Explaining Tebow and the Broncos: The Physical and the Metaphysical
Having watched the latest Tebow miracle against the Chicago Bears, I have come to the conclusion that resistance is futile. There are physical and strategic ways to explain how the Broncos managed to win a game they trailed by ten points with 2 minutes to play, but the set of circumstances that had to all converge at once to make the latest miracle possible, are, depending on your point of view, either coincidental or metaphysical. Cue up the Twilight Zone music please.
First, Tebow and the Broncos happened to get the Bears on the schedule at a time when Chicago was without both its starting quarterback and running back- out with injuries. The Bear’s offense without these fellows is just ludicrously, absurdly wretched. Still, the Bears measly ten points seemed to be enough because the Bronco’s offense was even worse.
For roughly 58 minutes of the 60-minute game, and true to form during this miracle streak, Tebow and his offense were just horrible. At one point he had 11 consecutive incomplete passes. For the first three quarters, he completed only 3 of 16 passes for just 45 yards and an interception.
And now we come to the other two factors that are just difficult to explain and those involve the bird-brained Chicago Bears. Tebow finished the game completing 18 of 24 passes that wracked up 191 yards and a touchdown. This has been happening game after game now in Denver’s improbable road to a 7 and 1 record in their last 8 games with Tebow at the helm. Horrible stats for three quarters- amazing stats for the final one.
It’s actually not hard to explain. The NFL has Tebow figured out. He’s a young quarterback. He does not have a quick release and he’s green enough that he doesn’t look at a lot of 2nd, 3rd and 4th receiver options. He basically looks for one main receiver and if he’s not open- he runs. And he runs well. Built like a tight end, Tebow doesn’t do much sliding into the turf as most other quarterbacks do. He runs into defenders and tries to bowl them over and often does.
What makes Tebow successful late in games is that NFL defenses abandon what’s worked against him for 3 quarters and begin to play soft. With the Broncos perpetually behind, teams play a prevent defense against them, willing to allow yards as long as it’s time consuming and they don’t get into the end zone. This is where Tebow excels. For a great explanation of how this works, see this smart article by Steve von Horn, a contributor to SB Nation Chicago.
Why the Bears and other NFL teams continue to play a prevent defense against Tebow after seeing film of game after game in which he exploits it so well, is clueless but explainable. It’s because they’ve been doing it for years and it usually works. But von Horn speculates that the first team that plays Tebow in the 4th quarter the same way they’ve played him for the previous three will probably put an end to the Denver miracle.
Then there’s Marion Barber, the back-up Chicago running back who had played seven years in the NFL and apparently learned nothing. With the Broncos out of time outs and Chicago trying to eat precious seconds, Barber inexplicably let himself get run out of bounds and it stopped the clock and gave Denver the time needed to launch their furious rally against the soft prevent defense. This is elemental football strategy. The very definition of running the clock out requires that you stay in bounds.
And then as the Bears are in field goal range in overtime, Barber runs to Denver’s rescue yet again, failing to hold on to the ball and fumbling it away.
Let’s not forget that Denver hit a 59-yard field goal to tie the game in regulation. That’s like 4 yards shy of the all-time NFL record. And then a 51-yarder to win it all in overtime. In case you’re not familiar with the game, 50-yard+ field goals don’t come easily.
The fairy tale will come to an end one of these days. Maybe next week against the New England Patriots. But for right now, it’s a remarkable thing to watch. Whatever your feelings about all the religion stuff and that an NFL player, who, say, thanked Allah instead of Jesus after every touchdown, would probably end up on a terrorist watch list – what this young man and his teammates have been accomplishing really is rather miraculous.
When you break it down it’s sort of explainable. But when you step back and look at the totality of these last 8 games and everything that’s had to go just right to pull off, among other things, not one, not two, but three overtime victories- you just have to sit back in wonder, shake your head and chuckle. You may not see anything like this again for a long, long while.