Tim Tebow’s first career NFL playoff victory against the defending AFC Champion, Pittsburgh Steelers, was in a word: AMAZING! However, despite the stunning victory over a team that most believed was out of their league, they now face a psychological battle against an even loftier opponent than the Pittsburgh Steelers: the New England Patriots.
Tim Tebow demonstrated that he is the franchise quarterback of the Broncos future. He also showed that he was worth the first-round capital spent on him to take the Broncos to the next level.
The Pittsburgh Steelers was a monumental task that the Broncos faced with near perfection. Besides a late game fumble by Willis McGahee (that almost cost the Broncos the game), the Broncos were able to effectively move the football and stop the Steelers in the pass and run games for much of the game. The Broncos defense pushed the Steelers out of field-goal range late in the game, forcing overtime.
Tim Tebow beat a pass defense which had only allowed only one reception for more than 45 yards all season, made by LaRod Stephens-Howling, who turned a 10-yard reception into a 73-yard touchdown. Not only did Tebow beat the Steelers secondary (ranked No. 1 against the pass), he had completions of 51 yards, 58 yards and 80 yards, averaging 15 yards per attempt.
The one thing that the Steelers tempted Tebow to do, he did, and it cost them the game.
Taking Hall of Fame VP, John Elway’s advice to “pull the trigger,” Tebow let loose on the best defense in the game and carved them up like no one had done all season. Tebow was the lone passer to throw for more than 300 yards against the Steelers all season.
Quarterbacks such as Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco and Tom Brady didn’t even come close. Arguably, one of the best quarterbacks in the game, Tom Brady, next week’s opponent, only passed for 198 yards on 35 attempts. He averaged 5.7 yards/attempt. Tebow, on the other hand, averaged 15.0 yards per attempt on 21 attempts for 316 yards through the air.
This victory over the Steelers rightfully should give the Denver Broncos a major confidence boost. However, facing a former foe who embarrassed the Broncos during the regular season brings a new challenge: psychology.
Players will tell you over and over that they have “short” memories, but the Patriots game for the Broncos was a reality check this year, and the reality was they weren’t even close.
Robert Ayers’ memory of the game wasn’t foggy when speaking with the Denver Post after the Steelers upset.
"We couldn't stop them. We couldn't score. We couldn't do anything on special teams. They definitely beat us. We helped them out with some things ... but they definitely beat us."
In the first half of the game against the Patriots, the Broncos got out to an early lead and watched it evaporate after multiple turnovers and New England Patriots’ Tom Brady surgically picked apart the Broncos secondary for 27 unanswered points in the second and third quarters.
This Broncos team is high on emotion. They have a lot of ups and downs. They have a great deal of passion, heart and a never say die attitude. However, they have be able to rebound when the Patriots get going. They can’t start moping around, or be reserved to failure. They must step up and make plays to answer the Patriots.
The Patriots' specialty is coming back and then disheartening an opponent. They usually start slow and then repetitively beat down an opponent to the point where psychologically they believe all hope is lost.
The Patriots beat down cost the Broncos the remaining two games of the season when the offense completely stalled and it appeared like Tim Tebow’s confidence was utterly shot. The adrenaline shot that Tebow got in the second quarter when he connected with Demaryius Thomas for 51 yards, leading to the go-ahead score revived his confidence and carried him through the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and into the game against the New England Patriots.
Tebow must continue to “pull the trigger” as Elway urged and make “smart” passes with lower risk and potential for huge reward against a defense that has been victimized all year in the passing game.
While the regular season matchup against the Patriots was demoralizing, the Broncos have to forget their earlier failures and focus on the task at hand to get to the next round. They can’t look back with fear at being humiliated next week, but instead, they must execute the game plan to the same high level as they have shown that they are capable of in the Wild Card Round against the Steelers.
The Patriots live off of fear and are mentally tough. Their weapons abound and can beat you in many different ways.
The Patriots have rattled off eight straight victories including the Denver Broncos, who were the only playoff team they beat during that stretch. The closest game in that stretch came three weeks ago in Week 16 against the Miami Dolphins, who got out to a quick lead (17-0), only to suffer 27 unanswered points by the Pats, and lose by a field goal.
How Big Will the Psychological Battle be Against New England Patriots
Big leads by opponents have not been insurmountable as the Patriots were down last week against the Buffalo Bills trailing 21-0 in the first quarter when the Bills were stunned by 49 consecutive points that the Patriots put up against them in the remaining three quarters.
The Broncos mental toughness will be challenged by the Patriots in this game. What remains to be seen is how resilient the Broncos will be after a Patriots score. In those two games to close out the season, the Patriots surrendered zero turnovers, while forcing four against the Bills and two against the Dolphins. Against the Broncos it was the costly three fumbles the Broncos suffered that gave the Patriots short fields and easy points, will robbing the Broncos of opportunities.
Tebow, the emotional leader of the Denver Broncos, has to keep his spirits high and have a short memory, while not giving the Patriots extra shots to beat them.
Head coach John Fox hopes to keep his team emotionally prepared for the New England Patriots. The Denver Post reports: "We give them 48 hours (to get over a victory or loss), then they have to get back to regular. Our message is always: ‘Be the same guy.' Be even-keeled. Don't get too high, too low. It's never as bad as some people may say you might be. Or you're never as good as some people may say you might be. To stay even, stay even-keeled is what we try to explain. They listen.”
Fox hopes that his efforts pay off and the Broncos can come into the Divisional Round with great poise, passion and a feeling that they belong here and they can hang with the New England Patriots, who have won three Super Bowl championships in the past 10 years. However, it has been almost seven years since the Patriots won a Super Bowl (February 6, 2005).