The "Tebow thing," as former Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Lloyd once termed it, has done a lot more in the NFL this season than the man it's named after. The phenomenon surrounding a second-year quarterback who has completed less than 50 percent of the passes he's thrown and amassed just over 1,000 yards in the air, is far more political and religious than it is about pure football concerns. The divide that Lloyd foresaw — the divide that partially ensured his own trip to St. Louis in a trade — has taken over the Broncos franchise and the NFL in ways we haven't seen since Brett Favre's third unretirement.
And now that Tebow is clearly struggling at the NFL level on a consistent and long-reaching basis, his fanatical followers are looking to place the blame everywhere else. His offensive line isn't performing up to speed. His receivers aren't good enough. And recently, the incredible inference by some that Broncos head coach John Fox, who inherited Tebow when he took the job before the 2011 season, is going out of his way to see Tebow fail, just to prove a point.
"As a coach or decision-maker in an NFL building, you don't care what round they're drafted in, you don't care who drafted them," Fox recently told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. "You don't care if they're short, fat, whatever. You just care: Can they play? So all that other stuff is poppycock. The problem is, there's so much misinformation. For people that study it, you'd see that we've probably had more shotgun or spread offense than anybody in the league over the last two weeks. We're up 30 percent of what we were in the first four games.
"The goofy thing is, it's almost like if he doesn't have success it will be anybody's fault but his. It's almost that kind of polarizing thing. They'll say it could be his supporting cast, or the type of plays. At the end of the day, we are what we are. We're doing everything we can to win, and we're finding out about a young quarterback, good, bad or indifferent."
According to Football Outsiders' metrics, the Broncos have run shotgun sets 47 percent of the time this season, which puts them eighth-highest in the NFL, and that's up from a total of 43 percent just one week before. Fox said before the Broncos' 45-10 beatdown at the hands of the Detroit Lions that he and his coaching staff would be installing more "college-style" plays to play to Tebow's strengths, but nothing would have worked against a ravenous Detroit defense which showed one thing very clearly — that under pressure from NFL defense, Tim Tebow the passer is very much at a high school level.
And that's the fundamental point here. Whether Fox is doing or not doing what the Tebow maniacs want him to do to ensure Timmy's success is irrelevant to the fact that people are even assuming that an NFL head coach would go out of his way to ensure the failure of the quarterback, and the loss of games in the process. Fox may be more sensitive to this idea, having been forced to accept more than one quarterback he didn't want in his last year with the Carolina Panthers. But there is nobody in the NFL who actually wants to lose, and between the Tebow sabotage thought process and the eternal "Suck for Luck" meme, there's more talk about taking dives in the modern NFL than ever before.
Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was recently put on the defensive by reports that he wasn't doing enough to set the table for the kid.
"I mean, look at all the young quarterbacks in the league, how many come out right away and start lighting it up from the first game on?" McCoy said. "There aren't many in the history of this game that do that. They all struggle early on -- it's an adjustment to them. We're going to do what we think is the best thing for our football team to win and you're always going to have people that are going to point the finger somewhere. But we're trying to do everything we can to help Tim and the football team be successful."
In Farmer's recent article, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts head coach (and current NBC analyst/moralist) Tony Dungy said that he's not seen a phenomenon like this. "It's not just Broncos fans, which you can kind of understand. But I've never seen people from all over the country care so much about who's going to be the quarterback for a team that they might not even be interested in."
Dungy's take might be disingenuous on his part — after all, he's made enough of his own public faith statements to know that a great deal of Tebow's appeal has absolutely nothing to do with football. Tebow's mechanics could resemble anything in the world, but as long as he allows his fans to feel a connection to something higher and far less tangible, it won't matter on the scoreboard of public awareness.
This is about more than just the game, which equates to a big headache for Denver's coaches.