By the time the Denver-Pittsburgh game rolled around, I was expecting an early blowout and a chance to clear some programming off my DVR. I should have known never to count out the most controversial NFL quarterback since Joe Namath.
Tim Tebow played the best game of his short but never dull career and capped it off with a remarkable touchdown throw on the first play of overtime.
(I’d like to interrupt this column to mock at least three presidential candidates who thought the national college championship game was being played Saturday night during yet another of their debates, but I can’t. Scheduling the championship game after the NFL playoffs have started is a huge mistake on the part of the Bowl Championship Series, whose motto might as well be “Making huge mistakes since 1998.” The playoffs would have overshadowed the championship game in any case; then along came Tebow. Is anyone paying attention today, besides alums of both schools and ESPN?)
There will be grousing about the Broncos hosting a playoff game with an 8-8 record when Pittsburgh was 12-4. Last year, the Seattle Seahawks threatened the integrity of the NFL playoffs. Remember? They “captured” the NFC West crown with a less-than-impressive 7-9 record and — gasp! — won the right to host a playoff game. The New Orleans Saints, the defending Super Bowl champions, came calling. What was supposed to be a bloodbath turned into a 41-36 Seattle victory that included one of the highlight reel runs in recent memory by Marshawn Lynch.
This year the Broncos backed into the playoffs so dramatically they actually made a loud beeping sound. They lost their final three games and won the AFC West only because the Raiders couldn’t beat the Chargers in their finale.
(Are both instances unfair? Well, they are products of the current system: win a division, host a playoff game. If you want home-field advantage, win your division — or change the system. The Rooneys could do it just that — or they could sic The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Roger Goodell. She’s family, after all.)
Listen, I don’t care if Tebow takes a knee, or points to the sky, or does the downward facing dog. I don’t care if he thanks the Lord during interviews. I don’t care if he wears those strange vests after the game.
If he can find a way to play consistently, to make Sunday’s performance a typical Tebow performance, then he can silence the critics who say he’s not an NFL quarterback and that he’ll never be an NFL quarterback and that this season’s successes have been flukes and this season’s failures have been the real thing. For a long time I looked on, interested but detached, to see what would happen. Sunday’s performance made me care.
John Elway seems able to tolerate Tebow now. (As a Chiefs fan, I love to see Elway unhappy, even in retirement). He told him to “pull the trigger” against the Steelers, and that was surprisingly effective advice. Tebow — the kid who can’t throw — completed some of the longest passes given up against the Steelers this season. The play call in overtime was brilliant: The Steelers were beaten before they knew what happened, and Tebow has another chance at the mighty Patriots, who humiliated the Broncos last month.
He’s a media nightmare because he doesn’t really answer questions, but he deflects them by praising his teammates, the game plan, the fans. That’s why his teammates, fans and finally even his coaches love him. He took a victory lap around the stadium Sunday evening; who doesn’t like a victory lap?
Which Tebow will show up Saturday night against New England? Whichever one it is, it should be entertaining. And that’s all I ask of these playoffs.
Crediting John 3:16, John Elway and John Fox
The real Tebow: ‘Everything you see is true’
Broncos at Patriots
When Tim met Tom:
Brady on Tebow
Tebow and Roethlisberger: