Monday, January 9, 2012
Tebow beats Steelers in Playoff OT
Tebow has been the most counter-intuitive success story we've seen in sports for a long time. In a season where the single season passing record was surpassed twice, and 5 of the top 6 single season passing yard mark in history was set this year, a statistically inferior running quarterback has lead his team to a playoff victory over the reigning AFC champion.
Starting the season 1-4 and entering their bye week, the Broncos decided to make a change to Tebow because the new management wanted to see what they had in their 2010 first round pick before the next draft. It was a sensible decision, since the season was lost anyway. Plus, they would make the pro-Tebow fans happy while selling a few more seats and unloading a few more #15 jerseys. However, they did trade away the Broncos' best receiver, Brandon Lloyd, knowing the volatile receiver would be a distraction during a challenging year. It was clear from the beginning that John Elway and Coach Fox weren't the biggest Tebow fans, nor did they prefer to run the system in which Tebow would thrive. But they had to know what giving the reigns over to him would look like.
In his first start on 10/23 at Miami, Tebow rallied the Broncos with 2 TD passes in the last 2:44 of the 4th quarter, including drives of 80 yards and 56 yards, to force OT in which Denver won on Prater's 53 yd FG. (Tebow added to the building mania as he dropped to a knee to pray during the ensuing celebration - causing the national and cultural craze known as: Tebowing.)
But in the 2nd game vs the playoff bound Lions, the Broncos were embarrassed 45-10. While pundits and haters universally drove the nails into Tebow's career coffin, Coach Fox quietly rebooted the Denver offense into a run option, which subsequently bulldozed the Raiders the following week to the tune of 299 rushing yards, 118 of which from Tebow (a 9.1 average). He also threw for 124 yards, 2 TDs and no turnovers.
Including that win over Oakland, the Broncos reeled off 6 straight wins to grab control of the division. Highlights:
- 11/13 at Kansas City, Tebow only completed 2 of 8 passes, I repeat: TWO!, but one was a 56 yard TD to Decker in the 4th quarter to seal the W.
- 11/17 vs NY Jets, down 3 points with only 6 min left, Tebow led a 95 yard TD drive, capped off by his 20 yd scamper into the endzone with 58 seconds left for the win. It was Denver's only offensive TD on the day.
- 11/27 @ San Diego, Tebow led a 68 yard drive for the game-tying FG and setup game-winning FG in OT.
- 12/4 @ Minnesota, Tebow reached the 200 yd mark for the first time all season, completing 10-15 for 2 TDs, 202 yards. Amazingly, he only had 13 rushing yards. Denver needed 3 scores in the 4th quarter to win.
- 12/11 vs Chicago - In the game most characteristic of Tebow's tenure, the Broncos were unable to score until late 4th quarter. Down 10-0 with 4:34 left to play, Tebow led a clutch 7 play, 63 yard TD drive. Chicago RB, Marion Barber, inexplicably then runs out of bounds to stop the clock, and Tebow uses the last 50 seconds to engineer the game-tying FG drive. In OT, Barber inexplicably fumbles on 3rd down though they are already in field position, and nobody in the world doubts that Tebow will drive down for the game-winning FG. He does.
Again, the Broncos were 1-4 when Tebow became the starter and he was 7-1 at that point. With each win, the national furor over Tebow intensified to what would normally be suffocating levels. His unquestionable passion for God and therefore life, absolute sincerity in thought and speech, and inspiring intensity in leadership and play (especially in crunch time), had made Tebow into a national icon, a household name, a religious symbol as well as a subject for endless debate.
He was a walking conundrum in so many ways. On the field, his inaccuracy wouldn't win him the scouting team job for any NFL team, but his habit of clutch wins was undeniable. His popularity due to the sheer force of his personality (as a result of his beliefs) was at soaring heights, but his beliefs also made him the target of ridicule and attack (Bill Maher, an atheist, is also one mean dude). You either rooted for him blindly or hoped he would fail miserably. Just like Tebow himself, there wasn't room for compromise, no settling for middle ground.
After 3 straight disheartening losses to end the season, including Tebow's 6-22 outing vs Kansas City, the questions about Tebow's starting status began to rise again. Had Tebow lost the confidence to throw into tight windows? Was Brady Quinn getting half of the 1st team reps? Was this playoff game Tebow's last NFL start of any kind? Had defenses finally wised up to Denver's Tebow-centric offense?
Going into Denver's wildcard matchup vs Pittsburgh, I was just hoping that Tebow would do enough to secure a starting job next season. I didn't want to see another embarrassing performance. I wanted him to prove that he hadn't lost his mojo - that he belonged. But never did I believe that he could win.
On Sunday, Tebow threw for 316 yards, 2 TDs and ran for another. His passer rating was 125.6. He had 5 passes of 30 yards or more, though the Steelers had only allowed 7 of such passes all season (easily the fewest in the NFL). The last of these passes, was of course the 80 yarder to fellow 2010 1st round pick, Demaryius Thomas, on the first play of OT. Game-planned to stop the run, the Steelers dared Tebow to throw vertically to win. In what was the most memorable game of the NFL season, Tebow did.
There are a million things to say about Tebow - his faith, his intensity, his stats, or his throwing motion, etc - but we must all agree on one thing: he's a winner.