Even as second act, Tim Tebow provides first-rate drama for Jets
Say this much for Tim Tebow: No matter how many flaws the guy has as a quarterback, and no matter how many times Rex Ryan and Tony Sparano tell us he's the clear No. 2 to Mark Sanchez, the guy creates a buzz like very few other players in the NFL, if not all of pro sports.
Friday night was just the latest evidence. In a game that meant nothing to the Jets and Bengals, and at a time when second-stringers usually prompt television viewers to change the channel, Tebow makes you watch.
With Sanchez done for the night after an uneventful first quarter in which the Jets' offense produced only 20 yards and the quarterback was sacked twice, Tebow's entrance on the field at Paul Brown Stadium palpably lifted the energy level of the half-filled building.
Tebow's first throw in a Jets uniform was a completion, a 12-yarder to rookie Stephen Hill on a slant route to the right of the formation. Then came a couple of scrambles up the middle when Tebow didn't like what he saw down the field, and the place was alive in a way you rarely see when the second-teamers take the field.
Tebow wound up producing the Jets' only scoring drive with the first- or second-string -- a 36-yard field goal on his first possession. He finished 4-for-8 for 27 yards and one interception for a paltry 18.2 rating and ran four times for 34 yards.
But this night really wasn't about how many points either quarterback put on the board (the final was 17-6 Bengals).
Preseason games are notoriously vanilla in terms of strategy, with teams preferring to keep their intentions secret until the regular season begins. And in a lot of ways, what we saw out of Tebow on Friday night wasn't what we'll see from him in the regular season.
The plan is to use him in Wildcat formations as a changeup to Sanchez. Yes, he'll be under center, and yes, he'll run plays. But Friday night, he was used strictly as a quarterback and a punt protector as the Jets work to get him up to speed as Sanchez's backup.
There were no designed runs; the only time Tebow took off was when he tucked the ball on dropbacks after not liking what he saw downfield.
All in all, Ryan approved of Tebow's performance. "I liked the poise he showed," he said. "Obviously, [he] made some big runs, and that's what we say he can do. If you want to come after him, you better get to him. In time, he'll kill you running, and that's what he did."
I still have my doubts that this can work over a prolonged period of time. Bringing in Tebow simply entails too much risk.
Mostly, you risk hurting Sanchez's confidence, even though he seems to be dealing with the situation fine for now. But what happens when he, like all but the elite quarterbacks, goes through a slump during the regular season?
The Jets can say all they want that they won't make a change, but you know how things get in this league when the team loses and the quarterback struggles.
The calls for Tebow will be inevitable and inexorable, and the resulting turmoil will be counterproductive and dangerous. They've invested heavily in Sanchez for the long term with a massive contract extension in the offseason; why mess with it by bringing in a player who repeatedly has said he wants to remain a starting quarterback?
The risk-reward was within Ryan's tolerance range, though, and he took the plunge. He thinks it can work; we respectfully disagree.
But no matter the outcome, this sure is going to be one heck of an interesting season. When it comes to Tebow, there's just no looking away.