By: Bob George/
December 12, 2011

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New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill

He's really a terrific guy, and currently the most polarizing figure in the NFL today.

Tim Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner and two-time BCS champion quarterback from the University of Florida, continues to astound, and confound, most pro football observers. Not given any chance to succeed in the NFL because of his skill set being too college-oriented, Tebow has become the talk of the league with his incredible run of success in the Mile High City. He has led the Denver Broncos to the top of the AFC West, has won seven of the eight games he has played in, and continues to amaze everyone with moribund play in the first three quarters of the game, then outdoing his quarterback predecessor in Denver with one great fourth quarter after another.

His latest effort against the Chicago Bears on Sunday was a marvel on the surface, and it has everyone buzzing with wonder and amazement. Down 10-0 near the two-minute warning, the Broncos rallied to tie the game at the end of regulation, then win it in overtime. Tebow had done nothing in the first three quarters of the game, but in the fourth quarter starting hitting literally all of his passes and made all the plays he had to, and Denver was able to pull out a miracle win.

Now, the Patriots are next on Tebow's plate. The Patriots don't do well in Denver anyway, winning only twice in Denver since 1968 and only once at Sports Authority Field (formerly Invesco Field), that being in 2003 and it took an intentional safety to pull that one off. So who shouldn't think that Tebow can keep this amazing run of success up for one more week, even against the great Bill Belichick? Remember that the Patriots have the worst defense in the NFL, and even the great Patriot teams of recent memory have a history of wilting in the high Denver altitude.

Before you make other plans for Sunday so as to avoid what you might consider the inevitable, there are a few mitigating circumstances to consider in this most recent unbelievable win by the Broncos over the Bears.

Tebow did indeed have a great fourth quarter. But two other players figured more prominently in the outcome of this game, that being Bears running back Marion Barber and Broncos placekicker Matt Prater. It was the combination of these two gents which sent the game into overtime, and not necessarily anything Tebow did.

When Nick Roach recovered an onside kick for the Bears with 2:05 to go in the game, the Broncos had no timeouts and only one clock stoppage, that being the two-minute warning. Barber ran for no gain on first down, and the clock stopped at the 2:00 mark. On second down, Barber ran a left end run, but inexplicably was allowed to be pushed out of bounds to stop the clock instead of falling down in fair territory. This one play allowed the Broncos to get the ball back and prohibited the Bears from bleeding most all of the clock. The Broncos got the ball back with :56 left in the game. Barber understood the severity of his mistake, but this mistake was profoundly foolish and unprofessional.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, Barber being pushed out of bounds is like Jacob Marley being dead as a doornail. Both these items must be clearly understood in order to relate all the magical events that followed. Without Barber stopping the clock, Chicago wins the game, plain and simple.

Tebow had enough time to drive his team from his own 20 to the Chicago 41. But only eight seconds remained. Prater, who nailed a 70-yarder in practice, boomed a 59-yard field goal to tie the score and send it to overtime. Tebow gets the props, but it is still a rarity to nail a field goal that long no matter how thin the air is. Prater is the real hero here, there can be no doubt about it.

The Bears won the coin flip in overtime, but Barber once again scuttled his team by fumbling away the ball at the Denver 33, well within Robbie Gould's field goal range (Gould himself had a 57-yarder in the game). Tebow took over at his own 34 and drove his team in eight plays to the Chicago 33. Prater was asked to kick another 50-plus yarder, and he nailed the 51-yard game-winner. Again, Tebow will take the bows, but Prater was the guy who delivered the win.

So, how much of this was Tebow, how much of this was Barber and how much of this was Prater?

Tebow is going to be all they talk about for the entire week (except in Chicago, where it will be Barber, of course). Another scintillating win. 7-1 as Bronco quarterback. Now the Patriots come to town. Forget about the last visit here, and Josh McDaniels celebrating an overtime win over his old boss. This is different now.

Tebow, a deeply religious person and a very likeable chap, has been criticized for lousy mechanics and flawed footwork. To watch him throw a ball makes Bernie Kosar look like Sandy Koufax. His arm slot is all wrong for the NFL. He is an option quarterback, and some projected him as a fullback because of his size and ability to run with the football. Ask Brian Urlacher of the Bears. He called Tebow a great running back. Some observers think he should be a tight end.

Despite huge success at Florida under new Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, Tebow was not thought of as being a bona fide NFL quarterback. Bronco GM John Elway was against drafting Tebow, and the running gag around the NFL is that Elway is praying that this Tebow experiment will fall flat on its face.

Unfortunately for Belichick, he doesn't have the horses to try and stop Tebow like he did back in 2003 when the Patriots last won in Denver. In that game, backup quarterback Danny Kanell was filling in for starter Jake Plummer, and the Patriots pulled out a 30-26 win on a last-minute Tom Brady touchdown pass to David Givens following an intentional safety which gave the Patriots favorable field position for the winning drive. But even in years with better secondaries, with Belichick, Pete Carroll and Bill Parcells as head coaches, the Patriots have a terrible time winning in Denver.

So, how will this game turn out?

The Patriots will have to try and stop Tebow with their front seven, and try not to get too gassed in the fourth quarter. Oxygen tanks get used quite often by opponents in Denver, and the Patriot defenders will need a whiff or two before the afternoon is done. The Patriots will need to play four good quarters against Tebow, but their track record over the last few games is a penchant for not finishing games. That will not stand them in good stead.

So, Brady will have to try and outscore Tebow. Brady threw four picks in his rookie season here in Denver, and has only the one win in 2003 to his credit. He continues to be frustrated, and his blowup with offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien in Washington was seen by everyone. Brady may be induced to throw a pick or two if he feels pressured to have to win the game by himself, especially if things get crazy in the fourth quarter.

It will be very tough for the Patriots next Sunday. Tebow may have to wait a week before coming down to earth.

That's the nice thing about playing in Denver. You get that high, and you never come down. Maybe Tebow never will.