Tim Tebow keeps winning, believers keep believing, and critics keep doubling down, promising everyone that next week will be when he we finally see him crash and burn. The debate surrounding Tebow has become entertainment of its own. It never stops, everyone just gets a little more hysterical as we go.
But despite what anyone thinks about Tebow, it's still pretty surreal to see what he's accomplished on the field.
Denver's won four straight games with Tebow as a starter. The critics point to Denver's defense (the Broncos have allowed 10, 10, 13, and 13 points in those wins) and say it's a TEAM game and TEAMS win. Whatever. It's definitely a team game, but a quarterback change can single-handedly change the complexion of an entire team. Good defense doesn't totally explain what's happened the past few weeks.
Tebow may not give the Broncos many options in the passing game, but in a weird way, that's what gives Denver the thing NFL teams need most--a clear-cut identity. In a league where all but a handful of teams are basically equal, the difference between wins and losses is usually execution, not talent. And it's easier to execute when everybody knows the plan. The Broncos know exactly what they need to do every Sunday--play ball-control offense, good defense, make just enough plays to win.
Tebow leaves them no other choice, and that leaves less room for a mediocre team to lose confidence in one facet of the offense one week, the defense to lose faith the next, and the season becoming a series of bi-polar performances where the end result is always pretty crappy. Meanwhile, Tebow always looks pretty crappy, but you can't argue with his team's results.
But yes, watching him succeed has been a little bizarre. Because he is still crappy. He's gotten less crappy as a passer over the past few weeks, but that only means he's gone from a D-minus to say, a C-minus. Pretending Tebow will magically become a consistent passer is like polishing concrete and expecting it to look like a hardwood floor one day.
I couldn't totally make sense of what's been happening until I saw this tweet comparing Tebow to another unnamed quarterback from a few years ago.
Then I clicked, and it all clicked. Courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info:
It's not the first time someone's made the comparison, but once you look at the numbers the parallel pretty much speaks for itself. Vince Young had more interceptions, but he also threw (slightly) more often and completed a higher percentage. And Tebow holds a big advantage in rushing yards, but Denver caters more to his running ability with various option plays. But the real similarities arise when you dig a little deeper.
It's not just the stats that were similar, it's the way both QBs took the NFL by storm in their first few weeks. Most everyone in the NFL had been skeptical, but then a combination of good defense, custom-tailored offense, and last-minute heroics led to win streaks that made everyone pause. Consider the six-game winning streak that came halfway through Young's first season.
Back then, players were saying things like this:
"The guy is a walking one-man show,'' wide receiver Drew Bennett said.
"If we can give the ball to No. 10 with a chance to win," defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said, "a lot of times it's going to happen.''
"When you have a dominant guy like Vince, his confidence becomes contagious. Before you know it, everybody starts believing in what we can do as a team." -- rookie fullback Ahmad Hall
And bloggers were writing things like this (via Music City Miracles):
I think as long as VY has the ball and a chance he is going to get it done. ... They have been playing with so much energy since he became the starter. He just makes everyone around him better. It takes a special player to do that and VY is a very special player.
The Titans kept winning games in the final minutes and had everyone in the NFL scratching their heads, wondering whether maybe all the concerns about Vince Young had been overblown. He's just a winner, you know? He made everyone around him better. Next thing you know, he's on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Can't argue with results. Or you couldn't at that point.
Fast-forward five years and move to Denver, where people are saying things like this:
"Just having that guy around, it makes us better men. I think he plays for us, and he makes us want to play for him." -- rookie linebacker Von Miller
"Just give him a chance to win the game." -- Team president John Elway
"He never lays his sword down. He's going to fight you to death, and that's just his nature. He's a great young man." -- Coach John Fox
"I'm probably the biggest Tim Tebow fan in the world. Why? That's pretty simple. We started the year 1-4, now we're 4-5..." -- Fox, again
And bloggers are writing things like this (via SB Nation's Broncos blog, Mile High Report):
There is no denying that Tebow has something within himself that is so rare only a handful of Hall of Fame quarterbacks had it. ... It's that competitive fire and determination that has set them apart from other great quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame who simply won. Winning is everything of course, but sometimes you need a miracle. Tim Tebow has the same unquantifiable characteristic that they had.
And look at that, he's on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Everybody has a million things to say about Tim Tebow and whether he can succeed, and this isn't to say that a comparison to Vince Young offers a definitive answer either way. It's really just a reminder: as inexplicable as the Tebow's success may seem, none of this is really new. We're just reliving the same phenomenon that happened in Nashville five years ago, albeit with more Pat Buchanan than Pacman Jones.
There are differences between the situations in Denver 2011 and Tennessee 2006, but not many. Both QBs took over with their team apparently out of playoff contention, ran a run-heavy offense tailored specifically to their strengths, and ultimately surprised their teammates and the entire NFL to lead their teams within striking distance of the postseason. They gave new identities to teams that were stuck in no-man's land, and that coupled with good defense and some clutch play helped their teams build a whole bunch of momentum. The whole ride felt kinda surreal.
And then over the next few years with Vince Young in Tennessee, reality set in. His mechanics became a problem, defenses keyed on stopping him began to be more successful, and eventually his team lost patience with The VY Experiment.
Maybe Tebow's career proves immune to that last part. But probably not, right?