Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos started fast but came crashing back to reality, courtesy of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Reality, and the Patriots, ground Tim Tebow and the Broncos
Brady passed for two touchdowns and ran for another, and the Patriots ended Tebow's late-game heroics to clinch the AFC East title with a 41-23 victory at Denver.
"It was a really good day for us," Brady said. "Very emotional game. It was really rocking early. We showed some mental toughness."
Instead of another slow start followed by a fantastic finish for Tebow and the Broncos, this time they started fast and fizzled. They scored on their first three possessions to take a 16-7 lead but were done in by a trio of turnovers late in the first half.
"We did have things going pretty well early, scored on the first three possessions and felt like we were moving the ball good and then we put it on the ground," Tebow said. "That's something you can't do against a great team and Tom Brady and [New England coach] Bill Belichick. "Besides that, we were right there with them."
Champ Bailey, the Broncos cornerback, had said the Broncos needed a big game against a top quarterback to prove that they were contenders and not just curiosities. They did not get it on this day.
"We showed that we're not ready to go to the play-offs and make a push," Bailey said. "We've got to get better and we only have two or three weeks to do it. If we don't, then we'll be sitting home."
With their first loss since October 30, the Broncos still lead the AFC West but face a tougher path to the play-offs; they play at Buffalo next week followed by a home game against Kansas City.
"I definitely feel like we're all right," said Tebow, who is 7-2 as Denver's starter. He threw for 194 yards and ran for 93 yards and two scores but was sacked four times and lost a fumble.
"This was a setback, no doubt about that," said John Fox, the Broncos coach. "But sometimes setbacks are set-ups for bigger things to come."