|ESPN.com: Commentary||[Print without images]|
What on earth are we going to do with the conundrum that is Tim Tebow?
It takes him two days to wind up and throw a pass; he thanks Jesus every other sentence; and, for better or worse, his name has become a verb.
|If Tim Tebow is truly going to lead a contender, he should be doing more than scrambling from behind.|
But he's winning. And, at the end of the day, a string of ugly victories beats a string of beautiful losses. Since Tebow took over the QB job, Denver has risen to first in the AFC West, leads the NFL in rushing with 1,907 yards and, heading into Sunday's home game against the Bears, has the third-longest winning in the league at five. Only Green Bay (12) and Houston (six) have better current streaks, which would mean Denver is good.
Which brings us to this: If the Broncos are indeed a good team, when will Tebow's fans start believing it? In other words, at what point will they look past Tebow's string of miraculous fourth-quarter comebacks and start asking why a good team such as Denver fell behind a now 2-10 scrub such as Minnesota?
I know it seems as if I'm hating because Tebow wins ugly, but I assure you I'm not. Rather I am questioning why people have yet to raise their expectations for a clutch first-place team that doesn't turn the ball over?
In Detroit, when the Lions fell two scores and then three behind the two-win Carolina Panthers at home in Week 11, fans were agitated and booed. "Why are we trailing this rookie QB and his last-place team?" was the sentiment of the faithful. You see, despite a decade of futility, Lions fans recognized that, this year, the team was different, it was better. And with that attitude come expectations.
So where is the bar Tebow fans have set for the object of their affection, and if it's still relatively low at this point, why?
Good teams should not routinely need a last-minute drive or overtime to beat a bad team (Denver has two wins in the final minute and needed late scores to set up both OT wins).
When you're a desperate fan, you take whatever win you can get. But desperate fans usually are the calling cards of a losing team. They don't brag because, well, there's nothing to brag about. So either Denver is not as good as its record or the Tebow faithful want the wedding and the honeymoon but are afraid of the actual marriage.
The Bears come to Denver having lost both their starting quarterback, Jay Cutler, and their star running back, Matt Forte, the league's third-leading rusher. They are also on a two-game losing streak.
On paper, the Broncos not only should win this game but should not be trailing at the half -- as they have been in five of seven Tebow starts this season. They certainly should not need a huge fourth quarter to get a comeback victory. But if that ends up being the case, I'm sure Tebow fans will take it. I just hope that it's bittersweet and comes with a measure of disappointment. The Lions needed a furious second half and a last-second interception to defeat Cam Newton's Panthers. But we all know they didn't beat an inferior team, they just happened to win the game. They also, with five losses in the past seven games, are on the outside of the playoffs looking in, something those booing fans could sense coming.
|Tim Tebow fans are going to have increase their expectations for, and the pressure on, their quarterback.|
The switch from giddy disbelief to heightened awareness that subpar play could quickly kill a newfound postseason dream is the next step in Tebow's, the Broncos' and fans' development. Not on the field, not in a meeting room studying film but within the expectations.
At the beginning of this piece, I said a win's and win and that's the most important thing. And it still is. But it's a lot easier to win when no one expects it. For much of Tebow's tenure as Denver's QB this year, everyone expected him to be exposed and the team to lose. When the Broncos were slaughtered at home 45-10 by Detroit in his second start, many analysts predicted the beginning of the end of the Tebow experiment. The fans expected so little of him and the team that, when Titus Young scored the Lions' first touchdown, he was embraced by Broncos fans after he jumped into the stands.
Tebow hasn't lost since. Some are even wondering whether he's a legitimate MVP candidate. Of course he's not. He doesn't belong in that conversation until he starts winning when he's expected to. As long as he is expected to lose, he has the luxury of playing without pressure. Even in crunch time, he can make plays knowing that, if the team ultimately loses, no one would be surprised. Until that changes, he's just a good football story -- not MVP. And that can change only when his staunch defenders stop coddling him and start expecting more.
This is the week to start asking for more. For the first time this season, the Broncos are in the playoff picture. For the first time this season, they're atop their division. This is the first week Vegas has Tebow's squad picked as the favorite. Given how badly Chicago is hurt, that's not completely a surprise. What would be a surprise is if Denver needs another Tebow miracle to pull it off. He doesn't have to climb the QB ratings, but early offense and a lead would show a lot.
The Broncos are a surprisingly good team and shouldn't be in a dogfight against inferior opponents. And if they are, fans should let Tebow know they expect better.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
MORE COMMENTARY »