Will Tebowmania run wild on Patriots?
Denver QB Tim Tebow is a polarizing figure, but his late-game prowess is undeniable
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There are many who say Tim Tebow will never become an all-time great quarterback in the NFL. There are some who say he is too in-your-face about his Christian faith.
This is nothing new for Tebow, who has been a polarizing figure as a football player since his high-profile days at Florida, when he led the Gators to two national championships, earning a Heisman Trophy along the way.
And then there are those whose praise has been over the top as Tebow -- despite an unorthodox skill set as an NFL quarterback, leading to some ugly, inaccurate passes and poor early-game QB ratings -- has emerged as the ultimate winner against all odds.
Tebow has rallied his Denver Broncos to numerous fourth-quarter comebacks, a six-game winning streak and a 7-1 record since assuming the starting role on Oct. 11, leading into Sunday afternoon's home game against the New England Patriots.
No one seems to adopt a neutral stance when it comes to assessing Tebow the person and Tebow the quarterback.
But Tebow doesn't seem to care that his oft-expressed praise for the Lord is criticized or that his NFL skills aren't impeccable. He's going to honor the Lord, win or lose, and he wins games.
"I try not to listen to too much of (the hype, positive or negative)," Tebow said Wednesday from Denver on a conference call with the Patriots media.
"I learned as a young player at Florida not to worry about what I can't control. My biggest focus, win or lose, is to honor the Lord. I also try to become a better teammate. As a Christian, I want to continue to give honor to the Lord, continue to strengthen my faith. One way to do that is through adversity. I've definitely had some of that. You strengthen your faith when you get praise. Win or lose, you honor the Lord the same way."
The NFL legend of Tebow began in 2010, when then-Denver coach Josh McDaniels, the former Patriots offensive coordinator, selected Tebow in the first round, with the 25th overall pick. The selection was derided. When Tebow struggled last year, and when McDaniels was fired, the experiment seemed a waste of a top pick.
New coach John Fox opted for Kyle Orton as the starter after a training camp competition, but with the Broncos 1-4, Tebow was elevated to starter. Orton has since been released, and Tebow has been finding a way to win, even if Hall of Famer John Elway, Denver's general manager, hasn't committed to him for the long term. The Broncos enter Sunday's game at 8-5, atop the AFC West.
And while Tebow certainly hasn't won games singlehandedly, his stats in the fourth quarter have been nothing short of amazing. For instance, last Sunday, after going 3-of-16 for only 45 yards over the first three quarters, Tebow went 18-for-24 for 191 yards and a touchdown the rest of the way as the Broncos rallied for a 13-10 overtime win over the Chicago Bears.
Tebow has led 17 scoring drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in the past nine games, and his six career fourth-quarter comebacks is the most ever in the NFL for any QB in his first 11 games.
He boasts the third-highest fourth-quarter passing rating at 111.0, trailing only the New York Giants' Eli Manning (117.0) and the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers (112.6). The Pats' Tom Brady is fifth, at 100.5.
Tebow, who often runs the ball with the bullishness of a fullback, has accounted for 56.7 percent of his passing yardage and 54.5 percent of his passing TDs in the fourth quarter. He has thrown 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions since becoming the starter, with an overall passer rating of 83.9.
"I'm just blessed with great teammates and coaches who make me a lot better than I am," Tebow said Wednesday, trying to explain the fourth-quarter success.
"Thank the Lord we've been able to pull a few of those out. It definitely has been a little bit of a whirlwind. The chemistry and the camaraderie have been getting better every week. That's special. There are things I've done well and things I've done bad not just in the fourth quarter, but in the game, and I'm trying to learn from all of it so I can get better."
"He's a fine young man and he's getting better every week. He's got a lot of intangibles," Fox said Wednesday. "He performed at a very high level in college. He's like every young player in the NFL. He's got a lot to learn and quarterback is more difficult to learn than other positions, maybe the toughest of jobs in sports. He's improving, not just in the fourth quarter. The guy just wins. He's 7-1 as our starter this year. He's made marked improvement. He needs to get better, and so do we all."
This week, Tebow acknowledged he and the Broncos' offense will have its hands full with the 10-3 Patriots' defense, despite New England's statistical struggles.
"They give you a lot of different looks. They're very well-coached. Bill Belichick is a great coach. We have to adjust to whatever they bring," said Tebow.
And while he'll be playing against the Patriots' defense, he's well aware that Tom Brady will be quarterbacking New England's offense.
"It's a huge honor to play against him," said Tebow. "He handles himself very well. He handles the offense very well. He's a guy I've watched for a long time and respected."
The Pats' defense, meanwhile, will have to respect Tebow as a runner, maybe even more than as a passer. That consideration has been built into Denver's game plan.
"Some of the things he does, his running, are extensions of our running game. But football is football. Part of coaching is putting guys in positions to have success," Fox said.
And while Tebow has been improving on the field, Fox has been impressed by what he has seen of Tebow in many areas.
"Tim has done a superb job of handling (all the publicity), giving his teammates credit," said Fox. "It's the ultimate team game. Our guys understand. It doesn't matter who gets the credit. We just want to win games."
Tebow has other lofty goals, as well.
"I try to be a good role model for the next generation, putting my faith first no matter what. Hopefully I can be an athlete that parents will talk to their kids about that he did it the right way, giving credit to the Lord. If it can make relationships with Christ cool, that would be awesome," Tebow said.
Steven Krasner is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.