FOXBORO, Mass. – Tim Tebow's night started around 5:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium, about three hours before the opening kickoff of Saturday's divisional playoff game between his Broncos and the Patriots. The second-year signal-caller was the first player on the field to warm up, opting to go with a sleeveless T-shirt in the bitter cold as he threw passes in front of 68,000-plus empty seats.
His night ended in front of several thousand empty seats, too, as the majority of the crowd that mockingly chanted his name all night had the convenience of leaving early to beat the traffic during the 45-10 Patriots blowout.
Tebow was hardly the only problem the Broncos had in the game, but a week after throwing for 316 yards against the No. 1 defense in the league, he struggled mightily against the NFL's 30th-ranked passing defense. The final stats (9-for-26, 136 yards) were ugly, but they'd be even uglier had it not been for some significant stats piled up when the game was pretty much over in the fourth quarter.
He had no impact on the running game either, finishing the night with just 13 yards on five carries in addition to being sacked five times. After the loss that ended the Broncos season, Tebow heaped credit upon the New England defense, which ranked 31st in the league this season.
"You gotta give them credit," Tebow said. "They came out with a good scheme and we just weren't able to quite get it clicking."
Tebow didn't detail much of what the Patriots did from a football standpoint, but all year, Tebow's been about much more than just football. Given that it was just minutes after a crushing playoff defeat, it wasn't easy for Tebow to sum up his feelings on the ride he's been on for the past few months.
"A lot of ups and downs," he said. "Overall, it's been a very special opportunity for me and something I'm very thankful for. And I'm very thankful I have the opportunity to build so many great relationships with teammates and coaches and to be able to overcome a lot of different forms of adversity with my teammates and to win some special games and to have great memories of last week [against the Steelers] and to be able to get in the playoffs. There's a lot of things that we're proud of."
Tebow was also somewhat unsure of his celebrity status, but he stressed yet again that football is hardly the most important part of his life.
"There are pros and cons with everything," he said. "Sometimes, you definitely don't want [the attention] at all, because you'd love to just go out to dinner, hang out with friends, just be a normal 24-year-old that can go and enjoy some time with friends. So that makes it sometimes hard but I wouldn't change it for the world, just because by having that, I have the platform to be able to walk into a hospital and share with kids. I have the opportunity to be able to hang out with [Zach McLeod, a 20-year-old who suffered a head injury playing football] before a game. I have the opportunity to go build a hospital in the Philippines. I have the platform to do a lot more important things than football, so I'm very thankful for that platform and I wouldn't change it for anything."
When it did come to football, though, it wasn't pretty for Tebow. Making matters worse was Tom Brady putting together one of the finest performances by a quarterback in NFL postseason history. The Patriots quarterback tied an NFL record for most touchdowns in a playoff game with six, and he did it just 33:08 into the game.
"He's a great quarterback and he showed it once again," Tebow said.
Outisde of Tebow, the Broncos could do almost nothing. An early touchdown from Willis McGahee cut the Patriots' lead to 14-7, but it also marked the final time the Broncos would be anywhere close to the Pats on the scoreboard.
With the lopsided loss, the tale of Tebow's 2011 season came crashing down quickly. There was no miracle comeback, no unbelievable play to save the day. The conversation in the coming days, weeks and months will no doubt turn to whether Tebow should keep his job as the Broncos' starter next season.
Head coach John Fox was hardly thinking about next year, though, in the immediate wake of Saturday's season-ending loss.
"Kind of like our football team, I was really proud where he started and where he brought this team," Fox said of Tebow.
Ultimately, Tebow brought the team to a number of wins that at the time seemed unforgettable but will certainly fade with time. Will Tebow last in this league, which has chewed up and spit out so many quarterbacks before him? That question is still a long way from being answered.
We've all gotten caught up in "Tebowmania" to various extents, but there's no question that Tebow Time has expired.