DENVER — Both ends of the quarterback spectrum collide today when the New England Patriots visit the Denver Broncos, with Tom Brady and Tim Tebow squaring off in a matchup of quintessential vs. quirky QBs.

“Everybody’s looking forward to the Brady and Tebow matchup,” Broncos linebacker Joe Mays said of the two men who will be on the field together only for pregame warmups and postgame handshakes.

The two popular players have little in common except a propensity to captivate the league, deliver in the clutch and win in the end.

Despite a suspect secondary and a series of second-half collapses, the AFC East-leading Patriots (10-3) are on the verge of clinching a playoff berth because of Brady’s prolific passing attack, featuring Rob Gronkow-ski with 15 TDs — an NFL record for tight ends — and Wes Welker, who already has 100 catches.

Turning slow starts into fantastic finishes, the AFC West-leading Broncos (8-5) have won 7 of 8 since Tebow took over as their starter.

He’s come through with six fourth-quarter comebacks by almost magically changing from struggling scrambler and imperfect passer into clutch performer in crunch time.


The Patriots have topped 30 points 10 times, while the Broncos have managed 18, 10, 17, 17, 16 and 13 in six of their last eight games, yet won five of them with a recipe of dominant defense, spectacular special teams and Tebow.

Aside from a blowout loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers when Kyle Orton was still their starter, the Broncos, who are hurting in the secondary with safety Brian Dawkins (neck) and cornerback Andre’ Goodman (concussion) recuperating, haven’t faced a team like the Patriots or a quarterback like Brady.

“He’s mastered so many things about the quarterback position,” Tebow said. “Footwork and accuracy, and he’s also been blessed with good players around him, but he’s still been one of the best in the league for a long time.

“He’s someone that I’ve watched and seen probably thousands of cut-ups of him. He does a lot of things very well, very cerebral and understands the game very well. For a young quarterback like myself, he’s definitely someone to look up to and learn from, what he does well and try to implement that in my game.”

Brady and his teammates watched the end of last week’s Broncos win over Chicago while they were flying home from Washington, and they came away impressed by Tebow, who was bullied by the Bears, completing 3 of 16 passes for 45 yards through three quarters before connecting on 18 of 24 throws for 191 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“I appreciate good quarterback play,” Brady said. “I’m always watching around the league, whether it’s Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees having phenomenal years. Obviously, Tim is having a great year. You watch guys and the way that they perform under pressure and it says a lot about who they are and the way their teammates feel about them.


“It’s a big challenge. It’s going to be a very electric environment out there. We’ve had some really great games against the Broncos over the years. I’m sure this will be no different.”

The prolific Patriots would love to score early and often to keep Tebow from even having the chance to work his last-minute magic on them.

The Broncos are intent on starting faster. In the first half, they’ve scored six times in 49 drives behind Tebow. In crunch time, they’ve scored 16 times in 28 possessions.

“For some strange reason we come out slow and sluggish,” Broncos running back Willis McGahee said. “… then we get the train moving.”

Through the first three quarters, Tebow has completed 39 percent of his passes for 520 yards, with a rating of 65.1.

In the fourth quarter and overtime, he looks like, well, Brady, with a 61 percent completion rate, 770 yards through the air and a rating of 107.9 — about Brady’s overall rating.


Tebow also has 517 yards on 94 carries, an average of 5.5 yards. Against San Diego last month, Tebow ran 22 times, six fewer carries than Brady has had all season.

“He obviously has a skill set as a quarterback that not many have,” Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. “But he’s a great quarterback and his team follows him just like we follow Tom.”

Tebow is breaking the mold that Brady and others have built as a pocket passer, showing there’s more than one way to win in today’s pass-happy NFL.

“I think everybody has strengths and weaknesses at every position,” Brady said. “As a quarterback, you try to play to your strengths. I think that’s what we all try to do.”

Tebow isn’t just unorthodox in his athleticism, but in his approach.

Wired with a microphone as part of NFL Films’ “Sound Effects,” last Sunday, Tebow showed a remarkable poise under pressure. When Elvis Dumervil recovered Marion Barber’s fumble in overtime and the Broncos’ sideline went wild, Tebow calmly trotted out to the field singing a hymn.


“I’m not exactly sure what song I was singing, maybe ‘Our God is an awesome God,’ ” Tebow said. “I know I was singing that one a little bit. It was in my head from the car.”

With the Broncos foundering early on again, Tebow’s position coach, Adam Gase, asked, “Why do we have to do it this way?” Tebow put his right hand on Gase’s shoulder, smiled and said, “It’s all right. We’ll figure it out, man.”

Demaryius Thomas sat bummed out on the bench after letting a long touchdown toss slip through his hands at another point. Tebow put his arm around him and said “You’re good. Hey, no big deal. It just makes it closer for a little bit longer. You’re about to catch the game-winner. And then you’ll be the hero of the game.”

Tebow has thrown 11 TD passes and just two interceptions.

“He’s a winner,” said Patriots cornerback Antwaun Molden, who was with Houston last year when the Texans lost 24-23 to the Broncos in Tebow’s first fourth-quarter comeback. “Be alert. Every play he can hurt you. Some say he can’t pass. … The guy can pass. And he can also run. He’s more accurate than what people think.”


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