Commentary

Tebow never had a shot in New York

Originally Published: December 21, 2012
By Skip Bayless | ESPN.com

Tim Tebow AP Photo/Mel EvansTim Tebow's career with the New York Jets started impressively, with much fanfare and a March news conference that seemed to suggest big plans for a big impact player.

Did Ringmaster Rex ever pull one over on us.

Did he ever sell a bill of goods to a yes, sir/no, sir sucker named Tim Tebow and to the media and fans who bought into Rex Ryan's bombastic baloney.

Hurry, hurry, step right up and see Tim Tebow & half man, half wildcat & come to New York and revolutionize the way the Jets play offense!

In the end Tim Tebow's lost season appears to have been little more than a publicity stunt designed to steal media attention away from the defending champion New York Giants and feed it to the biggest coaching ego in sports -- Rex's. Did it ever work. While the Giants toiled in relative camp obscurity, the satellite trucks surrounded Rex's no-ring circus. Rex delighted in dropping bombshell hints about secret Tebow packages. Would Tebow and Mark Sanchez alternate series, or even starts? Would Rex sometimes play them together?

You won, Rex. You punk'd us.

And you just might have lost your job.

It's difficult to know who deserves the most blame for acquiring Tebow: GM Mike Tannenbaum, owner Woody Johnson or Rex. But that tabloid-rocking move wrecked the Jets' season because it soon shattered what was left of Sanchez's glass psyche. The last thing poor Sanchez needed after an 8-8 season in which he threw 18 interceptions and lost eight fumbles was Tebowmania looming on the sideline. After Sanchez hit bottom Monday night at Tennessee with four interceptions and a fate-sealing fumble, Rex announced he was benching Sanchez in favor of & Greg McElroy, the former seventh-round pick.

Not Tebow, the former first-round pick, for whom the Jets gave Denver a fourth and a sixth.

McElroy.

No way Rex wanted to give Tebow two full-game chances at season's end to make him look like a fool for not playing Tebow much earlier.

It was shameful the way Ryan and very offensive coordinator Tony Sparano used and misused Tebow. But the joke ultimately was on them. The Jets' season kept BEGGING for Tebow to save it, just like he turned around last year's Broncos from 1-4 to division champs who beat Pittsburgh and its No. 1-ranked defense in a playoff game. Yet by the week Ryan grew more stubbornly proud, began to resent the media monster he'd created by hyping Tebow and dug in with HIS quarterback, the one he called "The Sanchise." He kept treating Tebow like a publicity stunt instead of giving him a chance to save the job Rex might lose.

Playoff-missing justice finally prevailed.

In the offseason, Tebow did exactly what his new coach asked, gaining more than 10 pounds so he could ramrod Rex's "ground and pound" rushing attack. Ever the coach's dream, Tebow embraced the role of punt protector. Yet he made these sacrifices because Rex, while recruiting Tebow, led him to believe he would get a fair and square shot at beating out Sanchez.

Sorry, kid. It soon became clear Rex was merely placating the media and fans by running in Tebow for the often inexplicably random play at quarterback & which often served only to discombobulate Sanchez. Worse, Rex/Sparano rarely let Tebow do what he does best: run the college spread option, which allows him to "ride and decide" with the running back next to him in the shotgun. Give it, fake it, keep it, step back and throw it to a wide-open receiver as the safeties cheat up to stop the run. That attack quickly turned Denver into the NFL's No. 1 running team last year and helped it control the ball and clock and protect what, in the end, was the NFL's 26th-ranked scoring defense.

Yet it almost seemed like Rex didn't want Tebow to do anything that might ignite the team and fans and a media frenzy. It almost felt like Rex/Sparano were sabotaging or at least handicapping Tebow by merely snapping it to him in an empty backfield -- no running back to fake to -- and having him bulldoze straight ahead into the teeth of the defense for a couple of yards. The one downfield pass I can remember Tebow getting to throw -- without the benefit of a safety-freezing fake -- came in the fifth game, on Monday night at home against Houston, down 7-0 mid-first quarter.

In came Tebow for no apparent reason and -- what?! -- took the shotgun snap, stepped back and let fly a sweet deep ball. As anyone who watched Tebow's performance against Pittsburgh in last year's playoffs can attest, his best passes are deeper passes. Rex even raved during last spring's minicamp about what an underrated deep thrower Tebow is. In the second quarter of that playoff game in Denver, Tebow completed four passes of 20 or more yards. A quarterback who "can't throw" somehow wound up last season with 14 TD passes to only six interceptions.

