By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — Say what you want about the phenomenon that is Tim Tebow, but he’s the best offensive player the Broncos currently have.
Is that an indictment against Denver, its personnel and its front office? That’s not for me to say, really. But what I will say is if the kid keeps this up, someone is going to owe someone else an apology.
I’m actually one of those people who could care less if Tebow worships a head of lettuce or if countless thousands go out and buy “Jesus” Broncos jerseys. The bottom line with him, at least from where I’m standing, is this is a kid with terrific upside and a guy who has found a way to do positive things on the field, in the face of an often unruly mob that despises him for reasons that I have a hard time getting my head around.
Now, his success hasn’t come in the form of gaudy statistics, but as a starter he’s 3-1, which is a hell of a lot better than 1-4, the record the Broncos had while he was just a theory.
When Tebow led the Broncos over the Dolphins in his first NFL start back in Week 7 people conveniently called it a fluke. Then when he was on the losing end of a 45-10 pasting by the Lions the following week those same people, plus many, many others, wanted Pat Bowlen to just admit he was making a mockery of the quarterback position, starting a guy that simply had no business wearing an NFL uniform other than as perhaps a “wildcat” option.
Ah, but fast forward two more weeks. Back-to-back wins over the Raiders and Chiefs have the Broncos now, unbelievably, right in the thick of the AFC West race. And though Tebow won’t be voted into a Pro Bowl any time soon, he appears to already have that great intangible so many NFL quarterbacks strive for but few truly attain.
He’s got guts.
So now it’s the Jets’ turn to face Tebow, a player equally loved and hated league-wide for reasons that depend on whether you actually care about everything that doesn’t have to do with how the game is played on the field. On Thursday night they will go into Denver off a brutal loss and likely with a rather large chip on their shoulders. Conventional wisdom would suggest suddenly beleaguered head coach Rex Ryan will be able to develop some kind of plan to keep Tebow the scrambling quarterback under wraps and force Tebow the largely inaccurate and inexperienced passer to actually try to beat the Jets’ ball-hawking secondary.
That would be my blueprint as well because though the Jets have well-documented problems actually sacking quarterbacks, most notably the good ones and especially when the team really needs it, they seem to do a very good job at containment. When the Jets have played the spy game, as in a linebacker shadowing a running back or would-be running quarterback, they have been highly effective.
And Tebow will run without a second’s hesitation.
Since being named the Broncos’ starter, Tebow has rushed 39 times for 289 yards, averaging 7.4 per carry. He prolongs drives and creates further opportunities to do his thing while keeping opposing offenses off the field. The Jets’ run defense, be it against actual backs or running quarterbacks, has improved following a very shaky first five games, allowing just 3.7 yards per carry over their last four, including just 2.1 against the Patriots on Sunday night.
If the Jets clog the middle of the field, which worked very successfully against the Bills and Fred Jackson a few weeks ago, Tebow should not have many places to run. They have to dare him to stretch the field with his arm. Tebow’s inaccuracy is well documented, as he’s completed just 45 percent of his throws. But please keep in mind that he has this tendency to lull defenses to sleep with his legs before uncorking the deep ball. Tebow has thrown just one interception in 95 attempts, registering six touchdowns along the way. Using fictitious boxing acumen, he may see three of ’em out there most of the time, but he’ll occasionally hit the one in the middle.
Why am I giving this kid so much respect and analyzing him like he’s an elite quarterback? Because, like I said earlier, he has the will to be very good, and when players have that will, they usually find a way.
Tebow really is on an island by himself. Because he’s proud of his religion he’s taken a massive hit from all those who think there should be a separation between certain churches and the NFL’s intolerant state. But yet every time he’s been made fun of for his off-the-field missions or has been assumed to be done before he’s really started as a player or ill-equipped physically or chastised for not being the prototypical quarterback, he’s found a way to, again, will himself to positive performances.
I don’t care who your God is, but a guy like this should be admired on some level, even if from afar.
On the other side of the coin, the Jets really need to find their own inner will to win, because the disaster against the Patriots likely all but assured that if they do make the playoffs they’ll once again have to switch into road warrior mode. New England could very well run the table the rest of the way because its schedule is very forgiving. Only an act of perhaps Tebow’s God will put the Jets in a position to win the AFC East.
But like the Patriots, the Jets’ schedule is getting softer, at least on paper and especially over the next four weeks. After the Broncos they host the Bills, who appear to be one more good shellacking from finishing below .500 after a 5-2 start. The Jets then go to Washington, a team that has currently lost five straight and has managed to score just 20 points over its last three games. Then in Week 13 the Jets get the Chiefs, who likely are done now that quarterback Matt Cassel may be out for the rest of the season with a serious hand injury.
The Jets simply have no excuses. They must be 9-4 heading into their Dec. 18 game at Philadelphia, which in the preseason looked like one of the NFL regular season’s marquee matchups. However, if things continue to go in the direction they have been going for both, that game could be more like the “Bust Bowl.”
The Broncos will unleash Willis McGahee and others out of their largely unspectacular backfield. They will look to get impressive wide receiver Eric Decker involved early and often. They will turn to a defense that has only occasionally had its moments, but will be especially pumped up in front of what is always a raucous Invesco Field crowd.
But at the end of the day, whether half of the NFL universe likes it or not, the Broncos’ chances hinge on Tebow.
And if the Jets don’t show some semblance of what was expected rather than what is, they could be in for quite the battle.
One that could bring their season to its knees.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini
Do you think Tebow is the real deal? Would you be surprised if he has success against the Jets? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below.