How did Rex Ryan and the New York Jets not see it coming?
I'm no defensive genius – nor are my sons (ages 12 and 9), for that matter. Yet if all three of us were screaming at the television, "He's gonna slip outside and run!" as Tebow received the snap and processed Ryan's all-out blitz, you'd think someone in a Jets uniform might have been down with the concept of outside contain, no?
Evidently not: Against all reason, against a defense that ended Tom Brady's 2010 season and was built to shut down blatantly one-dimensional offenses, Tebow swept around left end and bulled his way toward the goal line. Duh. Soon, he was Tebowing in the corner of the end zone, and later celebrating a 17-13 victory that pushed his record to 4-1 since supplanting Kyle Orton(notes) as the Denver Broncos' starting quarterback.
Well, starting whatever-he-is. Given that he completed just nine passes on Thursday, which is seven more than he completed in last Sunday's victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, Tebow isn't filling the same job description that the league's 31 other starters are.
[ Video: Week 11 Locks of the Week ]
Don't just take it from me. Last Monday, while watching film of Tebow's previous performances, Broncos coach John Fox told NFL.com's Jeff Darlington: "If we were trying to run a regular offense, he'd be screwed."
And yet, after Tebow made magic against the Jets, we were all left to wonder: When the bulky lefty takes the field, maybe it's the other teams who are screwed.
Somehow, in the 2011 NFL universe, down is up, ugly is beautiful and impossibly inaccurate is damn straight. As football purists everywhere wince, Tebow is plowing, chucking and willing his way to success. A team that was 1-4 and going nowhere is now 5-5, half a game out of first place in the AFC West and hitting Ryan where it hurts most in a game the Jets (5-5) had to have.
As embarrassingly bad as Tebow was in Denver's 45-10 loss to the Detroit Lions on Oct. 30, and as shaky as he has looked during the better part of triumphs over the Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Chiefs and Jets, the second-year player clearly has an it factor that transcends his current level of football aptitude.
For whatever reason, the Broncos' running backs have been more effective with Tebow handing off. Their defense has played better with him watching from the sideline. And, to his credit, he has avoided the types of mistakes that many inexperienced quarterbacks seem to make with alarming regularity – though vastly limiting a player's passing attempts tends to help in that regard.
Can this approach work over the long haul? Logically, there's no way. The read-option might be wildly fruitful for some collegiate programs – including Florida, where Tebow put together one of the greatest careers in NCAA history. But in the NFL, with bigger, faster, stronger athletes and sophisticated defensive schemes? Everything we've learned as a football-watching public for the past half-century suggests that there's no way such a limited attack can flourish over a sustained basis.
[ Related: Fans do some Tebowing in front of Tebow ]
Perhaps Tebow will be the exception, a leader so rare he causes us to rethink what is plausible in pro football and gets an entire franchise – directed on the football side by John Elway, one of the greatest and most talented quarterbacks in NFL history – to invest in defying conventional wisdom on a weekly basis.
I seriously doubt that, but I also doubted that Tebow could drive the Broncos 95 yards on Ryan's defense with the game on the line, and before I knew it there he was kneeling in the end zone, mumbling prayerful prose and pointing to the heavens.
For those of you who assert that a higher power is at work here, well, that's between you and your respective supreme beings, and it's certainly not for me to judge. However, because Tebow is a devout Christian who displays his faith conspicuously, and because so many people who share those beliefs have such an emotional investment in his success – and, let's face it, because some of those folks are very sensitive about this subject, and by extension any perceived slights toward their hero – this is a topic that provokes passionate, over-the-top reactions.
Personally, I love being told by many of you that, because I've written articles uncomplimentary of Tebow's abilities (though, realistically, the opinions expressed were those of other players, coaches and personnel executives, rather than my own), I must be anti-Christian – or threatened by those who are deeply religious Christians. OK, I don't actually love it. In reality, I find such accusations amusing, depressing and completely presumptuous.
For one thing, I don't think I've made any public proclamations about what my particular spiritual orientation is, or what my wife believes, or how we're raising our kids. Secondly, as someone who has spent ample time at church with Kurt Warner(notes), another quarterback whose success defied preconceived notions, and who co-wrote his faith-laden autobiography, I feel like pegging me as anti-Christian is a tough case to make.
Most of all, the whole persecution complex when it comes to Tebow is silly; this happens to every quarterback who plays remotely the style that he's playing now. If it makes the Tebow fanatics feel any better, he is hardly the first accuracy-challenged, running-inclined person in his position to be stigmatized as unfit for long-term NFL success.
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It happened to Steve Young, a future Hall of Famer. It happened to Randall Cunningham, Kordell Stewart, Michael Vick(notes) and Vince Young(notes), all of whom have something in common: They're African-Americans. Given the history of race-based exclusion, closed-mindedness and position-switching faced by black men who've assumed that role, the athlete tag had to be especially hurtful. And let's not even begin to discuss all the productive, talented college quarterbacks who never got a legitimate shot to run an NFL team because they weren't viewed as "pro-style" quarterbacks by NFL scouts and personnel executives.
