Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos quarterback who has become a national phenomenon due to his unconventional production and outspoken religious faith. As AP reported:

Having won the Denver Broncos’ starting job and the AFC West title by default, Tebow heads into his first playoff game mired in the worst slump of his life.

“The three losses haven’t shaken my confidence,” Tebow said after the Broncos backed their way into the playoffs at 8-8.

The results and his language on the football field suggest otherwise,

After watching him pile up comeback after improbable comeback, opponents seem to have solved the unorthodox QB, hemming him in the pocket with disciplined defense and daring him to beat them with his erratic left arm.

The result: back-to-back poor passing performances with a half-dozen turnovers and the first three-game losing streak of his career.

After turning the ball over four times at Buffalo on Christmas Eve, Tebow looked tentative Sunday in losing 7-3 to Kansas City and Kyle Orton, whom he couldn’t beat out in camp but still supplanted after the Broncos benched and then released Orton earlier this season. Tebow held on to the ball, passing up wide open receivers or taking a sack. He completed just 6 of 22 passes for 60 yards and a career-worst 20.6 passer rating.

On Wednesday, Tebow said he has to be more aggressive and acknowledged “there’s a few opportunities I should have tried to force it in there, especially later in the game.”

John Elway, the former Broncos quarterback and vice president of football operations in Denver, has said Tebow needs to be less cautious and “pull the trigger” to get the passing game going. As Cindy Boren explained :

John Elway is getting the jump on his promise to share his quarterback knowledge with Tim Tebow in the offseason.

Tebow enters the Denver Broncos’ wild-card playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on a three-game losing streak in which his play as been tentative.

Elway’s advice? Pull the trigger.

“That's human nature, especially when you're young, to become more cautious,” Elway, Hall of Fame quarterback and the Broncos’ vice president of football operations, said (via the Denver Post). “He had a tough week before [the Chiefs regular-season finale] against Buffalo. The key thing ... is to go out, put everything behind him, go through his progressions and pull the trigger.

“When you get into these playoff situations, he's a good enough athlete, you know what, to pull the trigger. He's obviously upset with last week. He's already got an edge to him, so he's ready to go. I like seeing the edge. Oh, yeah. I actually love it. I have full confidence he'll bounce back and have a good week.”

Some analysts see Tebow’s poor performances in the past few weeks as a sign that NFL defenses have decoded the Broncos offensive scheme. As the Associated Press wrote:

It was fun in a way the NFL often isn’t, a midseason diversion that sent fans into a frenzy in Denver and prompted people around the country to drop to a knee. Even if you didn’t believe in Tim Tebow, it was hard to take your eyes off him as he found ways to win despite passes that fluttered about like balloons on a windy day.

That it wasn’t pretty hardly mattered. Somehow, some way, Tebow got the Denver Broncos an invitation to the playoffs for the first time in six years — something that seemed unimaginable after the team sputtered to a 1-4 start.

Now he’s got to do something even more unimaginable. Find a way to regroup after finishing the season in a funk and beat the banged-up but still intimidating Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in Denver.

Do it, and the cult of Tebow grows. Kids will be Tebowing at recess, while their fathers practice the art in their offices.

Fall short, and maybe it’s time to start facing reality.

Tebow is not just the worst quarterback in the playoffs, leader of a team that scored the least points of any team in the postseason. He may be the worst quarterback in the NFL.

OK, maybe not worse than Curtis Painter, who had the unfortunate task of filling in for Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. And it’s true that Blaine Gabbert was atrocious this year in Jacksonville.

But you get the picture. If not, the NFL Network is likely running a replay of the New Year’s Day debacle in Denver when the Broncos could manage only three points against Kansas City.

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