Even Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have a little bit of Tebowmania.
“I’m excited,” the Patriots quarterback said Monday as New England began to prepare for their second-round playoff game against Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. “And I’m sure there’s not a lot of guys on our team that slept great last night.”
Tebow led the Broncos into the second round of the NFL playoffs when he connected with Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard score on the first play of overtime to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-23 on Sunday. Now the Broncos will have to face New England, which already beat them Dec. 18.
Denver came into that game at the peak of Tebow hype, riding a six-game winning streak since he was installed as the starting quarterback. Now the Broncos are riding another high, thanks to the quickest overtime score in NFL playoff history.
“That was a great win for them yesterday, a really impressive game,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday. “It didn’t take long — one play. He made a great throw, Thomas made a good catch. … Well-executed play by the Broncos, and it was decisive.”
Tebow completed 10 of 21 passes for a season-high 316 yards for a passer rating of 125.6 that is the highest in Broncos postseason history. He 4-0 in his career in overtime and 1-0 as a starter in the playoffs.
That’s one more postseason win than the Patriots have had since the 2007 season. In each of the last two playoffs, the Patriots have lost at home.
“It was a very different team last year,” Brady said on WEEI. “The strengths of this team are different than they were last year. How it all plays out? It depends on how we play. There’s nothing that happened last week or last year or five years ago or 10 years ago that can play into this game.”
The Patriots had a bye last week, but that doesn’t mean things were quiet in Foxborough, Mass. Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien took the head coaching job at Penn State, inheriting the aftermath of the sexual abuse scandal that cost Joe Paterno his job.
O’Brien will remain with the Patriots through the end of their season and then be replaced by Josh McDaniels, who was the Patriots offensive coordinator before leaving to be the Broncos head coach in 2009.
Although he won’t have the title, McDaniels will join the Patriots staff immediately — in time to help them prepare for the team that fired him in 2010.
“He obviously has some inside information on that team and those players, as he coached them,” Brady said. “I think coach Belichick has a pretty good idea of what he’s going to want Josh to do. … He’s a great coach and we’re lucky to have him. I’m excited to get back to work with him. How that plays into this week, we’ll see. We’ll try to figure that out here in the next five or six days.”
Belichick would not say how McDaniels would assist.
“He’s ready to help us in any way that he can. I’m sure that he’ll be an asset to our coaching staff and our team,” Belichick said. “I’m not sure exactly how that will pan out. … Right now, it’s just a one-game season, so whatever we can do to help ourselves this week we’ll do and then we’ll worry about next week and next year later.”
The Broncos weren’t concerned.
“When you do this for a living, you’ve got a pretty good idea of most of the players. You may have coached them before. Guys just move cities,” Broncos coach John Fox said, noting that Denver plays his former team, Carolina, next year. “I just stay in my lane. Other people make those rules.”
McDaniels, 35, worked for New England from 2001-2008, including three seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He left to coach the Broncos but was fired with three games left in his second season.
He spent this year as the offensive coordinator with St. Louis Rams, who went 2-14. Coach Steve Spagnuolo was fired last week, and McDaniels was allowed to leave for New England.
“I don’t really think too many guys are going to be thinking about that,” receiver Eddie Royal said. “We’ve got to worry about stopping Tom Brady and scoring points on this defense. I don’t think you can worry about who’s coaching them.”
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed to this story from Denver.