Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow gives fuel to both doubters and supporters

MIAMI — The thing you have to understand about miracles is this.

Before they can happen, you need a little pestilence to occur. A few boils, maybe. Some locusts. Maybe a leper or two.

Then, and only then, can heaven get involved.

And so it was that Tim Tebow struggled through a sorrowful Sunday on his way to a divine comeback. For 55 minutes, he was awful, as bad as those jeering him in the stands had suspected. Then, for the final five minutes, he was a revelation, leading his team from 15 points behind to an improbable victory.

Meanwhile, the NFL's loudest debate rages on.

Is Tebow as out of place as he looked for most of the game?

Is he the clutch, competitive soul who rises to the occasion in time to save the day?

Or, perhaps, is he a bit of both?

No matter what you feel about Tebow, you could find plenty of evidence on Sunday. He was terrible, and he was terrific. He was wretched, and he was wonderful. He was the reason the Dolphins looked as if they were finally going to win a game, and he was the reason Broncos snatched it away.

In the end, however, you had to admit this about Tebow. There is something to the kid that goes beyond pretty spirals and staggering statistics. There is an energy to him, a spark, a rare collection of intangibles.

Will it be enough for him to maintain success? Today, that's the point where the argument resumes.

"I don't think the criticism will ever stop," Tebow said. "I kind of hope it doesn't, because it fuels me, and it fuels us."

The truth of it is that it is hard to blame the fans for struggling to figure out just who Tebow is. The Broncos coaching staff itself doesn't seem to know. On one hand, the Broncos finally started Tebow, but for most of the day, they tried to play around him. Tebow threw only three passes in the first quarter, only two in the second, only three in the third. For whatever reason, Tebow seemed to make the Broncos a lot more nervous than he did the Dolphins.

It wasn't as if Tebow was making a strong argument to throw it more. He looked awkward. He held the ball too long. He threw too short, and he threw too long, and he took too many sacks. There was a point in the fourth quarter where he had completed only 4 of 14 passes for only 13 yards, less than a yard per attempt.

"I have to play a lot better," Tebow said. "There were several drives early where I thought we had momentum, and then I would overthrow somebody or take a sack and we wouldn't be able to convert on third down."

This was the Tebow who had made so many headlines the past week, the Tebow who had personally lifted the blackout from this game. From the time it was announced that Tebow would start, the Dolphins sold 10,000 tickets.

The final five minutes are why.

As quick as an epiphany, Tebow took over the game. His best running back, Willis McGahee, was out of the game with a fractured hand. His best receiver, Brandon Lloyd, was traded to the Rams last week. The Dolphins led by 15, and Denver hadn't gotten close enough to the end zone to make out the lettering.

Just like that, Tebow was a player. He hit 4 of 5 passes for 71 yards in an 80-yard touchdown drive. After Denver recovered an onside kick, he hit 4 of 8 to lead a 56-yard drive. In all, Tebow hit 8 of 13 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a tying two-point conversion.

"When it gets to crunch time, he trusts what he sees," said teammate Brian Dawkins, a safety. "Early in the game, he was maybe second-guessing things. At the end of the day, he's a guy who is going to continue to fight, continue to scrap and use his arm, his legs, whatever to get the job done."

Another phrase? "Competitive greatness," is the one John Fox mentioned to describe athletes to succeed at the biggest moments. Sunday, that seemed to fit Tebow.

Does that mean that Tebow has won his coaches over? Of course not. That would be too easy.

For instance, the Broncos had two possessions in overtime. Tebow didn't throw a pass. On their last play, Fox decided he would rather take his chances on a 52-yard field goal than let Tebow pass the ball to get it closer. If Matt Prater had not made it, you can guess what today's conversations would be like in Denver.

Still, Tebow won. And by proxy, his supporters won. Tebow showed that he was good enough to lead his team back against a winless Dolphins team. Can he do it enough times? Can he do it against better teams? Can he become a successful quarterback?

We'll see.

From the sound of it, we'll argue about it, too.

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow gives fuel to both doubters and supporters 10/23/11 [Last modified: Sunday, October 23, 2011 11:54pm]

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