Let's lead with Tebow, because it's disingenuous for the media to spend a week making him THE story, then dismiss it because he fell short (even way short) of beating the No. 1 team in the AFC (and perhaps the NFL) rested and playing at home and led by a combination of the best coach and best QB of the generation. (Enough caveats?)
It's pretty simple, actually: There wasn't a result last night -- nail-biter or blowout or anything in between -- that would take away from what has, by all accounts, been a phenomenal season for Tebow and the Broncos: From expectations of a handful of wins (even fewer when Tebow took over the starting QB role) to a division title and Wild Card Weekend win over the defending conference champs. It was a successful year, relative to almost any other team in the league -- and a wildly successful one relative to the Broncos' own expectations for Tebow and the team in '11.
Yes, it was a blowout -- a humiliation. No, it wasn't unexpected. The Patriots are a juggernaut and I'm curious to see the team that can handle them -- of the remaining teams in the field, it seems like the 49ers have the best shot. Anyway...
What next for Tebow? The biggest risk to Tebow's future with the Broncos in '12 and beyond isn't Tebow -- it's John Fox, who was so vastly overrated this season that it masked just how overmatched he was when he veered slightly (let alone wildly) from the orthodoxies of offense that he is most comfortable with. Let's be clear: Tebow may have shown enough to merit a year of starting and the team may be fully behind him, but Fox is not. If it was up to Fox and he had his choice between coaching up Tebow and the team's scheme and inserting a mediocre veteran, he would pick the veteran. We know this because he already did -- in August, with Kyle Orton and with disastrous results. That -- and not the coach of the Tebow campaign -- is the real Fox.
That's more than enough about that (for now). Let's focus on Tom Brady's excellence and the ridiculous schematic advantage Bill Belichick enjoys with his pair of superlative tight ends -- Gronkowski and Hernandez, either one of whom could be a Top 5 TE when featured on a more conventional team, but when teamed (and teamed with Brady), become the most unstoppable force in football. The most surprising thing of last night's game was the way that the Pats defense came to play. That worked against the Broncos and should hold up against the Ravens-Texans winner (OK: the Ravens), but it's hard to know if it'll work against, say, the Packers.
Last note: It's a shame that the Tebow/Brady nightcap will take a bit of the glitter from the 49ers win over the Saints, which was one of the most exciting playoff games in NFL history. What a win for the 49ers, what a win for Jim Harbaugh (not just arguably the best coach in the NFL, but the best coach at any level in football) and what a win for Alex Smith, who has gone from maligned to playoff hero. Smith's ascension is an even more impressive story than Brady's big night (and certainly more than Tebow and the Broncos falling short).