It would be easy enough for critics of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow – the ones who scoff at the comeback against the Chicago Bears last week, the one in Miami almost two months ago and the many in between – to breathe a sigh of relief and say, rhetorically, "See what I mean?"
But that approach is the kind of snap reaction you see in political polls. Something goes right one day and the polls swing like a church bell in a hurricane. The reality is often somewhere in between. Yeah, Tebow wasn't good enough Sunday in a 41-23 loss to the playoff-bound New England Patriots.
Guess what? Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees probably wouldn't have been good enough, either. When your team has three more turnovers than the opposition and your offensive line has you running for your life, the game isn't easy. You tend to lose much more often than you win.
The problem with talking about anything Tebow is there's rarely no middle ground. You're either for him or against him and even if you're not, people on one side or another believe you are. What Tebow remains is a young quarterback with a skill set that is both intriguing and confounding.
No play proved that better than his touchdown run at the end of the game's opening drive. Unable to find a receiver quickly or get rid of the ball fast enough because of his unorthodox delivery, Tebow was stuck in the pocket. New England linebacker Rob Ninkovich closed on Tebow and seemed to have an easy sack in his sights.
Then something weird happened. Ninkovich tried to tackle Tebow too high, a cardinal sin against the muscular Tebow. The quarterback broke that tackle, avoided a second defender and then ran through a third, turning yet another negative play into something glorious and starting yet another revival. You could almost hear the Evangelical set of Tebowites scream, "Glory be to God."
The truth is that Tebow and the Broncos have no more divine support than any other collection of football players, even the Patriots. At the end of the day, football is about whether you can consistently make more plays than your opponent.
On Sunday, Tebow and the Broncos couldn't against a very good (even if defensively flawed) New England team. In fact, the Broncos couldn't overcome themselves and their trio of fumbles in the second quarter, including one by The Chosen One. That triple crown of mistakes (one fumble came on a running play, another on an option play and the last one on a punt return) allowed New England to score 13 of its 20 points in the second quarter and put Denver in a hole.
But none of those mistakes had anything to do with Tebow's perceived shortcomings. Yeah, he's not a high-percentage thrower (he was 11-of-22), but he continues to get better. More importantly, Tebow continues to have moments when his yard per attempt (the most important stat in passing offense) is excellent. Despite his low completion percentage, he averaged 8.8 yards per attempt. Yeah, his overall average of 6.7 yards per attempt isn't great, but there are enough good moments to overcome the bad, for now.
In other words, if you want to be one of those people who like to say there's no way Tebow will make it, you're probably going to be right in the long run. Tebow has enough troubling qualities that achieving long-term success is problematic. But Tebow has done enough so far that, barring a significant change in the next two weeks against the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs, the Bronco have to see this situation through. True, it's hard to ever see him becoming a great passer, but there was also a time early on Sunday when the Broncos were dominating the Patriots in this game, running up and down the field.
[ Playoff picture: Current AFC/NFC playoff seeds ]
Or, as Tebow did on the first TD run, breaking away, running around and then through defenders.
Here are the winners and losers for Week 15:
• New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is playing so well right now that he might turn the Most Valuable Player race into a discussion again over the final three weeks, particularly after Green Bay lost for the first time this season on Sunday. Brees was stunning against Minnesota as he completed 32 of 40 passes for 412 yards and five touchdown passes. Yeah, the Packers obviously took the day off Sunday, but Brees has the Saints peaking at the right time. His performance was so sharp that criticism came down to some really fine points, like the placement of two downfield incompletes to tight end Jimmy Graham. Brees was so good that the question now is not whether he will break Dan Marino's single-season passing record (5,084 yards in 1984). The question is how much he will break it by. Brees has 4,780 yards with two games left. He needs 305 yards, which could happen next Monday night against Atlanta. As a side note, the Saints should just pay Brees whatever he's worth.
• Congrats to Kansas City Chiefs interim coach Romeo Crennel, who opened his three-game interview for the job by leading the team's best performance of the season as it ended Green Bay's undefeated run. The Chiefs piled up 438 yards of offense (it helps to have at least a functional quarterback out there with Kyle Orton) against Green Bay's porous defense. Most important, the Chiefs kept the Packers' offense under control. While Crennel never made the playoffs during his time in Cleveland, he did a nice job overall if you take a good look at the circumstances. Crennel deserves another shot at a head coaching job. Most important, he would be a good match with Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli's intense style.
