It's Tebow Time.
It's been made painfully clear to Tim Tebow that the football administration that drafted him, run by Josh McDaniels in 2010, does not have a lot in common with the football administration (John Elway/John Fox) that now runs the Broncos, following the dismissal of McDaniels last fall. McDaniels loved Tebow. Elway and Fox wouldn't have drafted Tebow if he had been the last quarterback on earth. That's not to blame Elway or Fox for the current conundrum around Denver; they simply feel that a dropback quarterback with good accuracy is the kind of quarterback they'd like to run the Denver offense. That's not Tebow -- at least not now.
When Tebow came in the game Sunday at halftime against San Diego -- the Broncos trailed 23-10 -- it was to see if he could give the team a spark. But the cynic in anyone who has followed this story could also look at it this way: The season's going down the toilet, and fast, and Kyle Orton is playing poorly, and even though Fox and Elway want Orton to be the quarterback, playing Tebow gives them a chance to show the fans he really isn't the answer long-term.
It's hard to tell a lot about fan and team reaction from watching on TV. But Invesco seemed down and depressed at the end of the first half. The fans are tired of Orton. It's clear. No team in the NFL has been as bad as Denver in the last 31 games -- the Broncos are 7-24 since McDaniels won his first six games as coach in 2009 -- and the locals have seen enough. It's not all Orton's fault, but what sense does it make for the team to keep doing the same thing over and over if it hasn't worked for two years?
When Tebow began warming up and then went in the game, the crowd came alive. And though his first three drives produced nothing, the crowd got revved up in a big way in the fourth quarter. Denver had an old college drive to narrow the score to 26-18 midway through the fourth quarter -- all 51 yards on the ground -- and Tebow flipped a 28-yard scoring pass to Knowshon Moreno three minutes later (the two-point pass failed), and it was 26-24.
When the Broncos got the ball back, they trailed 29-24 with 24 seconds left. Two passes netted Denver 51 yards. One second left. Crowd in a frenzy. From the San Diego 29, Tebow took the shotgun snap, looked, looked, looked, did a 360 trying to make time, looked some more, and fired deep into the end zone into a scrum. Incomplete. But somehow satisfying. The crowd left with some hope.
In one half of football, the Broncos began to win back the city. The Tebow lovers got a taste of their hero. The Orton haters got something, anything, different. I can't imagine any scenario that would have Fox giving the ball to Orton when the Broncos come off the bye in 13 days at Miami.
Afterward, I asked Tebow (4 of 10, 79 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, 101.7 rating) if he thought he'd done enough to win the starting job. Of course he hadn't, and he knew that, but I had to ask.
"Thank God I don't have to make that choice,'' he said. "I just wanted to go out there and play my heart out and show the hard work I've put in can pay off for this team.''
The kind of play that ruins a season -- and says so much about the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles are playing in quicksand. They make a little progress, make a couple of plays and then, week after week, do something really stupid to set themselves back. A strip. A penalty. An interception. An idiotic offside call when they can least afford it. Sloppy teams do dumb things like that all the time, and the Eagles right now are both sloppy and dumb.
One play in the 31-24 loss to Buffalo illustrated that perfectly. I had to watch the play over and over in the NBC viewing room, sitting next to Tony Dungy, who was trying to figure it out too.
Down 14-7 midway through the second quarter, the Eagles took over at their 22. On first down, Vick retreated to throw. The Bills blitzed a cornerback (I couldn't read his number) around the Eagles' left end, and sent a rookie linebacker, Kelvin Sheppard, from over the left guard. At the snap of the ball, rookie center Jason Kelce pulled to the left. The Eagles running back on the play took care of the defensive back blitzing to the left of Vick. There was a moment in time -- we froze the image at NBC on the wide-angle view of the field, with all players on the screen -- where Kelce, pulling left, looked as if he'd be head-up on Sheppard and easily neutralize him so Vick would have enough time to find one of the four receivers in the pass-route.
Inexplicably, Kelce sprinted left to double-team a defensive back who was already well blocked.
"I know when he goes back and looks at film of that play, that center will be beating himself up over that one,'' Sheppard told me. "The crazy thing was, everything cleared out, and there was this huge hole to rush through. My eyes lit up like a kid in a candy store. There was nobody between me and Vick.''
Sheppard came unblocked at Vick. "I had a guy coming down my gun barrel and I should have just took the sack,'' said Vick. "I think that was a game-changer. Those things can't happen.''
True: Vick should have taken the sack. His greed to make a play led to throwing the ball right to Nick Barnett, who ran it in 31 yards for a touchdown. This is certainly partially Vick's fault because he has to eat that ball. But Kelce's mistake ... I guess you'd call it a rookie mistake. But it's so incomprehensible.
It was a bizarre play, the kind of mistake that illustrates perfectly why the Eagles are in this predicament. Because of injuries (both in the preseason and during the season), the Eagles started five offensive lineman Sunday, none of whom were the presumed starters at their positions last March. Two rookies (Kelce and guard Danny Watkins), one bargain free agent (guard Evan Mathis), one converted guard at tackle (Todd Herremans), one failed right tackle at left tackle (King Dunlap). Vick only took one sack Sunday, but I'd bet he took 12 good hits or so.
It's not too late for the Eagles to get out of this, with the talent they have. But Washington and confusing defensive coordinator Jim Haslett are up next. Not a good week for rookie centers to figure out which blitzers to pick up. Haslett has to be looking at the video today excited at the change-ups he'll be able to throw at the Eagles.
Revis vs. Welker: A draw. Sort of.
On Friday, on our NBC SportsTalk pro football preview show on Versus, Jets safety Jim Leonhard was startlingly candid in his assessment of how the Jets would play the leading receiver in the league, Wes Welker, on Sunday. "You have to take away a team's best option, and right now that's Wes Welker,'' Leonhard said. "As much as we possibly can, we're going to make sure [cornerback Darrelle] Revis is on top of him.''
Leonhard was nearly spot-on. This from the inner sanctum of ProFootballFocus.com this morning, following New England's 30-21 victory over the Jets:
The Patriots ran 81 snaps Sunday, including plays nullified due to penalties. Revis and Welker both played 78. The Jets put Revis on Welker on 45 plays -- 26 pass plays, 19 run plays. Of the 26 pass plays, Revis appeared to have man coverage on Welker either 21 or 22 times. On the first play of the third quarter, when Tom Brady hit Welker for 73 yards down the middle, it was unclear who was in primary coverage -- Revis or safety Eric Smith. On the other 21 pass plays, Revis allowed one four-yard completion to Welker and nothing else. Welker's other three catches came with Revis not in coverage on him.
On the plays Revis was not on Welker, he was on Deion Branch 21 times.
On the plus side for Welker, he did have five catches for 124 yards, and his long completion led to a Brady touchdown throw early in the third quarter that gave New England a 10-point lead.
On the plus side for Revis, Brady had thrown to Welker an average of 14.3 times per game before Sunday; on this day, he targeted Welker eight times and completed five. Welker had caught 25 balls for 375 yards in the previous two weeks. So he was clearly diminished in his effectiveness Sunday, but the Patriots scored 30 points, and Revis wasn't an overwhelming presence on the other receivers.
You pick the winner. Seems like more Welker than Revis to me, but very close.