Three hours from tonight's kick-off and the excitement is palpable in Denver. Cheerleaders on the field, their cowboy hats blowing off their heads as they polish their routines in front of an empty stadium. And outside the stadium, there he is, the man of the hour, Tim Tebow. He is walking through the tunnel, wearing a casual grey hoodie and listening to his iPhone as an NFL Network camera rolls.
Whether coach John Fox, who said Tebow would be "screwed" in a conventional offense on Tuesday (he later backtracked and made nice), likes it or not, this is his guy.
Fox's Broncos have completely gutted their offense and are now sporting a collegiate-looking Option and/ or triple option, designed to let Tebow do what he does best (run like a horse), and to avoid what he doesn't do so well (throw the ball). Now, at 4-5 (3-1 under Tebow), the Broncos will play their biggest game of the year against the New York Jets tonight. For the Jets it's pretty big too. It may not be must win, but it's definitely MUST NOT LOSE.
At first glance, this Jets-Broncos match-up wasn't exactly mouth watering. But now that Tebowmania has sparked the imagination of football fans everywhere, this is must-see TV.
It has been a remarkable turn of events in Denver from the moment Tebow took over for Kyle Orton in week 7. It appears that everything bad that has been said about Tebow might true (specifically that he'll never be a conventional gun-slinging NFL quarterback), but it also appears that everything good that has been said about him is true as well (that he's an incredible leader and runner).
Tebow became the first quarterback with more rushes than passes in a game that he threw all the passes in a game since 1974 when he threw 8 passes and ran 9 times in a win against Kansas City last week. And with Tebow at the helm, the Broncos have averaged more than 200 yards per game in the last five weeks, leading the NFL during that span.
With the triple option offense in full effect (this is not a package, Denver is fully committed), the Broncos will look to play strong D, get an early lead, and run, run, run against the Jets.
Broncos coach John Fox deserves a lot of credit for making the necessary adjustments and for putting Tebow in a position to flourish. Tebow through 39 times in a head-scratching loss against Detroit in week 8, then 22 in a week 9 win vs. Oakland, and 8 last week vs. the Chiefs. All the while the wrinkles have been added, and Denver has rapidly transformed into an offense that looks more like the Tebow-led Florida Gators than it does an NFL team. The fact that Fox has abandoned all hopes of running a conventional offense through Tebow shows that he is a forward thinker that is unafraid to fail. Suddenly, he finds himself in the middle of a playoff hunt, with an offensive philosophy that many, including Kurt Warner, agree is not sustainable.
"I don't think it's going to work for a career," said Warner, "but the question is, is it the right time to do this? You don't have a lot of team to really develop him (Tebow) in mid-season, you didn't have that off-season, so maybe now's the time to have him go out there and be successful, have the team buy into who this guy is, and then you spend your off-season saying 'okay, now we've got to make this guy into a quarterback that can play both ways -- give us a dimension in the running game, but also be able to win games with passing.'"
And that is precisely why the Broncos are such a fun team to watch right now. Just like the Dolphins were when they unleashed the wildcat offense and went 11-5 in 2008, the Broncos are creating a lot of buzz. With Tebow, who is a polarizing personality for so many reasons, the excitement is now at a fever pitch.
Can Tebow lead his Broncos to another victory against a legitimate playoff-contending Jets squad? Is the triple option sustainable at the NFL level?
Tebow might not be the best at throwing the football, but man can he run. And the magic that coaches have always looked for on the field, that special intangible, mixed with belief and positivity, he's got that too.
"He's just such a great kid," said Warner, "he's such a positive kid. I think we all know the limitations. We all know the things that he's struggled with up to this point, but every question I asked him, everything we talked about, it was always positive."