Both ends of the quarterback spectrum collide today when the New England Patriots visit the Denver Broncos with Tom Brady and Tim Tebow squaring off in a matchup of quintessential vs. quirky QBs.
Everybodys looking forward to the Brady and Tebow matchup, Broncos linebacker Joe Mays said of the two men who will be on the field together only for pregame warmups and postgame handshakes.
The two popular players have little in common except a propensity to captivate the league, deliver in the clutch and win in the end.
Despite a suspect secondary and a series of second-half collapses, the AFC East-leading Patriots (10-3) are on the verge of clinching a playoff berth because of Bradys prolific passing attack, featuring Rob Gronkowski with 15 touchdowns, an NFL record for tight ends, and Wes Welker, who already has 100 catches.
Turning slow starts into fantastic finishes, the AFC West-leading Broncos (8-5) have won seven of eight since Tebow took over as their starter. Hes come through with five fourth-quarter comebacks by almost magically changing from struggling scrambler and imperfect passer into clutch performer in crunch time.
The Patriots have topped 30 points 10 times; the Broncos have managed 18, 10, 17, 17, 16 and 13, yet won five of those games with a recipe of dominant defense, spectacular special teams and Tebow.
Aside from a blowout loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers when Kyle Orton still was their starter, the Broncos, who are hurting in the secondary with safety Brian Dawkins (neck) and cornerback Andre Goodman (concussion) recuperating, havent faced a team like the Patriots or a quarterback like Brady.
Hes mastered so many things about the quarterback position, Tebow said. Footwork and accuracy, and hes also been blessed with good players around him, but hes still been one of the best in the league for a long time.
Hes someone that Ive watched and seen probably thousands of cut-ups of him. He does a lot of things very well, very cerebral and understands the game very well. For a young quarterback like myself, hes definitely someone to look up to and learn from, what he does well and try to implement that in my game.
Brady and his teammates watched the end of last weeks Broncos win over Chicago while they were flying home from Washington, D.C., last Sunday, and they came away impressed by Tebow, who was bullied by the Bears, completing 3 of 16 passes for 45 yards through three quarters before connecting on 18 of 24 throws for 191 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime.
I appreciate good quarterback play, Brady said. Im always watching around the league, whether its Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees having phenomenal years. Obviously, Tim is having a great year. You watch guys and the way that they perform under pressure, and it says a lot about who they are and the way their teammates feel about them.
Its a big challenge. Its going to be a very electric environment out there. Weve had some really great games against the Broncos over the years. Im sure this will be no different.
The prolific Patriots would love to score early and often to keep Tebow from even having the chance to work his last-minute magic on them.
The Broncos are intent on starting faster. In the first half, theyve scored six times in 49 drives behind Tebow. In crunch time, hes engineered scoring drives 16 times in 28 possessions.
For some strange reason we come out slow and sluggish ... then we get the train moving, Broncos running back Willis McGahee said.
Through the first three quarters, Tebow has completed 39 percent of his passes for 520 yards with a passer rating of 65.1.
In the fourth quarter and overtime, he looks like, well, Brady, with a 61 percent completion rate, 770 yards through the air and a passer rating of 107.9 about Bradys overall rating.
Tebow also has 517 yards on 94 keepers, an average of 5.5 yards a carry. Against San Diego last month, Tebow ran 22 times, six fewer carries than Bradys had all season.
He obviously has a skill set as a quarterback that not many have, Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. But hes a great quarterback, and his team follows him just like we follow Tom.
Tebow is breaking the mold that Brady and others have built as a pocket passer, showing theres more than one way to win in todays pass-happy NFL.
I think everybody has strengths and weaknesses at every position, Brady said. As a quarterback, you try to play to your strengths. I think thats what we all try to do.
Tebow isnt just unorthodox in his athleticism but in his approach.
Wired with a microphone as part of NFL Films Sound Effects last Sunday, Tebow showed a remarkable poise under pressure. When Elvis Dumervil recovered Marion Barbers fumble in overtime, and the Broncos sideline went wild, Tebow calmly trotted out to the field singing a hymn.
Im not exactly sure what song I was singing, maybe Our God is an awesome God, Tebow said. I know I was singing that one a little bit. It was in my head from the car.
With the Broncos foundering early on again, Tebows position coach Adam Gase asks, Why do we have to do it this way? Tebow puts his right hand on Gases shoulder, smiles and says, Its all right. Well figure it out, man.
Demaryius Thomas sat bummed out on the bench after letting a long touchdown toss slip through his hands at another point. Tebow puts his arm around him and says, Youre good. Hey, no big deal. It just makes it closer for a little bit longer. Youre about to catch the game-winner. And then youll be the hero of the game.
The latest image fans have of Brady, on the other hand, is his sideline screaming match with offensive coordinator Bill OBrien at Washington after his first interception in more than a month.
Were both pretty emotional guys, Brady said after the game.
That bad pass notwithstanding, Brady is once again at the top of his game with 33 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.
Everything that he does, he does well, Welker said. Accuracy, getting us in the right play, understanding what the defense is trying to do and putting us in good situations. It just continually gets better.
While Brady has the pedigree as a pro with two MVP trophies and three Super Bowl rings, he didnt enter the league with nearly as much fanfare or scrutiny as Tebow, the raw thrower but two-time national champion and Heisman Trophy winner from Florida whos considered by many the best combination college quarterback ever.
Tebow was a first-round pick, taken 25th overall. Brady was the 199th player selected in 2000 yet, he owns the best record for any quarterback in the Super Bowl era with a 121-35 regular season mark.
He didnt come in this league with a silver spoon, so to speak, Broncos coach John Fox said. And hes mastered his trade.
Like Tebow, Brady had his own doubters, waiting until the sixth round to hear his name called on draft day.
I think you just really have confidence in yourself that you can achieve whatever you think you can achieve, and then you try to work hard at it, and then when you get your opportunity you try to take advantage of it, Brady said.
Not everyone is a high pick or not everyone gets a lot of chances right out of the box, but when you do get your opportunity, you really try to take advantage of your opportunity and do your best and give everything you have.
Tebow has, and hes winning at a .727 clip to Bradys .776 mark. Hes thrown 11 touchdown passes and two interceptions.
Hes a winner, said Patriots cornerback Antwaun Molden, who was with Houston last year when the Texans lost 24-23 to the Broncos in what was Tebows first career fourth-quarter comeback.
Be alert. Every play he can hurt you, Molden said of the lessons he learned that day. Some say he cant pass. ... The guy can pass. And he can also run. Hes more accurate than what people think.
Tebow topped 300 yards that day, something Bradys done 42 times in his career.
What Brady hasnt done much of is beat Denver. The Broncos are his bugaboo. At 5-1, theyre the only team with a winning record against him.
Still, perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey said Brady is the ultimate test for this bunch of Broncos.
Hes one of the best ever, and I think a lot of people want to find out whos going to be the next guy, Bailey said. But he always reminds everybody whos still the best.
AP Sports Writer Howard Ulman contributed to this report.