EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tim Tebow can be a dynamic role player, maybe one of the best in the NFL. He can be a New York Jet who helps his team with his athleticism and on-the-fly creativity, things the Jets keep in short supply.
All in all, he's a second-string quarterback with first-string drive. When measured against his predecessor, Mark Brunell, Tebow actually represents one of the best trades the Jets have made in some time.
It was always a good idea to hire him, to play to his strengths and, yes, to use him to rouse the competitor within Mark Sanchez, assuming he's in there somewhere. Tebow is an ideal backup in the event Sanchez goes down for a few weeks, the kind of middle reliever who can preserve a season by winning two out of three starts in a pinch.
But Tim Tebow absolutely, positively cannot be the starting long-term quarterback for this team. And if Tebow ends up as the starting long-term quarterback for this team, the men who brought him here, Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan, can kiss goodbye their own long-term prospects for employment.
So that means the Jets have to do what they can to prop up Sanchez, keep him healthy, ensure he's successful. If it's reasonable to believe he might someday develop into a championship-caliber quarterback, the same cannot be said of Tebow, who simply can't pass the ball in a pass-the-ball league.
Only here's the problem: The Jets aren't designed to protect or embolden Sanchez. Saturday night, against the same New York Giants who wrecked their 2011, the Jets couldn't block for Sanchez and couldn't make any plays for him. As lame as the first-string offense looked in its cameo against Cincinnati last week, it looked far worse in extended action against the Giants, who acted as if they were still enraged that the Jets covered up their Super Bowl logos inside MetLife Stadium on Christmas Eve.
This time around, the Jets didn't bother to cloak the Giants' logos, not even the new one from Super Bowl XLVI. They didn't bother to do much else, either, losing by a 26-3 count and breathing life into the notion that they won't score enough points in the regular season to even match last year's 8-8 record.
Sanchez completed 9 of 11 passes for 59 yards in the first half, but his biggest completion ended up in the hands of the Giants' Jayron Hosley, who returned the interception 77 yards for a score. Sanchez was sacked three times, courtesy of Wayne Hunter, the one and only. The quarterback was so limited -- Santonio Holmes, Jeremy Kerley, and Chaz Schilens were all out -- that it looked like he was running the offense in a phone booth.
"We have a lot more to fix than the Giants do, clearly," Rex Ryan would say later, and no, Tebow wasn't the man to fix them.
The world's most famous backup entered the world's most hyped preseason game with 11:52 left in the third quarter, and the crowd responded to him with a cheer. Tebow immediately started hitting short and mid-range passes against the Giants' reserves, and scrambled for a first down for the hell of it.
But on second and 20 from the Giants' 29, Tebow hardened the suspicion that he isn't accurate enough -- and likely will never be accurate enough -- to lead a team to the Super Bowl, a place the Jets haven't been since man stepped on the moon.
Tebow rolled right against the grain, pumped once, and discovered Stephen Hill all alone in the end zone. Instead of taking the time to plant and fire, time that was there to take, Tebow rushed a throw that fell hopelessly short of his wide-open target.
With a wave of his hand the quarterback motioned to the rookie receiver that he should've come back to the ball, and when asked later if this pass was a mere underthrow or if he expected Hill to help him out, Tebow answered, "Probably both."
It could be argued that Tebow showed up his receiver, a most un-Tebow-like thing to do, and as the second half unfolded the quarterback only grew more frustrated with his teammates and with himself. Tebow completed a lousy 5 of 14 attempts for 69 yards and was sacked four times, and not a single time with Wayne Hunter on the field.
It's clear the Jets would be better off at right tackle with Wayne Newton, or Holly Hunter, than with Wayne Hunter. So Sanchez was saddled with a handicap that his backup played without.
Tebow helped score three points on that first drive, and he went downhill on roller skates from there. His next four possessions were a blur of three-and-outs, a blur of wayward throws and direct Giants hits. Tebow finally secured another first down with just over two minutes to play, but by that time people were wondering why Ryan kept feeding him to the defending champs. It sure seemed like cruel and unusual punishment.
As did the hit Will Hill had already put on his former Florida Gators teammate. Hill blitzed, nobody picked him up (Joe McKnight took off up the middle instead), and Tebow emerged from the sack screaming and gesturing (presumably at McKnight) again in a most un-Tebow-like way.
At his locker, Tebow would speak of his frustration, of the need for "everyone to be on the same page." He did like the rhythm the Jets established on his opening drive, but after that, he said, "we had some communication errors."
Tebow did accept most of the blame for the Stephen Hill underthrow that cost the Jets what would've been their only touchdown, saying that he expected to see a lurking safety who never materialized and that "I should've just put it up higher for him."
But the perpetually happy one wasn't happy with his unit, this much was obvious. By night's end, it appeared Tebow had more fun as the Jets' personal punt protector than he did as the Jets' second-half quarterback.
"There's no reason to hit the panic button right now," the starter, Sanchez, maintained.
He's right. The time to panic will be the time in November when Wayne Hunter and the shortage of explosive playmakers conspire to send an overwhelmed Sanchez to the bench.
The Jets can't afford for that to happen. Tim Tebow can do a number of things to help them win games, but play the position of quarterback full-time isn't one of them.