Tim Tebow is history in the making
His six starts in 2011 have not only been captivating, they've been historic
Each Sunday night for the past three seasons, Chris Berman and I have made our way from the office building where ESPN analysts and producers watch Sunday's NFL games to the office building that houses the postgame show. We walk past the large screening room in which 20-something-year-old production assistants assemble highlights for upcoming "SportsCenter" shows.
In the 50 or so walks past that room at about 7 p.m. ET, it's hard to remember a single time in which the room was not full of people immersed in their jobs, working furiously.
Yet Sunday night, for the first time we could remember, there were workers standing in front of the TVs, jumping up and down, yelling.
Berman looked at me. I looked at him. And in unison, we said, "Tebow."
Let's just say they weren't cheering for Tyler Palko. Screening rooms, sports bars and living rooms are now filled with people ready to salute or question Tim Tebow. He is a phenomenon. Since taking over as the Broncos' starting quarterback, he has given both his critics and his supporters the evidence they need.
What's undeniable is that in each game he has started and won, he has accomplished historic quarterback feats.
• When Denver won at San Diego in Week 12, Tebow had 22 rushing attempts, the most by a quarterback in any game since the merger in 1970.
• When Denver beat the Jets in Week 11, Tebow's 20-yard touchdown run with 58 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter became the longest game-winning touchdown run by a quarterback in the final minute of the fourth quarter in NFL history.
• When Denver won at Kansas City in Week 10, Tebow became the first quarterback with more rushes than passes in a game since Joe Ferguson did it for Buffalo in 1974.
• When Denver won at Oakland in Week 9, Tebow rushed for 117 yards and joined Norris Weese as the only Broncos quarterbacks to rush for 100 yards in a game.
• And when Denver won at Miami in Week 7, Tebow helped the Broncos become the first team in NFL history to win a game when it trailed by 15-plus points with three minutes remaining.
Tebow is entertaining, captivating, polarizing. But nearly every week, he's also history.
On to this week's 10 Spot:
1. The Price for Cutler: Now that the Broncos have waived Kyle Orton, who was a central piece in a blockbuster trade with the Bears, the exact price that Chicago surrendered for former Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler can be accurately weighed. It was, in two words -- a bargain.
For Cutler, the Broncos got:
• A 2009 first-round pick that Denver used on defensive end Robert Ayers.
• A 2010 first-round pick Denver traded to Seattle for a 2009 second-round pick used on cornerback Alphonso Smith.
Now, Orton is in Kansas City, and Ayers is the only player left on Denver's roster that the team got in return for Cutler. That's it. Every other player brought to the Broncos from that trade has been released.
And if that weren't bad enough, the 2009 third-round pick from Chicago that Denver wound up trading to Pittsburgh was used on none other than wide receiver Mike Wallace.
So Chicago got Cutler, Pittsburgh got Wallace, and Denver got Ayers. Literally.
Moral of the story: In the offseason after Cutler was selected to his first Pro Bowl, no price was too high to pay for a proven Pro Bowl quarterback.
2. Great defenders: For all the Tebow talk, there needs to be some -- maybe a lot -- of talk about Denver's defense. A unit that ranked dead last in the NFL in total defense last season -- 31st in the NFL in run defense and 25th in the league in pass defense -- has been transformed into one of the league's top units. The biggest difference-makers have been pass-rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, each of whom has recorded at least a half-sack in every game during Denver's current four-game winning streak.
But Neil Hornsby of profootballfocus.com did a bit more digging into Miller's numbers and how they compared with the rest of the NFL and found numbers that shed light on why Denver's linebacker is the leading candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Miller's 10.5 sacks rank third in the league to DeMarcus Ware's 14. Miller has an NFL-high 18 quarterback hits. He has 26 quarterback hurries and, maybe as impressive as any stat, he has not missed a single tackle all season. The numbers prove that Miller not only should win the Defensive Rookie of the Year, but also is a legitimate candidate -- maybe even the leading contender -- for the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year ahead of Patrick Willis, Darrelle Revis or any other defensive player. No one has had a bigger impact than Miller.
Each player is in the last year of his contract and each is costing himself opportunities, if not dollars.
Any team interested in signing Johnson must factor in how a player trying to help his team stay alive in the playoff chase had time to think of tasteless touchdown celebrations that mocked his opponent on Sunday.
ESPN analyst Merrill Hoge suggested that the Bills should cut Johnson. Immediately.
As for Jackson, any team interested in signing him must weigh how he failed to show up when the Eagles needed him most -- and then, when he did, he tossed a football straight at Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
"Watching D.Jack of eagles his play is horrible he dropped 2 tds and several other catches, plus he's chicken and wants no part of contact," CBS analyst and Hall-of-Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe tweeted this week from his account @shannonsharpe.
Johnson and Jackson are two of the league's top young receivers, talented and entertaining. Johnson has been a No. 1 receiver on one of the league's most imaginative offenses, often outshining the NFL's No. 1 cornerback, Darrelle Revis, on Sunday. Jackson has been a special-teams magician, a big-play king and a Giants killer.
But at times, each has acted like a dope. And ultimately, teams don't want to be duped.
When teams are deciding where to allocate their free-agent dollars this offseason, they are going to be careful about investing big bonuses in players prone to big mistakes.