When people say of Tebow, "He's a glorified running back, not a quarterback," you don't think it's something that Vick heard a million times too? It wasn't until last year's redemptive breakout campaign that this type of talk even remotely subsided – and it's still there for Vince Young, who may start for the injured Vick when the Eagles face the Giants in New Jersey on Sunday night.
I covered Steve Young on a daily basis when he played in San Francisco, first when he was Joe Montana's backup and later when he took over as a starter. Even as Young was putting up eye-popping numbers and winning passing titles and MVP awards, his reckless, run-heavy style was still a sore subject for many.
Finally, after a pair of NFC championship game defeats vs. the Cowboys, Young mastered the art of reading defenses and running the West Coast offense under then-49ers offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan. He threw six touchdowns in the Niners' Super Bowl XXIX blowout of the Chargers, and nobody ever credibly questioned his quarterbacking credentials again.
Perhaps Tebow will evolve, as Young did, and we'll look back at his early days of grit and grind-it-out grotesqueness as a charming relic of the past. If he's as hard a worker as advertised, he'll do everything he can to add dimensions to his game and allow his coaches to expand the playbook, rather than reduce it to pre-AFL concepts.
In the meantime, I have to hand it to the kid: He's blowing up the model, and he's doing it in clutch and entertaining fashion. As choppy and nasty as his passes often look, he's got a locker room, a fan base and a skeptical football-watching world buying in and slowly becoming believers.
I still don't think it can work over the long haul, but I'm also open to the possibility that I might be wrong. For now, it's like a cheesy movie I got stuck watching on an airplane, when I should have been reading, writing a column or catching up on sleep instead.
Even though I know what's coming, I can't seem to look away.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
Steven Jackson has totaled 417 rushing yards the past three games.
The Bills will get their groove back – and the Dolphins will go back to being sad sacks – at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday. … Marshawn Lynch(notes) and Steven Jackson will put on a dreadlock-laced rushing clinic at the Edward Jones Dome, with the Seahawks prevailing over the Rams. … DeSean Jackson(notes) will have a long-awaited breakout game in his return to the Eagles' lineup, but the Giants will prevail over Philly on Sunday night.
And remember, you can find all of my picks here – and receive the analysis behind them by registering for the Silver Insider at ridewithsilver.com. And no, my predictions can't be as woeful as they were last week, or I'll start advising you to choose whichever team I say won't win. Also, be sure to check out this blue-and-gold-tinted Locks of the Week segment, in which Jason Cole and I reprise our rivalry from the 1985 Ink Bowl at Stanford's Roble Field.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
That little breadbox of a stadium in Palo Alto, Calif. – which is the very terminology I used two years ago, and we know how that turned out – for the 114th Big Game Saturday night. If my alma mater loses, as everyone expects us to, it will sting deeply – but not enough to penetrate the powerful conviction that our university is sublime and incomparable, and that every day is a great day to be a Golden Bear. And if we somehow win? Well, you know the story … Whatever the outcome, I'll spend the following day recovering and rallying with my LCD screen, NFL Sunday Ticket and throat lozenges putting in work.
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. After watching Tebow eviscerate Rex Ryan's defense on the Broncos' 95-yard game-winning drive Thursday night, former Jets great Joe Namath tracked down the young quarterback in the visitors' locker room and slurred, "I want to kiss you."
2. Nothing good happens at 2:30 or 3 in the morning.
FANTASY ANNOYANCE OF THE WEEK
Four days after a heartbreaking, three-point defeat at No. 16 Rutgers to open the 2011-12 season last Sunday, Lindsay Gottlieb earned her first victory as Cal's women's basketball coach Thursday night, with the Bears defeating Sac State 85-61 at Haas Pavilion. I expect there will be many, many more to come. However, Gottlieb can't buy a fantasy victory lately, as Bringin' It Back (5-5) suffered a decisive defeat to EyeRunThis and now is fighting for its playoff life, beginning with this week's matchup against Hue's Clues. "I'm going to get into the playoffs," Gottlieb assured me, "and then I'll get hot and win the whole thing." I love the swagger. What I don't love is her lineup, which regrettably has my fingerprints all over it. And with team MVP Jimmy Graham(notes) on a bye this week (as is Reggie Wayne(notes)), her lineup looks even more dubious than usual. The good news is that Hue's Clues also has two players on byes (Rashard Mendenhall(notes) and Mike Wallace(notes)) and is trotting out a lightweight lineup that includes Philip Rivers(notes), Mike Tolbert(notes), Javon Ringer(notes), Steve Smith (Panthers), Mike Williams (Bucs), C.J. Spiller(notes) and Vernon Davis(notes). Eccch. With Willis McGahee's(notes) status uncertain leading up to Thursday night's game, and Julio Jones(notes) iffy for Sunday, Gottlieb and I settled on a stopgap lineup that included Matt Ryan(notes); Shonn Greene(notes) opposite Adrian Peterson; and Plaxico Burress(notes) and Santonio Holmes as wideouts. Yep, three Jets. Double eccch. (And Thursday night's collective output from the trio was regrettably meager.) If Jones can't go Sunday, we'll sub Jackie Battle(notes) into the swing slot. Visanthe Shiancoe(notes) fills in for Graham, and we swapped Lawrence Tynes(notes) for Jay Feely(notes) and picked up the Browns' defense (vs. Jags) while sitting the Bengals (at Ravens). In other words, it's a tough hill to climb.
