FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For his latest trick, Tim Tebow is making three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady disappear from the headlines.
Now, with Tebowmania in full force, the Denver Broncos hope to make the New England Patriots vanish from the playoffs when they meet Saturday night.
Photos of the devout, much doubted Denver sensation kneeling on the turf in prayer are a weekly occurrence. There are plenty of shots of him with arms thrust in the air after a scoring play.
But where are those pictures of Brady posing with supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen or with the Patriots title trophies?
That’s what happens when Tebow leads the Broncos to four overtime wins in one season, capped by last Sunday’s wild-card victory over Pittsburgh. For Brady, coming off one of the best of his 12 seasons, greatness is expected and not often celebrated.
“I’m never surprised at what gets talked about anymore,” Patriots left tackle Matt Light said with a smile. “I think I saw a seven-minute (video) piece on a girl that ate M&Ms while doing a handstand. That was interesting. I mean, I got into it for a while.
“I think it’s just any time there’s anything new — he’s obviously new (and) he’s done some incredible things this season. I think the hype is justified.”
If Tebow can stun the odds makers who have made the Broncos 13 1-2-point underdogs, the attention will grow heading into the AFC championship game. Forecasters are predicting the coldest day of the winter with temperatures in the single digits Saturday night.
Tebow, who played four seasons at Florida, hasn’t been in many games below 20 degrees.
“I’d say probably a handful,” he said, “not as many as Mr. Brady has, probably.”
The Patriots, winners of eight straight games but losers of their last three in the playoffs — the last two at home — beat the Broncos on Dec. 18 in Denver, 41-23.
New England (13-3) gave up 167 yards rushing in the first quarter and trailed 16-7 early in the second. But three Denver turnovers in that quarter were costly. Defensively, the Broncos controlled receiving stars Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, but were hurt by the Patriots’ other tight end, Aaron Hernandez.
The Patriots gave up the second-most yards in the league this season, but, with Brady, they scored the third most. So pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil must get to him early and defensive backs must cover as long as necessary.
Tebow won’t have leading receiver Eric Decker, who hurt his left knee against Pittsburgh. But Willis McGahee ran for 1,199 yards and Tebow added 660 this season on the NFL’s top rushing team.
“We can learn a little bit from our last game against them, but this is a whole new deal,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “They’re a tough team to prepare for. They give you a lot of looks on both sides of the ball.”
Tebow brought the Broncos (9-8) back from a 1-4 start all the way to the playoffs despite completing 46.5 percent of his passes with a flawed motion and losing the last three regular-season games.
But the hype soared after last Sunday’s playoff victory.
On the very first play of overtime, Pittsburgh had no deep safety. All Demaryius Thomas had to do was catch Tebow’s 18-yard pass over the middle and run the rest of the way for an 80-yard touchdown and a 29-23 win.
That cranked up the Tebowmania volume on postgame shows but not among his teammates.
“For the most part, it’s not like it’s something that you ask for,” Tebow said. “You care about going out there and trying to get better every day and trying to be a great teammate.”
And his teammates don’t focus on the hype.
“It’s nowhere in the locker room,” safety Quinton Carter said. “Everybody else outside of here can have fun with that. We’re here to work. We’re here to win. We don’t think about it.”
Tebow also has gotten plenty of attention for displaying his religious views by Tebowing — the description for his kneeling — and referring to his faith.
Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater also is deeply religious.
“I think he’s doing the right thing,” Slater said. “I think that he’s challenging other believers across the league to maybe be more open about their beliefs as well.”
Brady rarely discusses his personal feelings. He prefers to focus only on football. But there are similarities in how he and Tebow began their careers, both facing doubts about their NFL prospects.
The Patriots didn’t draft Brady until the sixth round in 2000 and he became a starter in the third game of 2001 after Drew Bledsoe was injured. Tebow won two national championships and the Heisman Trophy at Florida but wasn’t drafted until the 25th pick in 2010 and started just three games as a rookie amid doubts about his passing skills.
“I think everybody has a story to tell. Every player who has made it this far has had to overcome some adversity,” Brady said. “It could be injuries or a lack of opportunities or you’re stuck behind someone else. There are very few people that get brought to the NFL ushered in on a red carpet.
“I think everybody has to fight through some things, which really, you can see kind of someone’s strength of character and what they’re made of when they’re faced with adversity.”
Then there’s the parallel between each quarterback’s first playoff game.
Ten years ago, on Jan. 19, the Patriots beat the Oakland Raiders 16-13 in the “Tuck Rule Game.” Brady appeared to lose a fumble with 1:43 left, but officials ruled the replay showed his arm going forward. That made it an incompletion even though Brady appeared to be trying to tuck the ball into his body.
Adam Vinatieri then tied the game with a 45-yard field goal in the snow with 27 seconds to go in regulation and won it with a 23-yarder midway through overtime.
“That was a long time ago,” Light said. “I think that where we are now is drastically different than where we were then.”
But more unlikely than Tebow’s 80-yarder to Thomas?
Another similarity: both quarterbacks strive to be just one of the guys, unselfish players who blend in.
In 2005, Brady posed for GQ Magazine holding a baby goat. His teammates razzed him.
And now, Tebow says his teammates tease him about his fame.
“Hopefully, they see you as a friend and as a teammate,” he said. “The rest of it is something that we laugh at and, sometimes, they make fun of you for.”