DENVER — Tim Tebow ran around looking for somewhere — anywhere — to go. The Denver Broncos' starting quarterback who became the biggest story in sports with his ability to fashion victories out of almost certain defeat tried desperately to spin yet another comeback in the fourth quarter that has become known as Tebow Time.
Tebow had perhaps his best all-around game of the season, but cardinal sins of turnovers, penalties and porous tackling snapped his streak of six wins with a 41-23 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday at Sports Authority Field.
He finished with 194 yards passing, 93 rushing and a couple of touchdowns on the ground, but Tebow didn't gain this fame and success based on statistics.
"To me, that really doesn't matter because ultimately you're judged on wins and losses,"Tebow said. "That's why we play the game."
Tebow and winning had become synonymous since he took over as the starter in October. This loss — predicted on mistakes of his making and many of his teammates — dropped the Broncos' record with Tebow under center to 7-2.
It was hard to blame the 24-year-old for much, though his second-quarter fumble opened the door for a Patriots touchdown. Ex-Maryland running back Lance Ball's fumble and Quan Cosby's muffed punt hurt as well.
"Dropping the ball on the ground and the turnovers were really the big difference," Denver coach John Fox said. "You're not going to be minus-three against the New England Patriots and win very many ballgames."
All eyes were on Tebow as this game was hyped as a showdown between the seemingly unbeatable Broncos and Tom Brady and the mighty Patriots. Fans clad in orange and blue held signs encouraging others to "Believe" in Tebow and chanted his name even through the fourth quarter when victory was all but out of reach, even for this Denver group.
But it was Brady who carved up the Broncos' defense to the tune of 320 yards and two touchdowns in the air and another score on the ground.
"He's still the best out there in my opinion. When you make mistakes against a guy like that, he's going to make you pay," Broncos and ex-Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey said. "That's what you expect from him, and that's what he's been doing for years."
Tebow's success has been more short-lived, though his emergence as a fan favorite and cult celebrity has been based more on his results than his numbers or pure ability as a quarterback. He showed flashes of brilliance Sunday against New England, avoiding sacks and throwing the ball efficiently over the middle.
"It's usually a lot more fun when you win, but I thought he improved," Fox said. "This was a setback, no doubt about it, but sometimes setbacks are setups for bigger things to come."
The fourth quarter — when Tebow had thrived in engineering comebacks each of the past four weeks — was a setback because the Patriots "pinned their ears back" in the quarterback's words and made life difficult. With the Broncos down 34-16, Tebow was just 5-for-11 in the fourth.
He directed one fourth-quarter touchdown drive that woke up a subdued crowd, but it wasn't enough.
One loss, however, didn't sap confidence from the Broncos (8-6), who still are leading the AFC West thanks to Oakland's 28-27 loss to Detroit.
And Tebow's positivity was not dampened, either.
"It's disappointing that we came away with the loss, but I know there's a lot of things we can build on," he said. "We know that in every phase we can get a little bit better, and I think that gives us a lot of confidence as a team because we were with them for a lot of that game, and we still know that there's a lot improvement that we can continue to make every single day in practice and every single game."
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