FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
The last time Tim Tebow faced the Steelers, it was the most memorable game of his NFL career, a 29-23 win in which he and Demaryius Thomas hooked up on an 80-yard pass on the first play of overtime.
The game appeared to solidify Tebow's standing with the Broncos, who earned their first playoff win in six years after winning the AFC West thanks to Tebow's amazing run of late-game heroics. Instead, it was the last time he would lead Denver to victory. Once Peyton Manning became available on the open market, the Broncos went after him and said goodbye to Tebow, dashing his dreams -- at least for the time being -- of remaining an NFL starter.
So with the Steelers up next for the Jets, you'd expect at least a hint of wistful reminiscence from Tebow, relegated for now to being Mark Sanchez's backup and the Jets' Wildcat specialist. Not so. At least not publicly.
"You always have memories of that game," he said Wednesday. "It was a special game, a special win. A lot of fun times were had. But it's a new season, a new opportunity, a new challenge, and I'm looking forward to it."
C'mon, Tim. Surely there must be some frustration, especially with such a vivid reminder as the Steelers coming up?
"It was just a big win for us," he said. "It was the first playoff game I've been able to play in. It was a lot of fun. It's something I'll always have great memories from. But that's in the past, and that's where I'm going to leave it right now. We're just focused on this game, trying to beat a great Pittsburgh Steelers team."
Say this much for Tebow: As much as he must be dying to get another chance to be a starting quarterback, he is playing the good soldier. Even after carrying only five times for 11 yards against Buffalo, he offered the quick smile and aw-shucks responses to questions about his situation.
"I'm definitely very competitive, but the No. 1 thing to help competitiveness is winning football games," he said. "However I can help this team win games, that's the ultimate goal and that's why we're all here.''
Tebow is so good at these answers, it's remarkable. But is it really how he feels or simply his way of avoiding controversy that would be ignited if he were to express even a scintilla of unhappiness? But he insisted there were no disingenuous motives.
"I just try to be genuine and try to answer the questions honestly," he said. "That's how I've always tried to be, just because that's who I want to be."
Unless he is lying through his teeth -- which I do not believe to be the case -- then Tebow's attitude is refreshingly commendable. And it is sure to pay off down the road. Hang around long enough in this league, and more opportunity will present itself. He's simply embracing the one he has now.
"This is a new opportunity and I'm excited to be here," he said. "I'm trying to do the best I can with the present and look forward to the future."
Words that are appreciated by Sanchez. He remains the clear-cut starter but understands Tebow's ultimate goal is to be a starter again. But Sanchez insists their relationship is genuinely close, and that he's not blowing smoke about the most talked-about backup in the game.
"Just like Greg [McElroy] wants to play, or [Mark] Brunell, Kevin O'Connell or Kellen Clemens wanted to play," Sanchez said of his current and former backups. "[Quarterback] is a unique position that way. You have a couple guards, a couple tackles and a bunch of receivers, a couple tight ends."
And only one quarterback, although Tebow does get the Wildcat plays.
"It's easy with Tim, because he's really been a good guy," Sanchez said. "We have great conversations about stuff just on a human level when no one's around. That's the best time to hang with the guy, when he's out of the limelight and he gets to relax, and both of us get to have a good time and goof around. He's been great."
There's no guarantee it will stay great, not in a "show me every week'' business that can tear at even the closest relationships. For now anyway, the Tebow-Sanchez dynamic is as good as can be.