Tebow or not Tebow

The look on John Elway’s face said it all.

As his quarterback, Tim Tebow, led his team, the Denver Broncos, to the most improbable of touchdown drives to defeat the Jets Thursday night, the camera panned in on team president John Elway. Elway did not demonstrate unbridled joy.

Instead, he wore a worrisome look, as if to say, “Now what do I do?” Then upon realizing that his Broncos were now 5-5 and in the thick of the AFC West race, he broke into a broad smile.

Elway’s quandary was understandable. Elway inherited Tebow. He didn’t select him. That was the work of former coach Josh McDaniel, who selected Tebow with the Bronco’s first pick in the 2010 draft before being bounced summarily 12 games into the 2010 season. Elway, a legendary quarterback for Denver from 1983 to 1998, came on board as President and part owner of the Broncos during the summer of 2011.

Word was that neither Elway nor new Denver coach John Fox was enamored of Tebow. In a view that was shared by most NFL pundits, they felt, and may still feel, that Tebow’s unorthodox run-first style of quarterbacking did not translate well to the NFL. They began the season by installing Kyle Orton, a traditional drop back passer, as the starting quarterback.

Orton played poorly, and with the Broncos at 1-4, the fans clamored for Tebow. Fox relented and announced that Tebow would start Sunday October 23rd against Miami. Tebow proceeded to stink up the joint, and Denver trailed Miami 15-0 with 2:44 on the clock. But Tebow spirited Denver to two touchdowns and a two-point conversion to tie it in regulation, and a field goal to win it in overtime.

Following a trouncing by Detroit in which he was awful, and victories over Oakland and Kansas City where his combined passing numbers were 12 -28 for 193 yards, it was not clear where the Tebow experiment was going. He was described by one analyst as “the worst passing quarterback for a starter ever.”

For the first fifty five minutes Thursday night, Tebow played the part. He compiled a statistical nightmare, going one for eight on third downs in the third quarter with seven straight three and outs. He missed open receivers repeatedly while under no pass rush. If not for a pick six, Denver wouldn’t have been in the game. In the words of Mike Francesa, Denver did not move the ball “one inch” before then. The Jets defense hadn’t give up a point.

But it all changed with that final drive, which will be known henceforth as The Drive II. Taking over at his own five yard line, Tebow called twelve straight plays out of the shotgun often going with an empty backfield. It was like a two-minute drill without the passing. Systematically, and with incredible poise, he picked and slashed and bulled his way around and through the Jets defense, concluding with a 23-yard touchdown run where he ran over Darrell Revis.

For the moment, Tebow is being hailed as a hero and winner by his supporters; but to his critics, one final drive does not obscure his deficiencies as a passer. When he performs erratically for 58 minutes but somehow finds a way to win at the end, he fans both sides of the controversy.

Elway remains unconvinced. He told a Denver reporter yesterday that he is “no closer” to deciding on Denver’s quarterback of the future, and “we can’t go 3 for 13 on third downs and win a world championship.” Clearly, Tebow does not fit Elways’s image of what a franchise quarterback should be.

But Elway has no choice but to play out the season with Tebow as his starter and see what develops. If the Broncos finish poorly, they may be tempted to draft a quarterback in the first round. If they finish strong, they may be tempted to draft a quarterback in the first round.

Tebow or not Tebow?

That is the question.

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