That Tom Brady is no Tim Tebow
Patriots QB motivated by past playoff failings, not buzz around Broncos counterpart
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sorry, people.
You've been worshipping the wrong quarterback.
Tim Tebow is a fine young man with a promising future as a preacher, a politician, a pundit, even a player in the NFL.
But he's no Tom Brady.
The New England Patriots' redoubtable franchise player annihilated the Denver Broncos and their messiah Saturday night with the cool precision of a football assassin. Brady orchestrated the humiliating 45-10 beatdown by carving up a number of team and league records, and serving notice that the demise of the drop-back, pocket passer has been grossly exaggerated.
So, incidentally, have Brady's recent shortcomings in the playoffs. Brady and the Patriots were one-and-done the past two seasons, and there was tremendous pressure on both the quarterback and his coach, Bill Belichick, to avoid a third consecutive early exit. The two pillars of this Patriots dynasty understood their (recent) credibility was on the line and challenged their team to submit its most complete victory of the season.
New England's players responded across the board.
Thus, divine intervention was usurped by some good old-fashioned mortal game preparation.
While so many of us surmised the incessant chatter regarding Tebow's remarkable success might have proved to be an irritant to the more decorated Brady, we discovered Saturday night that the suggestion Brady has been subpar in the playoffs motivated him far more.
"Tom is competitive," longtime teammate Kevin Faulk said, "and he's had to deal with you people [the media] talking about the bad playoff games he's had the past two seasons.
"You don't listen to it, but you hear it. And you want to prove them wrong. Your teammates hear it, too, and they want to help you out in proving them wrong. So that's what you saw tonight."
Asked whether he thought Brady felt the pressure of the disappointing performances of the past two postseasons, Belichick answered, "I think our whole team feels that."
"You lose a few playoffs games, and it's a very bitter way to end the season, and it sits in your mind for quite a long time," Brady conceded.
Here's a smattering of Brady's achievements on an arctic evening in Foxborough: an NFL record of five touchdown passes in a half, team records for points and passing yards (363) in a playoff game, and a move into second place on the all-time list of playoff victories for a starting quarterback (15). Brady is one win shy of joining his childhood idol, Joe Montana, atop that list.
"What can you say? He's Tom Brady," Denver cornerback (and future Hall of Famer) Champ Bailey said with a sigh. "He's been around the block a few times, and if you're not ready to punch him in the mouth, he's going to eat you up all night."
Over the past week, Brady demonstrated a healthy measure of respect for Tebow, who captured the hearts and imaginations of millions of Americans because of his Christian values, his wholesome image and his ability to lead the upstart Broncos to dramatic, inspiring victories. But some of New England's players admitted they grew weary of hearing about the Denver star.
"I don't want to make it about Tom and Tim, but our quarterback is a great leader and he told us he wanted this game," running back Stevan Ridley said. "We did our job."
The Patriots put a premium on avoiding the well-documented deficits that have plagued them in the early quarters of games and tried to offset that by going almost exclusively with a no-huddle attack. That strategy paid quick and forceful dividends.
From the opening drive, New England's approach had an old-timey, heyday, vintage Super Bowl feel to it.
Remember during Brady's Wonder Years when the Patriots appeared to be one step ahead of everyone else and Charlie Weis managed to concoct a new wrinkle to the team's offensive assault in big games?
For this matchup, the "different look" was lining up tight end Aaron Hernandez in the backfield.
Before the Broncos had an opportunity to process that, Brady was in full hurry-up mode, hitting BenJarvus Green-Ellis on a quick 8-yard strike, handing off to Green-Ellis to exploit a sizable hole in the line (which provided Brady excellent protection throughout), then connecting on a sideline pass to Rob Gronkowski, whose ranks of cult followers are sure to swell even more in the wake of yet another memorable performance.
Gronk got the Patriots to midfield, and that's when Brady turned and jammed the ball into the belly of his new fullback, Hernandez.
Hernandez rumbled 43 yards down the left side of the field to the Denver 7.
"That run really got us off to a good start," Brady said.
That led to first-and-goal, which led to Brady-to-Wes Welker, which led to a touchdown and a 7-0 lead, all with less than two minutes gone.
And when Tebow coughed up the ball on the next possession, Brady was at it again, driving his team down the field and squealing with delight as Gronkowski stretched completely horizontal to haul in an acrobatic corner touchdown catch.
So it was 14-0 just eight minutes into the game, and Brady was a perfect 8-of-8 for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Tebow? He hadn't completed a pass yet.
Tebow's night wouldn't get much better, in part because the Patriots' defense did a fair amount of stunting and mixing coverages. Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork and Shaun Ellis each provided excellent pressure and reveled in their own moments of slamming Tebow to the turf. The maligned Patriots defense contained Tebow in the pocket and thwarted his efforts to create mayhem with his bait-and-switch running attack.
At halftime, Brady had more touchdown passes (five) than Tebow had completions (three). If he derived added pleasure from that, Brady kept it to himself.
"Honestly, I didn't hear Tom mention Tebow all week," Green-Ellis said. "He only mentions other guys if he has a way to exploit them."
Aside from a "floater" that got away from him in the first quarter and resulted in an interception that set up Denver's only touchdown, Brady was superb. He completed 26 of 34 passes with a passer rating of 137.6. Tebow checked out with 9-of-26 passing for 136 yards and a cringe-worthy 52.7 passer rating.
Brady even executed a quick kick in the second half that he confessed he's been working on for "about seven or eight years."
It was not surprising to learn Brady approached this game with an added edge, barking at his receivers all week to run more precise routes, encouraging his line to block more efficiently, urging his backs to run harder.
"Hey, that's him every week," Green-Ellis said. "That's Tom. If I'm lining up at 7 yards, he might tell me, 'Move up a little more.' He wants everything perfect. He wants everything exactly to a T."
That's T for Tom -- not Tebow.
The elite quarterback moves on, while the object of our nation's affection, the inspirational, endearing work-in-progress, is now officially yesterday's news.
No need to kneel in homage to Brady. All he wants is to forget the recent playoff past and continue building on a new playoff future.
Longtime Boston journalist Jackie MacMullan is a columnist for ESPNBoston.com.