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From: Stefan Fatsis
To: Dan Kois, Emma Carmichael
The Colts won, the Packers lost, and Seabass lined up for a 65-yard, game-winning field goal. But all I could think about was Tebow. Like millions of others, I watched Tim Tebow and the Broncos get vivisected, 41-23, by the Patriots and their more successful but possibly less famous three-syllable quarterback, Tom Brady. I love a stiff arm to conventional wisdom as much as the next guy, but enough was enough. Tebow's two-month run of duct-tape football had officially became an affront to rational thought. The lead to Sports Illustrated's cover story about Tebow last week was the clincher. In it, Jerry Angelo, the general manager of the Chicago Bears Football Club, which dates to the founding of the National Football League in 1920, not only said that, in his professional wisdom, "60 percent of evaluating quarterbacks is based on intangibles," but also that, in the case of Tebow's 7-1 record as a starter this season, "I believe that there is some divine intervention associated with what's taking place."
Yes, Jerry Angelo thinks a higher being contributed to the Broncos' infinite-monkey-theorem succession of late-game and overtime victories. I'm fairly certain that Christopher Hitchens didn't subscribe to SI or watch the NFL on CBS—"Listen: the paper has a whole separate section devoted to people who want to degrade the act of reading by staring enthusiastically at the outcomes of sporting events that occurred the previous day," he screeched last year—but if cancer hadn't killed Hitchens, the idea of a god intervening in football games very well might have. (Hitchens was right about a lot of things, but arrogantly stubborn about sports. So please continue to degrade the act of reading.)
As far as I could tell on Sunday, Tebow's main power seems to be to make football announcers abandon their critical faculties. When they weren't hyping Tebow's mere presence, the CBS team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms were making excuses for his poor throws and his team's mediocre play, while minimizing New England's dominance. "It didn't come out of Tebow's hand clean, but it doesn't matter," Simms said after Tebow's first completion of the day. When the Patriots took the lead for good in the second quarter, Simms said, "We sit here and I feel like it's been all Denver up to the point." At that moment, New England had possessed the ball for all but 12 of the game's previous 478 seconds. CBS later showed side-by-side video of Tebow and Brady throwing, and Simms told us we were looking at "the exact same thing," by which he must have meant a man throwing a football. When he finally admitted that Tebow had made a poor throw, Simms excused it—and, by extension, every other Tebow errancy—by claiming that his misses are due to an overabundance of caution. On the very next play, Tebow must have been feeling extremely cautious. Nantz reminded us that he'd have an entire offseason to get better.
Tebow wasn't terrible on Sunday. He did thread some tight passes. He was explosive, as usual, when running. And he shed tacklers with power uncommon for a quarterback. But I'm not convinced the secret to Tebow's "success" has been his ability to distract defenses because he might take off and run, as Simms and Nantz repeatedly asserted. As others have documented, Tebow's miracle wins were enabled by the Broncos' stout defense, and by boneheaded opponent mistakes and a fantastic field-goal kicker. It also helped that Denver played a bunch of mediocre teams; the combined winning percentage of the opposition in Tebow's seven wins is .428. Only one victory was against a team with a winning record, the Jets, who were routed by Philadelphia on Sunday. The Patriots' 32nd-ranked defense did not seem especially distracted.
Meanwhile, not doing much Tebowing on Sunday—and by that I mean not failing to locate a receiver, spinning once to avoid a tackle, running backwards, spinning a second time, running backwards some more, spinning a third time, and getting sacked for a 29-yard loss, as Tebow did in the fourth quarter—was Tom Brady, with whom Nantz and Simms did not seem especially impressed. Sure, we're all bored by Brady and his hair and his rings (except, that is, when he's screaming at an assistant coach) and it feels superfluous to praise him. But, damn, is he good. Stipulating the obvious relevance of age and experience, the contrast between Brady and Tebow is one of simple aesthetics. New England's offense is multifaceted, precise, and complex. Brady is upright, calm, and efficient. You can almost see the intellectual progression involved in each play. With the Broncos, you imagine a bunch of kids huddling on the playground during recess: "Give Timmy the ball!"
Fortunately, viewers have been able to hear Tebow on the field, and he does in fact sound like a little kid. The CBS microphones picked up this exchange between Brady and Tebow after the game. Brady: "Good luck the rest of the way. Maybe we'll see you again." Tebow: "OK!" But Tebow was fully mikedby the NFL during last week's shocking win over the now 7-7 Bears. In the video, Tebow's religiosity is in full flower. I especially enjoyed hearing him sing, while warming up, "Awesome God" ("When he rolls up His sleeves/He ain't just puttin' on the ritz"), though I found his pregame request for "a wall of protection around me and my teammates today" a bit selfish. During the game, Tebow is Eddie Haskell in eye black, sucking up to Lance Briggs ("What up, Lance Briggs? I've looked forward to playing you for a long time!"), complimenting Brian Urlacher after a tackle ("Good play, Brian!"), and bucking up demoralized teammates ("You're about to go catch the game-winner. Then you'll be the hero of the game").
Unlike other miked-up quarterbacks, we don't see Tebow analyzing photos from the All 22 cameras or suggesting to a coach or teammate how to exploit a weakness he's detected in the defense. With Tebow, it's prayers and bromides, the NFL as produced by the Christian Broadcasting Network. That's just edited video, of course, and none of us knows what's happening in the Broncos' locker room or quarterbacks' meetings, or on the sidelines. Still, the rational among us were reminded on Sunday that, regardless of what if any god you pray to, a very good NFL team with an exceptional veteran quarterback will usually beat a decent team with a quirky inexperienced one.
But enough really is enough. Surely there are other stories in the NFL, Dan. Please tell us one.
Stefan Fatsis is a panelist on Slate's sports podcast "Hang Up and Listen." His latest book is A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL.