Folks are upset. Fans are upset that the Denver Broncos lost their home opener for the first time in more than 10 years. Even with the abysmal Bronco record of 4-12 last season, the team was at least able to win the home opener against the Seattle Seahawks. This year, however, it was not meant to be. The Broncos started their year of recovery the way they ended their year of frustration: losing. New coach Fox attempted to salve over the wound by reminding fans they were just like half of the NFL teams with a record of 0-1.
The fans were so upset—especially after the ball slipped from Kyle Orton’s hands deep in Oakland territory—they started chanting, “Tim Tebow! Tim Tebow.” Such a response from the Tebow loyalists drew out the sportswriters’ ire. SB Nation writer Brian Floyd was more than a little flummoxed by the fans calling for the ouster of Kyle Orton. According to Floyd, the Broncos have a problem—a ridiculous problem—on their hands, as a good portion of their fan base keeps clamoring for Tebow to play.
While Tebow’s stats truly are not better than Kyle Orton’s, the truth is, they aren’t that much worse. Kyle Orton owns a lifetime QB Rating around 85, while Tebow’s early struggles have thus far earned him a QB score of 80. Neither score is comparable to, say, Peyton Manning’s 94.9 lifetime rating. Denver simply does not have a franchise quarterback right now. Yet, both Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton have a higher rating than does the Rams’ Sam Bradford, who is highly touted as a future franchise player. Obviously, even the coaches and the experts make their judgments by more than just the numbers. Bradford’s QB rating is around 76.
To be sure, the fans chanting, “We want Tebow,” weren’t thinking so much about his QB rating. They wanted the man because of their belief that he is a winner. Floyd acknowledges that folks see Tebow as a likable guy and a winner, but he appears to dismiss such affections as so much idolized emotionalism. Such emotional attachments don’t count for much in the business known as the NFL. To make it in the NFL, you must put up real, tangible numbers. And Tebow hasn’t done that yet, has he?
Well, maybe he has. Maybe there really is something to the “he’s a winner” meme that the fans instinctively sense, even if there is not yet a stat for it. Call it an “intangible.” This intangible may yet be quantifiable. Tim Tebow is young and inexperienced in the NFL without a doubt. Yet, even in his limited playing time, and even with his troubling mechanics, Tim Tebow has found paydirt. Tim Tebow has a nose for the end zone.
I have been a soccer coach for years, coaching both girls and boys, and I have noticed an odd phenomenon. It is not always the purest striker who finds the net. Some players have a nose for the net. I coached one girl who had the uncanny ability of being in the right place at the right time—time after time. She could barely dribble, but she always scored goals. They weren’t always pretty—sometimes off of her thigh, sometimes off of her chest or hip—but they were goals. Each one counted as much as the laser shots from 20 yards away into the back corner. Some players have a nose for the net. Tebow appears to be one of those players.
Consider his numbers in this area. Tim Tebow has been involved in 125 NFL plays. This means he has thrown the ball or run the ball a combined 125 times in the NFL. In those 125 times of being active with the ball, Tebow has scored 11 TD’s. That comes out to an average of a touchdown every 11 plays. How does this ratio compare with other quarterbacks? Tom Brady, whom most would categorize as a productive quarterback, averaged a touchdown for every 14 NFL plays in 2010. At least in his limited roles thus far, Tebow has produced touchdowns at a very high rate, which is probably why frustrated fans were calling for him to replace Kyle Orton in the opening loss to Oakland.
Kyle Orton has not been as effective finding the field’s end zone. Orton, who is equal to Tom Brady in number of plays, is nowhere near Tom Brady’s touchdown rate, which means he is even further from Tebow’s 1:11 end zone ratio. With Orton at the helm, touchdowns happen only once every 26 plays or so. Brady Quinn is even worse, generating a touchdown every 34.5 plays.
While these numbers are not exactly scientific, they are indicative of an otherwise intangible quality found in players who generate team confidence and solidify fan support. If the team puts up touchdowns and loses, that is one thing. When a team loses the ball and can’t put up touchdowns, that is another thing altogether. Fans forgive the one much more readily than they do the other.
I think Floyd is right that Denver has a problem (or two). But I don’t think the problem is Tebow or his fan base. Tim Tebow will be a winning quarterback in the NFL, even if he never is one in Denver.