• It didn't take long for Washington Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman to up his streak of games with an interception to 10. Grossman's first pass of the game against the New York Giants, which came off a flea flicker on the opening play from scrimmage, was nabbed by cornerback Corey Webster. But give Grossman, who played very well in a loss to New England in the previous game despite throwing an interception (it wasn't his fault) to end that game, credit for not letting the early pick get to him. He came back right away and led the Redskins to a 17-0 lead in the first half. Still, Grossman's streak isn't good and the fact he has more picks (17) than TD passes (13) in this era is just more proof that the Redskins need to get a quarterback in next year's NFL draft. Grossman's dubious feat matches the streak by last year's regular Washington starter, Donovan McNabb.
[ Related: O.J. Atogwe comes up with one of season's best INTs ]
• New England wide receiver Chad Ochocinco finally found the end zone after more than a year, including the first 13 games this season with the Patriots. Ochocinco got open for a 33-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady in the first quarter. Nice route by Ochocinco, who was wide open on the play. It was the first time Ochocinco had scored since Nov. 21, 2010. He has been underwhelming since his trade to the Patriots, but has done a good job of keeping his mouth shut. On Sunday, he didn't even celebrate much after his score.
• Congratulations to Miami Dolphins running back (and you can actually say "running back") Reggie Bush, who posted a career-high 203 yards on 25 carries to help the Dolphins to a victory at Buffalo. That performance, which was also Bush's third consecutive game with at least 100 yards rushing, included a 76-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that put the game away. It was his sixth rushing touchdown in seven games and put Bush within 27 yards of his first 1,000-yard season since being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 draft.
[ Related: Reggie Bush's celebration in snow draws flag ]
• Indianapolis Colts running back Donald Brown picked a good time to have a career-best 161 yards on 16 carries, including an 80-yard touchdown run. Brown is still largely a disappointment as a former first-round pick, but for at least one day, his play was important as the Colts avoided becoming the second team to go 0-16.
• Sorry, Green Bay fans, the run to perfection is over. It really would have been cool to see a storied franchise like Green Bay chase perfection, but such is life. Now, the big concern for the Packers is to first make sure the team clinches home-field advantage in the playoffs. Then, find some way to fix this horrendous defense. As mentioned before, the Packers allowed 438 yards of offense against the Chiefs. The really troubling part of that is the 299 yards passing the Packers allowed to Orton. The Packers didn't sack Orton once and didn't force a turnover. If the Chiefs had been a little more efficient in the red zone, this game could have been a blowout.
• It was a ridiculously bad day for the Giants and New York Jets as each not only lost, but each put their playoff standing in precarious position as they got ready for their Christmas Eve showdown for Gotham supremacy. Then again, the pair of losses amps the importance of the showdown. Each team desperately needs to win on Saturday to keep hope of making the playoffs alive (the Giants still win the division if they beat the Jets and then Dallas in the season finale). The Giants were awful in a loss to a theoretically inferior Washington team. Eli Manning, who Fox announcer Terry Bradshaw tried to sell as an MVP candidate in the pregame show, threw three interceptions. The dismal performance on offense wasn't entirely his fault as wide receiver Hakeem Nicks dropped a potential touchdown pass in the first half and fellow wide receiver Mario Manningham ran a bad route on one of the picks. Still, Manning was really bad on the other two interceptions and was off-target throughout. As for the Jets, they had three turnovers in the first half as they gave Philadelphia a 28-0 advantage that they couldn't overcome. In the process, the Jets fell into a tie with the Cincinnati Bengals for the final wild-card spot in the AFC. The Jets hold the tiebreaker advantage over Cincinnati.
• Forget about the rumors about Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo retiring. How about seeing him get fired? Yeah, the Bears don't have either quarterback Jay Culter or running back Matt Forte, but there should have been a better contingency plan as the Bears lost their fourth game in a row. Though the defeat to the Seahawks was the first time they lost by more than a touchdown in that stretch, the quarterback play of Caleb Hanie has gone from poor to atrocious. For the third consecutive game, Hanie threw for 133 yards or less (he finished with 111). He had three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns. In four games as the starter since Cutler got hurt, Hanie has two touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He also has been sacked 19 times. This is from a team that didn't express interest in bringing in Chicago native Donovan McNabb after he was released on Dec. 1.
• It's hard to blame the Houston Texans and quarterback T.J. Yates for coming up short against Carolina at home. Yates and the Texans have been living a charmed life after so many injuries this season, including the losses of both starter Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart that opened the door for Yates. However, the failure of the defense on Sunday against Carolina was not good. The Texans fell behind 21-0 in a loss that will likely cost them one of the top two seeds in the AFC playoffs.