But that one downfield pass this season was aimed at a newly signed receiver named Jason Hill, who would last only four games with the Jets. The pass appeared to go right through his hands and bounce off his face mask incomplete. That was the passing highlight for a Tim Tebow who last season, in the final five minutes of games, led all quarterbacks in QBR. Brady, Brees, Rodgers -- led 'em all late in games in the most telling quarterback stat.

Heading into that Houston game, the Jets had fallen to 2-2 thanks to the 34-0 visit the 49ers had just paid them. They would've been 1-3 if Miami kicker Dan Carpenter hadn't missed a 47-yarder in the fourth quarter and a 48-yarder to win in overtime. If Rex had given Tebow the shot he deserved on that Monday night, the Jets would've won that game and made the playoffs, even without their best defensive player, Darrelle Revis, and their best receiver, Santonio Holmes.

That's just what Tebow does. Rex watched it happen right under his upturned nose in Denver as Tebow's offense went 95 late-game yards in 12 plays to beat a defense WITH Revis. So did Sparano, as Miami's head coach, when Tebow, in his first make-or-break start for the Broncos, led them from behind by throwing two touchdown passes and running for a two-point conversion in the final 2:44. Heck, Tebow even managed to make big clutch plays this season as the lowly punt protector. Three times he called for and converted fake punts, one by pass and two by runs.

Yet is it possible that Rex/Sparano fell into the same camp trap that new coach John Fox and new GM John Elway did the preseason before in Denver? They had inherited Tebow from the fired coach, Josh McDaniels, who had traded up to take him with the 25th overall pick. They were obviously stunned to find what those who knew Tebow's game knew all too well: He can be a hit-and-miss practice player without the sharpest football mind. Denver starter Kyle Orton was shaming Tebow in no-rush camp passing drills, just as Sanchez did last August. Reportedly, the new Broncos regime demoted Tebow to fourth string.

But if you give him a chance in real games ...

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Elsa/Getty ImagesThis is what the New York Jets' sideline will look like for the last two games of the 2012 season.
In November, when several Jets dismissed Tebow, mostly anonymously, as a "terrible" quarterback, Hall of Fame-bound Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey told USA Today: "You can't assume what you see in practice is what you're going to see in games & You don't know what Tebow's got till he's in a game. But (the Jets) don't want to believe it. They think (last year) was a fluke."

In one of his three starts at the end of his rookie year, Tebow led a miraculous comeback against Houston. But Fox/Elway didn't want to believe it. Tebow pulled off six late-game comebacks last season, but Rex/Sparano didn't want to believe it.

Tebow is a momentum playmaker who just keeps coming at you. He's obviously no Pro Bowl passer. But he'll eventually find a way to win a lot of games, which is more than you can say for a lot of QBs.

Then again, Tebow couldn't make much happen this season playing a couple of plays here and there. His first full series came on Monday night. The biggest reason Rex got away with this for 14 games? Tebow was taught to turn the other cheek, to do what his coach says without complaint, to take his role-model role very seriously. Rex knew Tebow wouldn't publicly call him on the way he had misled and misused a quarterback who won a playoff game last season. Rex took advantage of Tebow's basic goodness.

Finally, the other day Tebow told the media he was "a little disappointed" by the way the season has gone for him. For Tebow, that was a diatribe.

Reportedly, the Jets will cut him. By many accounts, he'll have a tough time landing another job after Rex passed him over for McElroy. But remember, Rex and Fox are defensive coaches without much feel for quarterback play. Somewhere, an offensive mind with an offensively challenged team -- with a loser -- will look at Tebow's body of work in Denver and think, "Hmmm."

Could Tebow have turned around this year's Jaguars in his hometown of Jacksonville? Yes. The Raiders, Chiefs or Bills? Yes. Could he ultimately produce more wins than Jake Locker in Tennessee or even Christian Ponder in Minnesota? I say yes.

Can it be tough on a locker room to live with the most polarizing figure in sports -- with the sheer magnitude of Tebowmania? Maybe. But can he re-energize an entire fandom? You'd better believe it.

The ultimate question a coach or GM of a struggling franchise must ask himself: Do we want to WIN?

Rex thought he could use Tebow for Tebowmania, then win without him. In the end, the coach who could've used Tebow most, at quarterback, was Rex Ryan.

You punk'd yourself, Rex.

Skip Bayless

First Take host
Skip Bayless joined ESPN after a career as a sports columnist that includes stops in Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and San Jose. He can be seen Monday through Friday on First Take.