Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow played through considerable pain in Saturday night's AFC divisional playoff game against New England.
At the start of the third quarter, Tebow tore cartilage on his first rib where it attaches to his sternum, bruised his lung and had fluid buildup in his pleural cavity, an NFL source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
The injuries came as the result of a hit in the pocket when Tebow was pressured after throwing a pass. Even so, he was determined to finish the game with his teammates regardless of the score.
The Patriots defeated the Broncos 45-10.
Team spokesman Patrick Smyth said that while he couldn't confirm the exact extent or nature of the injuries due to team policy, he acknowledged that Tebow finished the game in considerable pain.
Backup Brady Quinn quickly got ready to go into the game after Tebow was hit by Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich, but Tebow stayed in and finished up.
"It's just the physicality of playing football. Sometimes you get hit and it can hurt a little bit. But, I wanted to play a lot of the game," Tebow said after the game.
The outcome had long been decided by the time Tebow got hurt.
"I just wanted to show character. You just continue to fight and it doesn't change who you are, how you play, how you go out there, you should be the same at all times," Tebow said.
"That's what I wanted to show, it didn't matter if it was the first play or the last play or you were down by 42. I was going to be the same player and I was still going to give everything I have. Because that's all I have to give."
Because of the severe pain, Tebow had trouble sleeping over the weekend, then had an MRI on his chest Monday to determine the extent of the damage. He has been undergoing rehab throughout this week.
Even with the injuries, it is believed Tebow will begin his offseason training program according to schedule.
Recovery from such injuries can take several weeks, and it's highly unlikely Tebow would be able to play in the Pro Bowl on Jan. 29 if he's selected as a second alternate.
Broncos chief of football operations John Elway proclaimed Tebow the incumbent at a season-ending news conference Monday, but Tebow said Tuesday that he's not treating his offseason any differently.
"It's a great honor to be a quarterback for the Denver Broncos," Tebow told the Denver Post. "I take that very seriously. I'm very excited about this offseason and I can't wait to get to work and get better."
Tebow went 8-5 as the Broncos starter after supplanting Kyle Orton following a 1-4 start. He engineered a six-game winning streak that included four straight fourth-quarter comebacks that sent Tebowmania into full pitch.
He faded at the end, losing his last three starts, including one to the Kansas City Chiefs and Orton, but the Broncos backed into the playoffs nevertheless at 8-8 as champions of the middling AFC West.
Tebow had the best game of his pro career in the wild card round, when he averaged 31.6 yards per completion, the best in the NFL in 40 years, and threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime for a 29-23 win over heavily favored Pittsburgh and the league's No. 1 defense.
That was Denver's first playoff game in six seasons.
While the Broncos brass was delighted at returning to the postseason party a year after a franchise-worst 4-12 season, they said the 35-point loss to the Patriots showed just how far they need to go to return to the AFC's upper echelon.
Tebow, who didn't get the first-team snaps during training camp or for the first month of the season, realizes he has a long way to go himself.
"Just work and improve, fundamentals, understanding defenses, footwork, everything," he said.
Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said Wednesday on Jim Rose Is Burning that he supports Tebow, but thinks he still has room to improve.
"I think Tim has a lot to prove still," Bailey said.
"He's proven he can win some tough games. Now it's just being consistent. One thing about him, he's going to work at it. And I'm behind him 100 percent."