If there’s one thing to hang on to when considering all of the positive qualities of new Jets coach Adam Gase, it’s this: The man played an instrumental role in Tim Tebow’s finest hour as an NFL starting quarterback.
In the 2011 season, Tebow, a first-round pick by former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, replaced ineffective Kyle Orton early in the season and enjoyed a successful run. John Fox had no choice but to try Tebow, and the Broncos responded to the former Heisman Trophy winner despite his limited passing skills.
Gase, as quarterbacks coach, helped Tebow lead Denver to seven wins in 11 starts, a run that included a thriller against the Jets in which Tebow capped a game-winning 95-yard drive by scrambling around left end for a 20-yard touchdown. The Broncos won the AFC West at 8-8 in a tiebreaker and hosted the Steelers in the wild-card round.
“I remember it was an interesting week, to say the least,” Gase said two years ago as he prepared for a playoff game against the Steelers during his first season in Miami. “[The Steelers] were really good coming into that game. I think they were either No. 1 or 2 in defense. We came out throwing the ball. Tim did a good job in that game. Guys were making plays.”
And then it happened.
The game went into overtime after Pittsburgh rallied from a 23-13 fourth-quarter deficit. On the first play of OT, Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas on a pass over the middle, and Thomas turned it into an 80-yard touchdown.
“We were doing something where we were bringing guys down in motion, and they were bringing both safeties in the box,” Gase said. “We called a play-action off of it. We brought Eddie Royal all the way down. We had Demaryius running a pop pass on the back side. Both safeties came flying up, and it was DT and Ike Taylor one-on-one.”
It was a stunning victory and made Tebow one of the NFL’s most talked-about players, with many Broncos fans calling for him to become the permanent starter. As it turned out, it was his next-to-last game in a Denver uniform. The Broncos were blown out the following week by the Patriots, 45-10.
General manager John Elway looked chagrined after Thomas scored against the Steelers because he didn’t believe in Tebow. Elway signed Peyton Manning in the offseason and traded Tebow to the Jets.
Gase became the Broncos’ offensive coordinator and spent two seasons with Manning, who was so impressed with Gase’s concepts and play-calling ability that he has become one of the coach’s biggest supporters. Manning went to bat on Gase’s behalf when he was being considered for the Dolphins’ job and did the same during the interview process for the Jets.
Having Manning in his corner guarantees nothing, but it certainly is noteworthy that one of the game’s greatest players thinks that highly of Gase.
He did terrific work in his first season with the Dolphins, leading them to a 10-6 record and a wild-card berth despite losing starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a knee injury in Week 14. Career backup Matt Moore led the Dolphins to three wins in his final four games before the Dolphins were routed by the Steelers, 30-12, in a wild-card playoff game in Pittsburgh.
That was Gase’s high point in Miami. The Dolphins were beset by additional injuries to Tannehill and poor play that prompted them to move on from the coach after three seasons. That inauspicious ending helps explain much of the fury from many Jets fans over Gase’s hiring, especially after Super Bowl winner Mike McCarthy was passed over.
But the Jets have a far more promising quarterback situation with Sam Darnold coming off an impressive rookie season.
“I think that Darnold has Peyton Manning-type traits, and Adam did a great job with Peyton in that situation in Denver,” former Cowboys quarterback and CBS broadcaster Tony Romo said Thursday at an event in Manhattan to promote the network’s coverage of Super Bowl LIII. “I think he’s going to be a fantastic player. I think he’s going to make a huge leap next year.”
If Gase can do the kind of work with Darnold that he did with Tebow and Manning in Denver and in spots with Tannehill — who is far less talented than Darnold — then his tenure here might not be as gloomy as many fear.