It remains one of the biggest NFL mysteries in the history of the league. Somehow, some way, Denver quarterback Tim Tebow has managed to stink up 70,000-seat stadiums for three quarters only to pull out games late by looking like the reincarnation of Steve Young late in games.
Kyle Orton was the preferred option of head coach John Fox, who inherited Tebow – a first-round pick of the Denver Broncos under the watchful eye of volatile head coach Josh McDaniels. Fox didn't want Tebow. New Broncos general manager John Elway has spent most of his time trying to determine which college quarterback to draft. The problem has been that Tebow is turning Denver's first-round pick into a lower selection every week.
The question that has been paining the NFL universe is simply, "How?" To look at Tebow is to watch a quarterback that is as polarizing as any scouts have ranked and rated. At the Senior Bowl, he looked like a fourth- or fifth-round project QB before McDaniels and the Broncos boldly went where few teams would and used a first-round pick on Tebow.
The problems with Tebow are obvious. He looks more like a fullback than a quarterback and has been routinely used as a runner as much or more than a passer. He can be wildly inaccurate and the general consensus is that he can't be an effective every-game QB. But a funny thing happened to those scouting reports – they didn't take in a crazy intangible like winning.
Many are the successful college QBs who have flamed out in the NFL because they ran gimmick offenses that could dominate 20-year olds, but not NFL players and coaches. Tebow has brought a '40s and '50s style offense to the NFL and, through six games, made it work. When the Broncos hit their bye week, Fox, perhaps bowing to fan pressure or, more likely, simply wanting to prove that Tebow isn't the answer, gave The Chosen One his chance. He has looked dismal at times, but his team has won four straight and he is 5-1 as a starter.
Numbers-crunchers make their case, but it's hard to deny a 5-1 record as a starter. In terms of winning percentage, only Aaron Rodgers leaves the field a winner on a more regular basis. But, it's how Tebow got there that is so perplexing. There isn't a member of the Broncos defense who should pay for a meal if Tebow is in the same location, because, through three quarters, he has done little to inspire any confidence.
The one thing Tebow has done is protect the ball. He has rushed 69 times in six games as a starter, including a whopping 22 last week, and has completed as few as two passes in a game (a win, by the way). He doesn't turn the ball over and lives to fight another drive. But it has been the difference between the first three quarters and the fourth quarter (and one overtime) that has been his defining quality.
In his six starts, in the first three quarters, he has completed just 33 of 85 passes (a brutal 38.8 percent) for 367 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He has averaged just 4.3 yards per pass attempt – worst in the NFL. But, in the fourth quarter, a light bulb comes on.
From the start of the fourth quarter on, he has completed 32 of 58 passes (55.2) percent for 485 yards (8.4 yards per attempt) with five touchdowns and one interception.
He has seen 57 percent of his total passing yardage and 63 percent of his touchdown passes come in the fourth quarter of games. The fact that his defense has kept the team close enough is a testament to their ability, because Tebow is building a body of work that reinforces his lack of ability through three quarters, but his fourth-quarter dominance when the game is on the line is also evident.
Further digging into the numbers reveals that the Denver offense sputters with incredibly regularity. In his first six starts, in the first three quarters he has brought the offense out on the field 55 times. Of those 55 drives, 42 of them – a whopping 76 percent –have ended with punts, turnovers or turning the ball over on downs. Those 55 drives have resulted in a grand total of 50 points – less than one point per drive and a figure much worse when you consider 24 of those 50 points came in one game (vs. Oakland).
But, in the fourth quarter, it has all changed. From the time players and fans raise four fingers for a rally, a switch goes on and Tebow and his offense look like a different team. In that period, he has had 22 drives. Of those, only six have been of three plays or fewer (27 percent). Those 22 drives have accounted for points in every game – totaling 51 points, an average of 2.3 points per drive.
Perhaps when teams figure out how to get the Broncos behind by 17 or more points when Tebow stumbles and bumbles through the first three quarters, the numbers will change in the Win-Loss column. But if the Broncos are still within striking distance in the fourth quarter, the Tebow Magic could continue because, if he has proved anything, it's that he knows how to make plays late when the game is on the line.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Fourth quarter is Tebow's time to shine
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