Who would have thought going into this past weekend that the closest and most nail-biting of the four NFL playoff games would be Pittsburgh at Denver?
I know I certainly didn’t, and despite the Steelers limping into the playoffs with an injured Roethlisberger and Mendenhall, and the Broncos entering with a three-game losing streak, this battle was one to remember in the 2011-2012 season. Tim Tebow, amazing his supporters and silencing some of his critics, did it again. He showed NFL fans what he has done this past season: lead his team as a winner. Only this time it was in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Tebow led his team to victory over the AFC Defending Champion Steelers Sunday with an 80-yard touchdown completion to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime to win 29-23.
Let me preface by saying I am hardly a Tebow supporter. In fact, I like to consider myself in the class of fans who believe that Tebow is NOT a long-term solution for Denver and that he is more of a winner than a skilled quarterback. While I am not jumping on the bandwagon, I am starting to accept the fact that he can win games. Call it luck, skill, or even divine intervention, it is hard to deny that Tebow is a winner. His performance Sunday proved that. Not only did he throw for 316 yards and complete deep passes downfield against the Pittsburgh secondary, but he also avoided situations that would have resulted in a loss of yards or a turnover for most other quarterbacks.
But before we start calling him a miracle worker or the future of the Denver Broncos, let’s take a step back and try to come up with a rational explanation for what happened. Not to take away anything from Tebow’s and Denver’s victory, but Pittsburgh was not at all close to resembling the Superbowl-contending team from last year and years prior. For one thing, starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had not been at 100% since his ankle injury towards the end of the season against Cleveland. Additionally, Rashard Mendenhall, who averaged 62 rushing yards per game, nearly eradicated the Steelers’ powerful running game with his absence as well. And finally, another point that many are not acknowledging, is that the Steelers defense was simply pathetic. One of the best defenses in the league, ranking first in opposing passing yards allowing only 172 yards per game, Dick LeBeau’s strategy of one-on-one coverage against Denver’s wide receivers was a bust. Although admirable in trying to stuff what is known as “the box” in order to contain Tebow, this strategy failed in the face of Tebow making deep throws downfield against single-man coverage. Cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay were dumbstruck over the completions they allowed to Eddie Royal and Demaryius Thomas throughout the game, the latter of whom had 4 receptions for 204 yards.
So even though the result of last night surprised most NFL fans, and though it was an amazing team effort on the part of the Denver Broncos, let’s not freak out and claim God rests in Mile High Stadium. You’ve got to admire the guy though. Tim Tebow’s inexplicable ability to win, his leadership, the effort he puts into improving his abilities, and his faith in his team and religion are certainly inspiring to any NFL fan. It’s a great story, and he’s made it fun to watch the Denver Broncos play.
That being said, I would not pick Tebow to be my starting quarterback. While W’s are what tend to matter more in the NFL, I would not want my starting QB completing less than 50% of his passes on a weekly basis. Tim Tebow, although a great athlete and a winner, is not a true quarterback that can put up stats like Cam Newton. If you’re John Elway, based on how dynamic this league is these days, then you hold off on making any sort of long-term decision on Tebow and his future as Denver’s starter. It was a great accomplishment for Denver, but heading into Foxboro this weekend, it’s safe to say that the Tebow Show is over. On a bad day, Denver definitely would have a chance of beating New England. But the reality is that Tebow and the Broncos offense, although facing one of the worst defenses in the league, will most likely not be able to keep up with the Patriot offense.
When it comes to the playoffs at Gillette Stadium, New England means business. And the Patriots, finishing first in the AFC this season, are not about to be knocked out by the 9-8 Denver Broncos. With Brady vs. Tebow, it’s a no-brainer.
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