FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Looks like Tebowmania has run its course.
Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow couldn't pull off another improbable comeback on Saturday night, when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots effectively buried the NFL's feel-good story of the year with a 45-10 rout.
The Patriots advanced to the AFC title game for the sixth time in 11 seasons, and the Broncos head into the offseason with renewed questions about their unconventional quarterback.
"After a little while, when we continued to fall behind" it sank in, an upbeat Tebow told reporters after the game. "But even at halftime, when we came in and said we were going to play one play at a time, you never know what's going to happen. We just weren't able to get it done."
The Tebow phenomenon was built during a six-game winning streak — three of them in overtime — and then magnified when he hit Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of overtime in last week's playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. But the Patriots overwhelmed the Broncos, and Tebow wasn't able to stop it.
"Overall, it's been a very special opportunity for me, something I'm very thankful for, very thankful I had the opportunity to build some of the great relationships with teammates and coaches," he said. "We've overcome a lot of different forms of adversity, to win some special games, to have great memories of last week and to be able to get into the playoffs. There's a lot of things we are proud of, even though it's hard to see that now."
After scurrying around the field for four quarters — usually with Patriots defenders close behind — Tebow stood calmly at the podium in his postgame interview and tried to focus on the positive things that have happened to him this season. Wearing a purple tie and matching shirt, open at the collar, Tebow talked about meeting a sick child in the hospital and bringing a smile to his face.
"I'm very thankful for that platform," he said. "So I wouldn't change it for anything."
The Broncos were 1-4 when Tebow was named the starter. After splitting his first two games, they won six in a row with him as quarterback and Tebowmania was in full bloom.
Then the Patriots got to Denver on Dec. 18 and won 41-23 to snap the winning streak. The Broncos lost their next two games as well to finish with a three-game slide, but they qualified for the playoffs when the Oakland Raiders lost to the San Diego Chargers on the final day of the regular season.
In the wild-card round against Pittsburgh, Thomas' 80-yard touchdown catch-and-run on the first play of overtime gave the Broncos their first playoff win in six years.
And heading into the second round, it was all Tebow, all the time.
The internet buzzed with people Tebowing — mimicking the quarterback's pregame prayer pose — and that didn't go over so well in New England, where they think their quarterback deserves some attention, too. Talk radio callers questioned Tebow's talent, and even fans at the Boston Bruins game started a derisive cheer against the Broncos quarterback.
That carried over to Foxborough, where the "Teeee-Bow!" chant came out in the second half as he struggled to muster an offensive attack.
"Sometimes you definitely don't want it all because you'd love to just go to dinner and hang out with friends and be a normal 24-year-old," Tebow said. "That makes it sometimes hard, but I wouldn't change it for the world just because by having that platform to be able to walk into the hospital and share with kids."
Broncos coach John Fox said the team had a lot to be proud of, and Tebow did, too. But there were few highlights on Saturday.
"We're a work in progress," Fox said.
On Denver's first possession, Tebow threw an incompletion and lost a fumble. By halftime, he had completed just three of 10 passes for 28 yards. By that time, Brady already had thrown five of his six touchdown passes.
"I just wanted to show character. You just continue to fight, and it doesn't change who you are, who you play, how you go out there. You should be the same at all times," Tebow said. "That's what I wanted to show. It didn't matter whether it was the first play or the last play or you were down by 42. I was going to be the same player and I was still going to give everything I have. Because that's all I have to give. Every time I step on the field, I'm going to give my whole heart, regardless score-wise of what's happening."
Tebow just couldn't overcome a defense ranked 31st in the NFL.
"They did some good things, stunting up front," he said. "They played well. I thank my teammates for their effort even when things didn't go well."
Now he goes into the offseason trying to improve. The question is: Will he be the starter again next season?
"Of course, he's our guy," safety Rahim Moore said. "People put too much pressure on him. He's going to have some good and some bad. I believe in him and I would like him to be our quarterback."