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Do Broncos really believe in Tebow?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  December 14, 2011 10:10 AM

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300tebow.jpg"He's great for the NFL. The kind of young man he is and the values he represents, I think it's terrific. We just want to bring him down to earth this weekend."

- Patriots owner Robert Kraft commenting on Tim Tebow

What we can all agree on, indisputably, is the magnitude of the Tim Tebow story. In just eight short weeks, Tebow has helped transform the Denver Broncos from doormats to potential division champions, all while tearing down an array of preconceptions and stereotypes.

But in the end, with regard to football, only one question really matters:

Do you believe in Tebow?

Or, perhaps more importantly, do the powers that run the Broncos?

For the moment, of course, none of that really matters to Bill Belichick and the Patriots, who travel to Denver this weekend for a meeting with Tebow and the Broncos in Week 15 of this NFL season. New England is 10-3. Denver is 8-5. The Broncos have gone 7-1 since Tebow became the starting quarterback, triggering dramatic changes in Denver's offense and mindset, skeptics morphing into believers as if they had borne witness to a true miracle.

With Tebow, of course, the spirit is always part of the story, though this really does not have anything to do with God or religion. Between the sidelines and hashes, this has far more to do with the things we can see vs. the things we cannot, the measurable vs. the immeasurable, particularly in a sports world of expanding metrics.

For example: Tebow has completed just 48.5 percent of his passes this year. But he wins.

In the first three quarters of his eight starts, Tebow has a quarterback rating of 65.1. But he wins.

In six of Tebow's eight starts, the Broncos have scored 18 points or fewer and averaged 15.2 points per game, a number that would rank in the bottom six of the NFL. But he wins.

And so back to the original question, albeit in different form:

Is Tebow's success sustainable?

Confession: I am not a Tebowite, a decision based purely in football, at least as it pertains to the NFL. Admittedly, I find his insistence on using the NFL as a religious or social "platform" to be annoying, but that is an entirely different discussion. As it relates to the NFL, I have never been a believer in run-first quarterbacks in general, a contention I once nearly sacrificed for, of all people, Vince Young. Mobility is certainly an asset at the quarterback position, but only as an alternative for when things break down. The pass should not be a backup plan.

Steve Grogan? He was a better quarterback at the end of his career than at the beginning, after his legs were gone. Michael Vick? His best season came last year, when he attempted (to that point) more passes per game than at any other stage of his career. Steve Young? During the peak years of his career, he was running three or four times a game, tops.

Meanwhile, from Young and Kordell Stewart to Daunte Culpepper and Doug Flutie, most every quarterback to boast mobility as his greatest asset has ended up somewhere other than in the huddle.

All of which brings us back to Tebow.

A few weeks ago, in a moment of pure candor, Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway made an ill-advised remark with regard to Tebow's performance. (That is to say that Elway told the truth.) Asked whether he felt the Broncos were any closer to having their quarterback of the future, Elway gave a simple succinct, "No." The remark enraged the Tebowites (though not Tebow himself) and further fueled the debate over what really matters in sports.

Is it solely talent? Or is it also character, competitiveness and leadership, all of which Tebow possesses in wholesale quantities?

Here's what Elway knows: that success in the NFL is short-lived unless you can throw the football with consistency, something Tebow has never done. Without question, Tebow's throwing ability seems to be improving, and his fourth-quarter passing numbers as a starter this season are eye-popping (60.9 completion percentage, 107.9 rating). What nobody seems to know is whether those numbers are the result of an uptick in Tebow's focus or more conservative defense, a chicken-and-egg argument for which there may be no real answer.

In any case, the Broncos are now changing their tune with regard to Tebow, at least publicly. Elway, for one, said earlier this week that he hopes to work with Tebow during the offseason, something he was deprived of last year amid the lockout. Meanwhile, ESPN football guru Chris Mortensen quotes an anonymous Broncos source today as saying that the club will commit to Tebow as its starter next year if the player continues to show improvement and takes the team to the playoffs, which is to say that the Broncos would not exhaust a high-round draft pick on another young quarterback.

What happens between now and then, of course, remains anybody's guess. And so as the Broncos decide whether to further invest in Tim Tebow - whether to believe - the same question exists for football followers everywhere.

Would you?

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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