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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On the plane Sunday, as the New England Patriots were leaving Washington with a hard-earned 34-27 victory over the Redskins, the players got a sneak preview of their next opponent.
And while the Patriots will be playing the Denver Broncos on Sunday, to judge from the buzz emanating from the Mile High City, New England will be facing only one player.
|While the Patriots voiced their respect for Tim Tebow, they hope to end the Broncos' six-game winning streak.|
His name is Tim Tebow. He's the quarterback of the Broncos, but he has become more than just a quarterback, much more.
Tebow has become a phenomenon. His nickname is the "Mile High Messiah," derived from his devotion to his faith and his ability to seemingly will Denver to one fourth-quarter or overtime win after another in an amazing stretch of otherworldly success. His success -- the Broncos are 7-1 with him as a starter and have moved into first place in the AFC West -- is all the more remarkable because of his reputation coming out of Florida and in his two years in the NFL.
Tebow's ability to be a quarterback at the highest level has been questioned loudly, including some stinging skepticism from his own general manager, John Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback who led Denver to a pair of Super Bowl triumphs.
But as the Patriots settled in for the short flight home from Washington, Tebow Time took over once again for Denver. After a woeful three quarters, Tebow engineered a comeback that generated 10 points to tie the Chicago Bears on the next-to-last play of the fourth quarter and a field goal in overtime that produced a 13-10 victory.
Tebow's fourth-quarter heroics have been coming weekly. On Sunday, for instance, he shook off three quarters of passing woes -- 3-for-16 for 45 yards. For the rest of the game, he went 18-for-24 for 191 yards, including a touchdown toss.
Now it's the Patriots' turn to confront the Legend of Tebow.
But don't expect the Patriots to bow down to Tebow, whose legend began to grow when he was leading Florida to two NCAA titles, claiming the Heisman Trophy along the way. It's not as if Tebow is playing 1-on-11 out there. That's the Patriots' take.
Indeed, Tebow came out a winner Sunday because the Bears handed the Broncos a couple of late gifts. And Denver's Matt Prater kicked a 59-yard field goal to tie the game with three seconds on the clock and won it with a 51-yarder in overtime.
Despite the magic -- and hype -- that has surrounded Tebow since Broncos coach John Fox installed him at quarterback, the Patriots don't consider him to be a one-man band.
"They have a good football team. It's certainly not one player," New England coach Bill Belichick said Monday when he met the media.
"They've done it a lot of different ways. They're throwing the ball, running the ball, driving it. They've been making critical plays when they have to make them, whether it's a strip sack or a field goal. They're doing it as a team."
Not that the Patriots don't have respect for Tebow. In fact, Belichick and some of his staff took him out to dinner prior to the 2010 draft. While Tebow didn't wind up with New England, Belichick offered a positive assessment of his skills.
"Tim is a strong runner, a good athlete. He does well out of the pocket," Belichick said. "It's the whole offense though. They run the ball, a different type of attack. They have a lot of good receivers, throw the ball down the field. They [pose] a lot of challenges."
Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher and defensive back Nate Jones also talked about Tebow on Monday, echoing the sentiment that he isn't the Broncos' only offensive player.
"It's the team," Fletcher said. "Everybody wants to make a lot out of Tebow Time or whatever. It's the team. [On Sunday], the defense stepped up, the kicker made some kicks. It's not one guy. It's the team. Looking at the next game, it's not one guy. You have to look at it as a whole, offense and defense."
"We prepare for him just like we prepare for every other quarterback every other week," Jones said. "We don't want to let that get out of hand, or we don't want that to become bigger than the game. We're going to go out here and look at him just like we looked at [the Redskins' Rex] Grossman and [the Colts' Dan] Orlovsky, and every other quarterback we play against.
"We know it's going to be a media circus, with a whole bunch of other issues. We don't want any distractions. We know they've won six in a row. They're playing good. They're hot right now. But it's just another game on our schedule. We have to prepare for it just like we did every week."
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady praised Tebow in his weekly appearance on WEEI sports radio.
"All of us were watching the game last night on the airplane. Just as we were taking off was when they came back and won the game," Brady said.
"It was an exciting game. They obviously have a very good team. They play for 60 minutes. They've obviously closed a lot of games and finished very well. Everyone says he struggles throwing the ball. What I saw last night he had no problems throwing the ball. He threw the ball extremely well when I was watching. They're winning a ton of games and he's playing very well."
On Sunday, the Patriots will get a closer look at the Mile High Messiah.
Steven Krasner is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.