[ Related: Jeremy Shockey critical of Texans' anthem etiquette ]
• The St. Louis Rams were held to less than 20 points for the 12th time in 14 games, which is no surprise as they lost to Cincinnati. This should tell you how bad things have been for the Rams this season at quarterback, where Sam Bradford was supposed to be the franchise guy: Recently signed quarterback Kellen Clemens completed 25 of 36 passes for 229 yards and one touchdown. Clemens, who was starting over the injured Bradford and backup A.J. Feeley, posted a slightly above-average QB rating of 95.7 for the game. But for the Rams, who have only eight touchdown passes for the season, that was the best individual game rating they have had by one of their quarterbacks all season. In fact, it's nearly 10 points better than the next best game.
(FIVE THINGS I LOVED AND FIVE THINGS I LOATHED)
Loved: The fact that Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch scored a rushing touchdown in his 10th straight game, breaking the Seahawks' team record he shared with former running back Shaun Alexander. Alexander had a nice career and helped lead Seattle to its only Super Bowl appearance, but few players of his ability have inspired less faith and appreciation from teammates as Alexander, who rarely took a big hit and made a career of falling after arm tackles (except in his contract year). Anything that erases an Alexander achievement is appreciated.
Loathed: Watching the Buffalo Bills play pass defense. Once again, the Bills got lit up for big gains (Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano had a 22-yard touchdown catch and wide receiver Brandon Marshall had a 65-yard score) and made Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore look far better than his talent should allow. The Bills are awful in the secondary, but covered up their coverage issues earlier in the season with interceptions. Now, that's gone.
Loved: The 13-yard touchdown pass from Brees to running back Darren Sproles with 1:33 remaining in the first half against Minnesota. Both players did a great job on the read on the play as Sproles ran through a good zone defense. The real key to the play was the toughness of the 5-foot-6, 190-pound Sproles, who did a great job of being ready for a hit from Minnesota middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who is 6-1, 245.
Loathed: The penalty-fest that was the Detroit-Oakland game. Appropriately, the game-winning drive featured two of the overall 19 penalties between these two flag-plagued teams (they are among the four most-penalized teams in the league). The killer call was a pass-interference penalty against the Raiders that put Detroit at the Oakland 6-yard line and set the stage for the game-winning touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to wide receiver Calvin Johnson. On top of that, Oakland coach Hue Jackson is going to take a ration of criticism for his failure to go for a two-point conversion when the Raiders scored to take a 26-14 league. With 7:40 left in the game, there is no difference between a 12- and 13-point lead. But a 14-point lead likely would have forced overtime.
Loved: The calm-but-stern response by New Orleans coach Sean Payton after a 40-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter was wiped out by a holding penalty against Saints fullback Jed Collins, who did the same thing in the previous game against Tennessee. Payton made it clear to Collins that such play won't be tolerated long-term. Fortunately for the Saints, quarterback Drew Brees came back after the penalty to throw a touchdown pass, making up for the flag and upping his streak to 41 consecutive games with a TD pass.
Loathed: Watching New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul completely miss Washington fullback Darrel Young on a 6-yard touchdown run in the first half. This wasn't just a missed tackle; this was as if Pierre-Paul didn't see that Young had the ball. Pierre-Paul actually touched Young with two hands before Young ran by him. Stunning, just stunning.
Loved: The "fumblerooski" play that Carolina ran at the end of the first half against Houston, resulting in a 7-yard touchdown run by rookie tight end Richie Brockel. It was only the third time this season (and second time on Sunday) that Brockel had even touched the ball. Great execution by the undrafted guy from Boise State.
Loathed: Oh, Donald Driver, you're such a good dude and deserve a place in the Green Bay Hall of Fame. But come on, did you really give quarterback Aaron Rodgers' 40th touchdown pass of the season to some Packers fan sitting in the first row of the stands at Kansas City? Did you really give away the ball that Rodgers threw to break quarterback Brett Favre's Green Bay season record? Say it ain't so.
Loved: Seeing Indianapolis finally get a victory, even if it had to come at the expense of Tennessee and the Titans' playoff chances. Combined with the news that quarterback Peyton Manning is throwing again in pads, the Colts' nightmare season is finally coming to an end and there is some promising news.
Loathed: The performance of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday night against Dallas. Coach Raheem Morris said after the game that his team didn't quit, bouncing back from a 28-0 halftime deficit to get within 31-15 in the third quarter. Yeah, maybe, but the Bucs didn't show up early in the game, either. Here's an ugly stat to consider: After getting a 14-0 lead in the first quarter against Jacksonville the previous Sunday, the Bucs gave up a combined 69 consecutive points to the Cowboys (28) and Jaguars (41) over a five-quarter span. Brutal, just brutal.
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