Oh, he’ll be important. He’ll be important in the sense that all quarterbacks are important, and they’re all expected to score points, move the offense down the field efficiently, and generally avoid looking foolish by being frantic in a collapsing pocket, fumbling, throwing interceptions, or a litany of other crippling mistakes. Quarterbackin’ ain’t easy, kids.
And sure, we understand that there’s still a warm afterglow from yesterday’s events that’s keeping everyone cuddly and comfortable. It’s as though Tebow did more than just throw a game-winning touchdown and produce numerous cryptic and perfect references to a famous and vastly overused biblical verse. His rise to NFL sainthood did something far more important: it gave us the opportunity to make bad religious puns for at least one more week.
But please rise from the crouched Tebow position–and while doing so, be careful as you dismount from the bar–and let’s move on from last night. There’s work to be done, and although he’ll clearly be a central figure, the game likely won’t hinge on Tebow’s play Saturday night against the Patriots.
The noble responsibility of being a difference maker won’t fall on the shoulders of just one brave man. Instead, it’ll be several men, and they go by names like Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, and Champ Bailey. They play defense.
Prior to last night, Denver’s three-game losing streak to end the season was often referenced. Tebow wasn’t that terrible during the first game of that streak against New England in Week 15. He wasn’t terrible at all, and he was actually rather good.
Including last night Tebow’s had 12 starts this year, and he’s averaged 170.4 passing yards per game. In the loss to New England that snapped Denver’s six-game winning streak he had 194 yards with no interceptions, and he averaged 8.8 yards per pass, his second-highest average of the regular season. He also added 93 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns, with that rushing yardage also the second highest of his season.
I nearly could have summarized the above paragraphs by saying that Tebow was Tebow, but that wouldn’t have been true. He was better than his usual non-throwing, always running self, a development that we’ll likely see again this weekend, and one that isn’t exactly staggering given the Patriots’ atrocious secondary, and a run defense that isn’t overly threatening either.
At the very least the circumstances are aligned for Tebow to give us a repeat performance of his Week 15 outing. The problem is those defenders, the guys who are paid to stop Tom Brady and his various passing targets. They did a pretty poor job of that last time.
A unit that’s often put Tebow in an ideal position for success and his late-game heroics failed to maintain an early 16-7 lead, and surrendered 41 points after giving up 19.5 overall throughout the season. Brady was sacked twice and he had a fumble that New England recovered, so the pocket pressure was there. The problem lied in the secondary, where Denver gave up nearly two more yards per pass attempt than their season average.
Defending Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski is a pretty terrible experience for any defense, but it was a particularly nightmarish circus for Denver that afternoon, one that went beyond the typical destruction for Brady’s tight end duo.
Hernandez had 129 receiving yards, the second highest single-game total of his young career, and combined with Gronk, the two tight ends had 182 yards, accounting for 56.9 percent of New England’s passing yardage. You won’t act surprised about that, because Gronk and Hernandez exploding isn’t surprising, and therefore a defense–any defense–getting ripped apart by them isn’t either.
But that’s more than just pure and simple rippage. It was an old-fashioned bar beating, like the one in that really good movie about Boston where guys fought, went to a Red Sox game, and succeeded in their attempt to stereotype an entire city. If we exclude the New England game, Denver gave up a total of 490 passing yards to tight ends this year, adding up to an average of 32.7 per game.
The GLS abacus indicates that 32.7 is significantly less than 182, and the latter number comes from a team that plays in the same division as Antonio Gates, contained five TEs who had at least 600 receiving yards this year (and Jermaine Gresham, who fell four yards short of that mark), and didn’t allow any tight end not named Hernandez to eclipse 100 yards. The Patriots were responsible for 27 percent of Denver’s yardage allowed to tight ends.
Stopping Hernandez and Gronkowski is improbable and likely impossible, but some degree of containment is vital. Denver’s shot at winning centers around lowering that percentage, and Tebow is secondary.