the game’s first nine minutes, and it took one of the worst throws of Brady’s career to keep the game mildly interesting. Near the end of the first quarter, Brady threw a pass straight down the field, directly into the hands of Denver safety Quinton Carter. The Broncos scored off the turnover early in the second quarter, though Brady responded with his third touchdown pass of the day, and second to tight end Rob Gronkowski, who finished the game with 10 catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns (Denver had no answer for New England’s twin tight end attack: Aaron Hernandez, the team’s other tight end, had six catches and a touchdown).

(READ: Tebow vs. Belichick: The Battle for the Soul of the NFL)

At the end of the half, conservative play-calling backfired on the Broncos. Trailing 21-7 with 2:45 left and having 3rd-and-20 from their own 22-yard-line, the Broncos called for a hand-off, rather than challenge Tebow to throw for a first down. Denver wanted to eat clock and head to the locker room down two touchdowns, a reasonable deficit, especially given Tebow’s flair for comebacks. Denver punted the ball away, but on the second play of the next drive, Brady hit Deion Branch for a 61-yard score. The Pats got the ball back a minute later, and scored a fifth touchdown before the half. Instead of being down two touchdowns, Denver trailed by four, 35-7. The game was over.

Brady threw six touchdown passes for the night, tying a playoff record, and completed 26 of 34 passes, for 363 yards. (Given the biblical significance of Tebow’s 316-yard performance, and its nod to John 3:16, last week, we were curious what John 3:63 said. The third chapter of John, however, does not contain 63 verses. But Lamentations  – fitting for Broncos fans after last night – 3:63 reads: “Look at them! Sitting or standing, they mock me in their songs!”)

Denver’s defense lost this game, but Tebow was still pretty terrible: he completed just 9 of 26 passes, for 136 yards. (John 1:36 – “When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’”)  One 3rd-and-19 pass late in the third quarter was so wobbly and off the mark that Denver chose to kick a field goal rather than go for it on fourth down, trailing 42-7. The message was clear: Denver coach John Fox had no faith that Tebow could convert.

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After the game, Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey was asked if Tebow should be the starter next season. Bailey looked the other way, providing no answer. In the locker room, Tebow’s hips were bruised, his face looked scratched and swollen, as if he just lost a prizefight. A young man named Zachary McLeod, 20, waited with his family outside the locker room: every week, Tebow invites someone afflicted with some injury or sickness to a Broncos game. McLeod suffered a severe traumatic brain injury while playing high school football, and has very limited ability to speak. “Overall, it still wasn’t a bad day,” Tebow says. “It was a good day because before the game I got to spend time with Zack McLeod and make him smile. Sometimes it’s just hard to see, but it depends on what lens you’re looking through.”

Tebow was asked if he’s comfortable with his cultural explosion. “There are pros and cons with everything,” Tebow says. “Sometimes you definitely don’t want it all because you’d love to just go to dinner and hang out with friends and be a normal 24-year-old. So that makes it sometimes hard. But I wouldn’t change it for the world just because by having that platform … I have the opportunity to be able to hang out with Zack before the game, I have the opportunity to go build a hospital in the Philippines, to go do a lot more important things than football. So I’m very thankful for that platform. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Yes, many Americans believed God helped Tebow win throughout the season: so does that mean God turned against him this week? “Something I pray before games, during games, after games is regardless whether I win or lose,” says Tebow, not directly answering a question about how losing makes sense in the context of his faith. “Whether [I’m] the hero or the goat, it doesn’t matter, I still honor the Lord and give Him glory because He’s deserving of it. Just like my faith shouldn’t change, neither should that … You can still honor the Lord with how you handle things.”

(READ: Tim Tebow and Faith’s Place in Football)

Following Tebow’s talk with the media, the McLeods, Tebow’s family, and some two-dozen Tebow relatives and friends greeted the still upbeat quarterback in the bowels of the stadium. His entourage was so sprawling, it blocked traffic. “It’s Tebow,” a security guard said to the aggrieved driver of moving vehicle. “There’s nothing I can do!” Tebow and Brady exchanged some words: Brady then rushed off with his supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen, on his arm, while Tebow lingered for some 20 minutes, hugging each member of the entourage, and posting for a steady stream of pictures. “This is a dream come true for Zack,” says his father, Pat. “And to me, Tim is absolutely real. He wouldn’t be doing this stuff if he wasn’t.”

No matter how sincere Tebow is off the field, however, he won’t last long going 9 for 26. “I can improve on, just everything, from leadership skills to being a teammate, to passing, to decision making. Everything,” says Tebow. “So, this will be a big off-season for me.”

Lots of vibrant conversation depends on it.