ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos are even bigger underdogs at New England this weekend than they were against Pittsburgh.
The Patriots (13-3) have been installed as nearly two-touchdown favorites over the Broncos (9-8) in Saturday night’s divisional playoff at Foxborough, Mass.
“I like being the underdog because no one’s giving you a chance and you get to prove everyone wrong — just like we have all year,” tight end Daniel Fells said Wednesday.
After all, the Broncos were nine-point underdogs last week and they beat Pittsburgh 29-23 in overtime.
No chance. No shot. The Broncos have heard it all week, and they don’t mind.
“I love listening to people hate on us,” Fells said. “I mean, you can hate if you want to, but we’re still here and we’re moving forward. The more you hate, the more we feed off of it.”
The Broncos are buoyed not only by their electrifying win over the Steelers and the league’s No. 1 defense Sunday but also by the fresh memories of manhandling the Patriots last month before self-destructing in an 18-point loss at home.
The Broncos gashed the Patriots for 167 yards rushing in the first quarter and jumped out to an early nine-point lead before a trio of turnovers did them in.
“I think you definitely find some positive things in that,” Tebow said. “We drove the ball really well for most of the game. You know, we had three turnovers where we dropped the ball on the ground and … gave them the upper hand. So, whatever we can do to eliminate turnovers, play a very sound game and execute, I think we’ll have a chance.”
Back on Dec. 18, the Broncos were riding a six-game winning streak that included four straight fourth-quarter comebacks when they staggered the Patriots by jumping to an early 16-7 lead.
Then, the three takeaways opened a trap door that tempered Tebowmania.
Lance Ball fumbled at his 19, Tebow fumbled at his 20 and Quan Cosby fumbled a punt at his 16.
The Patriots pounced on the football each time, and Tom Brady turned the takeaways into 13 points that ignited their 41-23 wipeout.
“Yeah, we did some things that are uncharacteristic of us,” wide receiver Eddie Royal said. “We’re a team that doesn’t turn the ball over too much, and we did a little bit of that against them. They’re an explosive offense with one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game, so when you’re playing against a guy like that, you really have to take advantage of every possession that you have.”
Tailback Willis McGahee tweaked a hamstring in the first half, and the Broncos couldn’t maintain their great ground game after the Patriots switched from a 4-3 look to a 3-4 and jumped ahead 27-16 at halftime.
“When you’re playing a great team, you can’t give them anything,” rookie linebacker Von Miller said.
Some Broncos think they beat themselves last time.
“We definitely gave the game away,” Ball said.
Others don’t want to take anything from the victor — except the rematch, of course.
“No, they definitely beat us,” defensive end Robert Ayers said. “We did some things that hurt ourselves and shot ourselves in the foot, but they beat us. We couldn’t stop them. We couldn’t score, and we couldn’t do anything on special teams.”
That’s not a good formula for keeping up with Brady and his bunch.
The disheartening defeat sent Tebow into a three-week funk that he emphatically ended Sunday by hitting Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown strike on the first play of overtime.
Tebow celebrated that night, then started working on ways to win against all odds again this weekend.
“Every week’s a new week, and you can’t focus on the past, whether it was good, whether it was bad,” he said. “I think each week you learn from it, but it’s a new game, it’s a new week, it’s a new stadium and we can’t be thinking about last week when we’re in Foxborough. We have to be focused on the Patriots and what they’re doing.”
Ball said were it not for the fumbles, the Broncos would have beaten the Patriots last month.
“Yeah, when we were on our winning streak, we held the ball, played well on both sides of the ball and on special teams,” Ball said. “If we do that, we have a great chance of winning.
“We have great talent in this locker room. We know that when we’re going on all cylinders, we can beat anybody.”
Las Vegas doesn’t think so, making Denver the biggest underdog of the four games this weekend.
While Fells relishes the 13 1-2-point spread, Tebow doesn’t use the oddsmakers’ opinions to light his competitive fire.
“Playing the Patriots is enough motivation for us and going to Foxborough and playing Tom Brady and playing Bill Belichick,” Tebow said. “That’s enough motivation. Let alone, it’s a huge playoff game.”
Tebow said the formula for winning the rematch is pretty simple: keep the football out of the Patriots’ hands, including Brady’s, and convert red-zone opportunities better this time.
Just like last weekend, nobody seems to be giving them a chance, just the way they like it.
“We owe them something,” Fells said. “They came out here and they beat us pretty good and I think that sour taste is still in a lot of guys’ mouths. Just turning on the film and watching it this week, you could see that we did some things well but then we also had a lot of mistakes. So, we’ll go out and fix those mistakes and prove that we still deserve to be on the same field with them.”
Notes: A snowstorm forced the Broncos to practice inside Wednesday. … S Brian Dawkins (neck) missed practice again but was on the field providing instruction like coaches do. Coach John Fox said he was encouraged by Dawkins’ progress: “He was way further along this week than he was last week.” … Long snapper Lonnie Paxton missed practice because of personal reasons. … DE Elvis Dumervil (right ankle) was limited.