My buddy Malibu is also in danger of missing the postseason, as Sabbath Bloody Sabbath fell to 5-5 with a 38-point defeat to 2-8 La Flama Blancas. He's now tied for sixth in a 12-team league, and six teams make the playoffs. This week Sabbath takes on a 6-4 foe, LA My Vick In A Box (great name), whose bye-depleted lineup (Arian Foster(notes), Wayne, Ben Tate(notes)) includes Battle and Kregg Lumpkin(notes) at running back and James Jones(notes) and Laurent Robinson(notes) (opposite Larry Fitzgerald(notes)) at receiver. Triple ecchhh. In other words, Sabbath should have a fighting chance. That's especially true now that Malibu, a diehard Chargers fan, has gotten religion on Rivers and benched him for Eli Manning(notes). The Browns' defense (instead of the Giants) was his only other swap, and he chose two tight ends (Davis and Brandon Pettigrew(notes)) and three receivers (DeSean Jackson, Jones and Devin Hester(notes)) ahead of Torrey Smith(notes). I have very little to add here.
THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
Last Saturday in San Francisco, the Golden Bears (6-4) ensured that they'll be bowl eligible with a 23-6 victory over Oregon State. Some things, however, are a lot more important than bowls, and Saturday's Big Game at Stanford Stadium, the 114th rendition of the rivalry, rightfully has Cal in this kind of mood. The eighth-ranked Cardinal (9-1), coming off a decisive home defeat to Oregon, is expected to win easily, having opened as a 20.5-point favorite (a spread that has since been bet down to 17.5). However, Stanford was favored two years ago in the same stadium, and the Bears won for the seventh time in eight years, and madness ensued. Those of us who venture to the Farm on Saturday will be ready, willing and able to repeat the celebration, but we'll be pre-celebrating with abandon, just in case.
[ Related: Will Luck have Oregon hangover before Big Game? ]
The Big Game inevitably means The Big Splash, and the waterpolo clash between No. 3 Cal and No. 4 Stanford at Avery Aquatics Center should get every blue-and-gold-clad tailgater in the mood for an impending takeover of Stanford Stadium. Cal's women's soccer team – fresh off a dramatic, first-round upset of No. 11 Santa Clara on penalty kicks – plays a second-round game against No. 16 Boston College on Stanford's campus Friday, with a potential third-round showdown against the undefeated Cardinal looming on Sunday.
Finally, congratulations to Cal's women's cross country team, which qualified for the NCAA championships for the first time in 23 years and will make a run at further glory on Monday in Terre Haute, Ind. Much love to a pack of talented racers that includes seniors Deborah Maier and Chelsea Reilly, the latter a product of Davis High School's impressive distance program.
Oh, and Stephen Colbert has some kind words for our university, even though he doesn't know its proper name. Yo, Steve: It's the University of California, as in Fight For California – and I know that everyone will this weekend.
One more thing: If Cal propaganda is your bag, Bear Territory is the place for you.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
Two years ago, in advance of the underdog Bears' visit to Stanford Stadium, I forecast the glorious outcome by channeling the loud, theatrical melodies of Muse. My friends and I later celebrated Cal's uprising at the Dutch Goose, a watering hole near the Stanford campus at which the patrons were thrilled by our vocal prowess. This time, I'm keeping it mellow – and going back about 40 years, when Muslim philanthropist Yusuf Islam was in his earlier incarnation as an English folk singer named Cat Stevens. Who better to assume the voice of the flaccid Stanford fans, who couldn't fill their 50,000 seat stadium through most of last season despite a team that rode the brilliance of a once-in-a-generation quarterback to the best record in school history. The attendance numbers are better this year, but trust me, Stanford football is hardly a tough ticket in the Bay Area – and with even the slightest bit of encouragement from the underdog Bears, Cal's contingent will own that stadium Saturday night. Without further ado, heeeerrrreee's Yusuf, to the tune of "Where Do The Children Play?" (And yes, "Harold and Maude" fans, you do recognize that tune from this scene …)
Well a whistle blows, like a choo-choo train's
And "All Right Now," is gonna be playin'
Tree's up dancin' – all grungy and green
And everyone's lovin' Andrew Luck, 'cause he can do anything
I know you've come a long way,
He's the best since Elway-ay
But you're not watchin' the Cardinal play
A new stadium, full of fresh green grass
All the dot-com wealth that folks can amass
Yet you're at Whole Foods, buyin' watercress
Cause you just can't bring yourself to emotionally invest
Oh, I know you've come a long way,
You killed UCLA-ay
Why aren't you watchin' the Cardinal play?
Well we'll cross the Bay, take our medicine
And we'll cheer hard for the Golden Bears
Even if they cannot win
But what if they do – and reclaim the Axe?
As you watch us rush the field, will you have panic attacks – acks-acks-acks?
I know you've come a long way
Three decades since The Play
We'll see you suckers on Saturday-ay-ay-ay
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