There are some compelling receivers whose contracts are set to expire after this season. The group of prospective free agents includes Wes Welker, Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Brandon Lloyd, Robert Meachem and Philadelphia's Steve Smith -- not to mention the old reliable receivers, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss, who are still out there. If teams are uncomfortable with what they've seen this season from Johnson or Jackson, they certainly have other options.
And when someone is interviewing for a new job, as Johnson and Jackson are doing each week, it's not enough to make all the right moves. It's about doing the right things. It's about being professional.
Just as Johnson and Jackson try to score each week, NFL front offices aim to do the same. They have a large body of evidence -- a season's worth of unofficial interviews -- to decide what the proper investments should be.
In their eight seasons under head coach Tom Coughlin, the New York Giants been fast out of the blocks but slow to the finish.
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"He's the best first-round draft pick I've ever been around," Lewis said. "He continues to amaze me, every day."
Lewis' statement is eye-opening on one level. But it is even more impressive when considering that Lewis was an assistant coach with the Ravens when Baltimore drafted offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis. Marvin Lewis has seen two of the greatest players in NFL history as rookies. And he believes Green has been even more impressive.
5. Who is T.J. Yates? Here's one of the most intriguing facts of the season: The starting quarterback for the AFC's top-seeded team, the Houston Texans, is a player who few football fans know -- T.J. Yates. It's hard to imagine how Yates, a rookie fifth-round pick from North Carolina, can take the Texans where they want to go. But remember this: First and foremost, the Texans strongly believe in Yates. Also, there were other teams aside from the Texans that coveted Yates during the draft. . There are even people around the league who suspect that the Texans might be better off with Yates at quarterback rather than with Matt Leinart, though that still must be proved. (Leinart, now injured, was playing because starter Matt Schaub is injured.) It's the reason that, even while the Texans were auditioning quarterbacks this week, they remained convinced that Yates is the right quarterback at this time. Houston opted to sign Jake Delhomme, the perfect quarterback to back up Yates. Delhomme is an A-plus person and mentor, and maybe everyone should have seen this coming. Delhomme's agent, Rick Smith, negotiated his client's contract with Texans general manager Rick Smith. Two Rick Smiths made this one deal happen.
7. Chargers changes? When the news surfaced just before Thanksgiving, it didn't get a lot of attention. But it should have. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported last week that the Chargers could be parting ways with head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith after this season, and it was the ultimate sign of how much the franchise has deteriorated this season and how different it could be for the Chargers next season. Now, it appears to be too late for the Chargers to pull off another of their escape acts to catch the Raiders and Broncos in the AFC West and save their season. And because of that, it will be difficult for Turner to save his job. Turner's contract runs through 2013, but the Chargers would be banking on another team hiring him as its offensive coordinator, which he is eminently qualified to do, so they would be off the hook for his remaining salary. But Chargers fans want changes. Ownership knows it needs to listen to its fan base and will have a tough time resisting calls it has ignored in the past.
8. The one that got away: One of the Chargers' more baffling moves this season was cutting wide receiver Laurent Robinson, who went on to sign with the Cowboys. Dallas also cut Robinson. But after the latest spate of injuries to the receiver position, the Cowboys had the good fortune of re-signing him one week later. Since then, Robinson has been a savior. Twice in the past three weeks -- the first time against Buffalo, the next time on Thanksgiving night against the Dolphins -- Robinson has caught two touchdown passes. Robinson is the latest proof that sometimes players just need a chance to shine.
9. Best's concussion issues: In conversations with NFL front offices during the spring of 2010, one thing that stood out was how some teams took Cal running back Jahvid Best off their draft boards because of fears about his concussion history. The Lions weren't as concerned then -- they traded up into the first round to nab him -- but they have to be now. Another concussion has ended Best's season, and he has spent the past six weeks visiting with neurologists and specialists. From this point on, it is hard to imagine the Lions' being able to count on him, given his disconcerting concussion history. Detroit has to be sure Best will be OK before he plays again -- if he plays again. But the Lions also know they're not the same team without him. The Lions also have other issues with other players they're still counting on this season. Playing without defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (two-game suspension) is one thing. But playing with an unhealthy quarterback is proving to be quite another. Since Matthew Stafford broke the index finger on his right hand three games ago, neither he nor the Lions have been the same. In his last three games, Stafford has thrown nine interceptions -- after throwing only four during the first eight games of the season. Stafford will not admit it now, but he has to feel the pain in his finger and hand each time he takes a snap, then each time a pass comes out of his hand, with his index finger being the last digit to touch it. Detroit still can make a playoff push starting Sunday at New Orleans. But Stafford's broken finger is hurting the Lions' chances.
Earlier this season against Jacksonville, Polamalu suffered concussion-like symptoms and did so again Sunday night against Kansas City. Considering all the concussions he has suffered in the NFL, there is reason to be more concerned than ever about his future. When he plays next is uncertain, though the Steelers said this week that Polamalu is fine. Not to sound like an alarmist, but there certainly is enough reason for anyone who cares about the safety of players to be alarmed.
The Schef's specialties
• Game of the week: Packers at Giants. Back in 1998, the then-unbeaten Broncos stepped into the same spot to play the same team and got upset by the Giants and quarterback Kent Graham.
• Player of the week: Ravens running back Ray Rice. A perfect week to get back to using Rice once again.
• Upset of the week: Giants over Packers. Green Bay has won 17 in a row, New York has lost three in a row, and the Giants are too good to go too long without playing the brand of football they did the first half of the season.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.