Tim Tebow may be biggest story of the NFL season, even as Rodgers closes on records

December 15, 2011

Tim Tebow and the surging Denver Broncos are the biggest story in the NFL this season, as his leadership style, fourth quarter heroics and unabashed religiosity feed a national media frenzy. As Fred Bowen reported:

Have you heard about Tim Tebow? The Denver Broncos quarterback is the biggest story in the National Football League this season. But why all the fuss about a second-year passer who completes fewer than half of his throws?

First, Tebow is winning. The Broncos started this season 1-4 (one win, four losses) with Kyle Orton as quarterback. Since Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2007, took over, the Broncos have won seven of eight games.

Denver is winning in amazing ways. The Broncos have come from behind in five of the seven wins, including three they pulled out in overtime.

Tebow has been terrific leading his team in the last minutes of games, throwing and running for touchdowns. But it hasn’t been all Tebow. The Denver defense has surrendered 15 or fewer points in five of the last eight games. That’s great. After all, even Tebow can’t lead a comeback if his team falls too far behind.

The Denver place kicker, Matt Prater, has hit some clutch field goals. In Sunday’s 13-10 overtime win against the Chicago Bears, Prater booted a 59-yarder to tie the game and a 51-yarder to win it.

Second, Tebow is different. Although the 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound lefty is a tremendous athlete, many experts didn’t think he would be a good quarterback because he doesn’t throw the ball with the accuracy of most NFL quarterbacks. Tebow is no Tom Brady. He might throw one pass perfectly, but the next could be way off the mark.

But he does two things very well. He runs like a halfback. Tebow has gained 517 yards on the ground. He also protects the ball: Tebow has thrown only two interceptions in almost 200 passes.

While less heralded, another religious offensive player who has electrified his team this season, although with fewer wins is Roy Helu, the rookie running back for the Washington Redskins. As AP explained :

Like Tim Tebow, Roy Helu has become the most exciting offensive player on his team.

And like Tebow, the Washington Redskins running back isn’t shy about sharing his Christian faith, interspersing his answers to reporters’ questions with phrases like: “I’ve been praying to be a better steward and a better representation of Jesus on the field.”

Helu also realizes that some can be turned off by such talk, while others find it inspiring. Just as Tebow has become a polarizing figure during an amazing run with the Denver Broncos over the last few weeks, Helu is gaining more attention now that he’s become the first Redskins rookie in franchise history to rush for 100 yards in three straight games.

That creates a challenge: how to sound genuine — and not sanctimonious.

“I’m being cautious of that,” the fourth-round pick from Nebraska said. “My prayer’s actually been that just keeping in a close relationship with God through prayer ... and also that he’s going to lead me, like in opportunities like this, to share — and that it won’t come off as fake or anything but authentic.

“Once I became a Christian I just have this ambition to share, kind of like what you see with Tebow. But obviously he’s on a great scale right now.”

As he gets more comfortable with the media in his first NFL season, Helu’s answers are becoming more about football and less about faith. He said he was especially conscious about his choice of words after a victory over the Seattle Seahawks three weeks ago, lest anyone think he was being thankful to God just because the Redskins had won.

While much of the attention in the NFL is being given to Tebow and the Broncos, a quartet of elite quarterbacks led by Aaron Rodgers are closing in on the single season passing record held by Dan Marino. As AP reported:

Dan Marino long ago moved to the comfort of the broadcast booth. His passing record of 5,084 yards, set in 1984, has withstood strong-armed challenges for more than a quarter-century.

It looks as if that record is about to fall, and not at the hands of one prolific quarterback but as many as four.

Drew Brees, who came closest to it in 2009, falling 15 yards short, leads the chase at 4,368 yards, followed by Tom Brady with 4,273 and Aaron Rodgers with 4,125. Imagine how Eli Manning feels having 4,105, yet being fourth in this lineup.

Only Marino and Brees have reached 5,000 yards passing in a season, yet all four of these players figure to get there if they remain in the lineup. There’s always the chance the Packers will rest Rodgers once they have clinched home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs, which could come with a win this weekend at Kansas City. Then again, they do have that undefeated thing going, so maybe he won’t be seeing the sideline all that much.

Brady’s Patriots and Brees’ Saints are in a different situation. Both their teams could need to win the rest of the way to reach as advantageous a postseason position as possible. Neither has clinched its division, although New Orleans owns at least a wild-card spot in the NFC, and one more victory gives New England the AFC East.

Manning, barring injury, won’t be sitting out anything with the Giants needing to sweep their final three games to assure making the playoffs.

Manning is playing with an ease and confidence usually associated with, well, Brady and Brees, recently with Rodgers, and with that guy in Indianapolis named Peyton. Plus, he might need to get to 5,000 yards to keep the Giants in the championship mix.

“I don’t ever feel pressure when I’m playing football,” Manning said. “I know my assignments, I’m reading the defense, I know my plays and I try to make plays and try to get the ball into my receivers’ hands and let them do their job. It’s exciting, it’s fun. I’m competitive and I’m out there doing what I can to get a win.”

So, gentlemen, let ‘er rip.

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