Monday, January 9, 2012
Going into yesterday's AFC Wild-Card playoff game, the prospects for the Denver Broncos' were, shall we say, a little bleak. Having barely won the AFC West with an unimpressive 8-8 record, and finishing the regular season with 3 consecutive losses, few believed Denver would have much of a chance against the perennially stout Pittsburgh Steelers. Adding to Denver's perceived woes was their weak quarterback play of late from the heavily criticized, heavily scrutinized, Tim Tebow.
Tebow, the former Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida has, of course, been the story of this NFL season. Named Denver's starter six games into the regular season, the much discussed Tebow has become a polarizing figure of epic proportions. While the decision to start Tebow was a popular one amongst Broncos’ fans, commentators and pundits within the media, viewed the decision as something of well, a complete farce.
Yes, pundits and media members conceded Tebow was a fine college player, but too raw, too fundamentally inept, and certainly not schooled in the nuances of playing the quarterback position at the NFL level. Further, the only thing that masked the popular Tebow's total lack of talent was the endless, nauseating hype surrounding him.
Conversely, in the mind of Tebow supporters, Tebow's talent deficiencies didn't really matter all that much. They insisted the quarterback could succeed because, well, he was Tim Tebow--a transcendent leader with a unique skill set and intangible leadership qualities never before seen. Sure, he may not have the arm of Aaron Rodgers or the precision of Drew Brees, but he was after all, Tim Tebow; a former Heisman trophy winner, renowned for his unparalleled work ethic, possessing charisma off the charts, and that counted for something.
Exacerbating the Tebow debate even more, was Tebow himself. Tebow, of course, has been very public since his days at Florida about his evangelical Christian faith, taking public stances on controversial issues, such as abortion. While I've asserted in print, on numerous occasions, my belief Tebow has expressed his faith in a positive, non-combative, non-judgemental, mature manner, there are some who simply are take exception to any public display of faith, no matter how positive the message.
Also, adding to the polarizing nature of Tebow, was the perception that his own team didn’t even want him. Of course, head coach John Fox, who took over this past off-season, and Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway was hired late last season, inherited Tebow. Reports indicated Tebow, who was drafted by former head coach Josh McDaniels, was largely viewed as a talent lacking irritant, handed down from the prior administration. And despite his lack of talent, he had the support of the Denver faithful.
However, sitting at 1-4 a month into the season, with the season seemingly lost, and an apathetic fan base growing more vocal in their desire to see Tebow, Elway and Fox gave in. Begrudgingly, it seemed, Tebow was named the starter for their week 7 game at Miami. Then, Elway traded the team’s best wide receiver at the time, Brandon Lloyd, reports surfaced that the move was made because the team was actually hoping Tebow would fail. Was this really happening? Was a team really hoping it’s own quarterback would fall flat on his face, so they could stick it to their own loud, ignorant fan base?
While that thesis seems incredibly far fetched, the question was put forth. And further perpetuating the debate, Tebow provided evidence to vindicate both critics and supporters alike in his first few starts. Critics pointed to lousy mechanics, and some rather ugly stat lines, claiming that even if Denver won it was not because, rather in spite of, Tebow.
And in fairness, Tebow has thrown more than his fair share of wobbly balls, and one hopped more than a few receivers. Many of his stat lines have been downright ugly, as he has often failed to complete less than half his passes, including one Denver victory, in which he recorded a mere 2 completions.
Ugly as some of those passing stats were, Tebow supporters contended Denver was more often than not, winning. A season that started 1-4, became 8-5 as the Broncos won 7 of 8. The team creatively tailored an offense around Tebow's unique skill set, while simultaneously masking his deficiencies. While many claimed the offense was archaic and gimmicky, the Broncos’ emergence as a playoff contender could be directly linked to Tebow becoming the starter.
Stunned by the fact the Broncos were winning with Tebow behind center, the experts who so loudly lampooned him, quickly chalked up Denver's success to a host of factors, none of which included Tebow, himself. Endless credit was heaped on the Broncos' stout defense. Denver’s soft middle of the season schedule was likewise cited. One pundit even suggested that Denver's impressive mid-season streak was largely the product of their fine kicker, Matt Prater, who had the added advantage of kicking at high altitude.
Those who couldn't offer a football related explanation offered the lucid thought that the Broncos' winning ways were the product of an inexplicable, string of unparalleled luck. The best example of this was the Broncos defeat of the Chicago Bears in Week 14, when running back Marion Barber inexplicably ran out of bounds while the Bears were killing the clock. Certainly, however, it wasn't Tebow.
And when Tebow played poorly down the stretch, as Denver dropped their final 3 games, two against non-playoff opponents, many insisted they had told us about Tebow all along. Finally, they insisted, order was restored to the NFL universe, as the league had figured out the gimmick. With the Broncos backing into the playoffs on the heels of three straight losses, it stood to reason the clock had struck midnight on Cinderella.
But a funny thing happened yesterday on the way to the demise of Tebow and the Broncos. Tebow was sublime, throwing for over 300 yards, including an 80 yard touchdown pass in overtime to clinch the game. Of course, the best part of Denver's win will be to watch the pundits spin this latest Tebow surprise. I’m sure we’ll hear that two of Pittsburgh’s defensive linemen left with injuries, and that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t 100%. And they would be right that the Steelers were not at full strength.
Of course, we've been hearing such justifications for 3 months now. We've been hearing how the Broncos' continued success is unsustainable with their gimmick of a quarterback. This week, we'll be sure to hear there is no way such success can continue, as Denver must travel to New England, and have a tall task against the vaunted Patriots.
In the meantime, I think it's appropriate to recognize Tebow and the Broncos have taken us on a ride never before seen. A Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, with unprecedented popularity, unwanted by his own team, and openly mocked by the so called experts, has his team two wins from the Super Bowl after inheriting a 1-4 record. In the face of hostile criticism, he's done nothing but turn the other cheek, and win 8 of 12 games, despite supposedly lacking the physical tools deemed necessary to succeed at the NFL level. Simply put, there's never been anything like it.
So go ahead and continue to smash Tebow. I'm sure he'll throw a few more wobbly spirals or two hop a few more receivers on crossing routes. Likewise, I'm sure he has another 6-22 passing day in him. Go ahead and predict he and the Broncos' improbable run will come to an end this weekend, against the Patriots.
However, just realize we've witnessed a run without historic parallel. Hopefully, you haven't been too preoccupied with making sure Tim tebow receives no credit to realize that.
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