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Pitoniak: Bills own Tebow spotlight


                Sunday, 45,112 spectators (at least that was the announced number) and I ventured to the chilly but sunny Ralph to experience Tebow Mania first-hand.

                I went with expectations that the Denver Broncos quarterback would either run roughshod against the porous Bills defense or pull one out in the fourth quarter - a time of the game that Tim Tebow has owned; a time of the game that has helped him become not only a sports icon, but a pop-culture icon this season.

                But instead of a Broncos romp or another miraculous comeback by Tebow I witnessed a fourth-quarter let down.

                Of epic proportions.

                As it turned out, the man known as the Mile High Messiah didn't have a prayer against a Bills defense that was as miserly as Scrooge.

                Tebow wound up having his worst day as a pro - actually his worst day as a football player at any level - in a 40-14 loss.

                Not only did the Bills pick him off four times, they returned two of the interceptions for touchdowns.

    In the fourth quarter, no less.
                
                "It's probably safe to say that,'' the modest, well-mannered Tebow said afterward when asked if this was the worst game of his life.
                
                Credit the Bills for coming up with the kind of defensive performance that conjured memories of their early season surge when they also picked off Tom Brady and Michael Vick four times.

                The game plan, said Buffalo safety George Wilson, was to turn Tebow into a one-dimensional player.

                "He had caused a lot of havoc running the ball in recent games,'' Wilson explained. "So, we decided to force him to try to beat us with his arm rather than his feet. That was our strategy, our approach, and it worked."

                Did it ever.

                With linebacker Nick Barnett shadowing him, Tebow had nowhere to run. He carried 10 times for just 34 yards, more than two-yards-per-carry below his average entering the game. And the Bills pass-rushers did a good job of harassing him and forcing the left-hander to scramble to his right, making his throws even more difficult.

                Tebow finished with just 13 completions in 30 attempts for 185 yards and was sacked three times and hurried on numerous other occasions. He did toss a touchdown pass early, but the picks and paltry completion percentage resulted in a pathetic 35.4 passer rating.

                Tebow was at his absolute worst midway through the fourth quarter with the Broncos trailing by 12. He attempted to force a pass to wide receiver Eric Decker that was picked off by safety Jairus Byrd, who sprinted 37 yards for the score that put Buffalo up 33-14.

Then, on Denver's next play from scrimmage, Chris Kelsay hit Tebow's left arm as he was releasing the ball and Spencer Johnson plucked the ball out of the air and rumbled 17 yards for the score.

On the Broncos ensuing series, they drove the length of the field, but the march died an ignominious death when rookie corner Aaron Williams intercepted a pass in the end zone.

Kelsay, the nine-year veteran from Nebraska, had one of the best games of his career with two sacks, two quarterback pressures, a deflected pass and nine tackles.

"Yeah, it was a lot of fun," he said. "Things just happened to fall into place where I was in position to make some plays and I made some."

It's been forever since the Bills have had fun on the football field. The seven-game losing streak feels as if it dragged on for years. You couldn't help but feel good for Kelsay, one of the team's elder statesmen and a guy who's been through so much losing this past decade.

"It wears on you,'' he said of the losing streaks that have ambushed Bills seasons way too many times. "Our coaching staff and all the players put in a lot of time. We sacrifice a lot of time from our families. I can speak for everybody in that locker room, this game, this team means a ton to us, so when you aren't rewarded for that, it's easy to get down."

Sunday, they finally were rewarded for their sacrifice, their dedication. They met head-on the phenomenon that is Tim Tebow - the guy who's been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and satirized onSaturday Night Live.

For one day, the Bills defense, not Tim Tebow, was the story.

Award-winning columnist and author Scott Pitoniak has followed the Bills since the mid-1960s and covered them since 1985, writing five books about the team along the way. His 14th book overall, Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story, has just been published by Triumph Books and is available both in print and digital editions. You can read more by Scott atwww.scottpitoniak.com .

SCOTT'S REPORT CARD

                COACHING: Good defensive scheme by beleaguered coordinator George Edwards, forcing Tim Tebow to try to beat them with his arm rather than his legs. Chan Gailey also had a better game plan than in recent weeks, staying committed to the run - though there are still head-scratching moments when he forgets about C.J. Spiller, especially in the red zone. Grade: B

                OFFENSE: Spiller had his first 100-yard-plus rushing game, Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't throw any TD passes, but he also didn't toss any interceptions. Stevie Johnson had four catches for 92 yards and nine different receivers caught passes. Grade: B 

                DEFENSE: Four interceptions, including two pick-sixes. Three sacks. Just 50 yards rushing allowed in the second half and limiting the Broncos to just two third-down conversions in 15 attempts. Just one long scoring drive. A solid performance overall. Grade: A-minus    

                SPECIAL TEAMS: Leodis McKelvin established a Bills record for most punt return yards (136) in a single game - including an 80-yard TD return. Justin Rogers averaged 33.7 yards per kickoff return. Dave Rayner bounced back with four successful field goals after missing his first two. And Brian Moorman pinned two punts inside the 20. Grade: A 

                OVERALL:  The streak is over. Finally. The Bills finish the regular season in New England on New Year's Day. They haven't won on the Patriots' home turf since 1999. A win there and a sweep of the season's series would be a nice way to end a campaign that began so promisingly and turned into a disaster. Grade: B-plus       
 
 
 
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