EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – There he stood on the perfect afternoon, the quarterback who won a division and a playoff game nine months ago – his helmet on, uniform spotless, all ready to go. And once again Tim Tebow was confined to the New York Jets' sideline.
He tried to appear busy in this 35-9 Jets victory over the Indianapolis Colts. He clapped his hands. He patted teammates on the back. He shouted. He cheered. And there were those brief moments he was allowed on the field, including a fourth-and-11 when he took a snap on a fake punt and threw a pass to linebacker Nick Bellore for a first down just before halftime.
But really, the most famous player in football has turned into something less than even a decoy. He has become, at best, some kind of undefined threat to opponents and at worse a constant threat to Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez. Otherwise, he seems like someone the Jets don't need at all. It raises the question: Why is he even here?
Next week the Jets will go to New England, which is the place where Tebow last played a meaningful football game. That was only in January and the world seemed to be watching back then. That was before the Denver Broncos fired him and the Jets got into a death struggle with the Jacksonville Jaguars to acquire him. The idea supposedly was that he would be a big part of the Jets' offense – a kind of multi-headed beast whose versatility would make a weak offensive team dangerous.
That hasn't happened. In six games he has thrown three passes and run 18 times. The situations he is mostly thrown into are so obvious it's almost as if they are designed for him to fail. It seems clear that Jets coach Rex Ryan does not want Tebow. He doesn't want him as a starting quarterback. He doesn't want him as a backup quarterback. He doesn't want him as a wide receiver or fullback or a punt returner or any of the other things that Tebow can do so well. Ryan seems to not want Tebow anywhere near his offense.
The question about whether Tebow can actually be a starting quarterback in the NFL is a legitimate one. He struggled with his accuracy in Denver, strangely looking better on long throws than he did on short ones. The offense the Broncos ran late last season was based too much on the run to be successful during a full NFL year. It remains a mystery if Tebow can throw the ball 30 times a game and win.
But even if he isn't a good quarterback, he is a very good football player. He isn't fast but he is elusive. He makes tacklers miss. He knows how to break through holes in a defensive line. He can catch. He can block. He can be everything Brad Smith once was to the Jets back when Smith helped make New York's offense go. Back when the Jets acquired Tebow, Ryan said he would use Tebow often.
Instead he has barely used Tebow.
After Sunday's game, Tebow stood in the back of the locker room and addressed the media the way he always held news conferences as the Broncos' starting quarterback. He talked mostly about the fake punt. He said it was something the Jets had thrown into the playbook this week. The call was his. If Indianapolis was lined up a certain way, he was to call for the fake. He did. Bellore was wide open. He lobbed the ball over Bellore's shoulder for an easy 23-yard pass play that set up a Sanchez-to-Jason Hill touchdown.
Someone asked Tebow if he had been practicing the throw for weeks.
"I've been making that pass since Pop Warner," he said.
Mostly he seemed irrelevant on Sunday. In a week in which Sanchez's future with the Jets has been an open question, Ryan seemed to be sending a message that Tebow is not essential to what he wants to do. When asked about Tebow's pass on the fake punt, Ryan made sure to mention that the owner Woody Johnson wanted to be sure Bellore could catch the ball. Ryan laughed as he said he assured his boss that Bellore could. But the fact of informing Johnson of a fake punt almost suggested that he was trying to appease his boss who undoubtedly wanted Tebow to be a Jet more than he did.
On Sunday the Jets won with 161 yards from running back Shonn Greene. Tight end Dustin Keller (one catch, 6 yards) was back. Suddenly the team that wasn't using Tebow when it lacked its offensive weapons really doesn't seem to have use for him now that they are back. Other than looming as Sanchez's possible replacement – something Ryan seems loath to do – Tebow doesn't appear to have much of a use in the Jets' offense.
Maybe there is a bigger plan. Maybe Ryan's insistence that he will decide when the time is right to use Tebow is a suggestion that he will be suddenly thrown out for 20 plays against the Patriots or the Dolphins or some other big moment.
After Sunday's game Tebow said he still watches the piles of DVDs of other quarterbacks that he used to take home every night when he played in Denver. You can tell he longs to be something more than he is: something bigger, something relevant.
For now, he's not even a decoy.
He's just a guy Rex Ryan doesn't seem to need or want.
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