Philadelphia, PA – As NFL fans eagerly await the most highly- anticipated Thanksgiving Weekend that perhaps the league has ever offered, a fine prelude to the upcoming feast of blockbuster games was provided by a pair of college legends that each came through with inspiring and clutch performances reminiscent of their glory days.
The first was delivered by a young quarterback whose brief professional tenure has already seen its share of exciting moments and controversial debates, the other a quarterback named Young who's at the crossroads of a career that appeared to be irreparably derailed just a few months back.
No game on the Week 11 schedule generated as much intrigue or a more compelling finish than the initial one, when Tim Tebow channeled his inner John Elway with the iconic Hall of Fame field general watching from his sky box and marched the Denver Broncos 95 yards for a game-winning touchdown in the final stages of Thursday's thrilling 17-13 upset win over the New York Jets. The stunning and impressive drive added yet another chapter to the already-storied legacy of the former University of Florida star, but an overall uneven display did little to dissuade the small army of detractors who dispute his credentials as an NFL quarterback as well.
Tebow wasn't exactly Elway-esque during the game, with the 2007 Heisman Trophy recipient hitting on just 9-of-20 passes to actually raise his season completion percentage. But as has been his custom during an extraordinary athletic tenure that has earned the pious 24-year-old a legion of both devoted fans and disapproving enemies for his outspoken Christian beliefs, the end result once again overshadowed the unconventional and erratic process it took to achieve it.
Much like the improbable comeback win he helped lead in Miami nearly a month before, Tebow was a bumbling disaster for 3 1/2 quarters against the Jets, misfiring badly on most of his incredibly awkward throws from the pocket and looking confused and borderline inept throughout much of the night. He was simply magic on the go-ahead series, however, mixing in a few on-target passes with several determined runs for long gains in almost single-handedly willing his team to victory.
The Broncos are now 4-1 and right in thick of the AFC West race since Tebow supplanted an ineffective Kyle Orton just prior to the Miami game in Week 7. And what the surprise 2010 first-round draft choice has lacked in efficiency, he's more than made up for it in moxie.
"He's just a competitive dude," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "He's super competitive. He never lays his sword down. He's going to fight you to death, and that's just his nature. He's a great young man."
As a player with obvious physical flaws and a person who's always going to spark strong and passionate opinions due to his very public stance on a topic that's very polarizing in American society, Tebow's never going to be able to dodge scrutiny the way he can elude an oncoming defensive end. But take the religious aspect out of the equation, and the rather unglamorous statistics that the critics have based their snickers and finger-pointing squarely upon as well.
Because as we all know, the only numbers that ultimately matter when judging a quarterback are the ones that reside the win and loss column.
Tebow's below-par accuracy and clumsy mechanics will almost certainly never allow him to be a prolific passer along the lines of a Manning, Brady or Brees. As a leader and a competitor, however, he's in the rarest of classes.
Sure, he's not solely responsible for Denver's sudden rise to contention -- a defense that was terrific against the Jets and has really come on as of late after struggling early in the season has more than done its part, and an unforeseen rebirth from veteran running back Willis McGahee in Fox's system has also had a hand in that success. It's also just as evident that the Broncos have been a re-energized and more confident team since the quarterback switch, and there's little doubt Tebow's inner resolve and exceptional will to win have rubbed off on his locker-room mates.
The Broncos didn't beat the Jets because of superior talent -- they won that game purely on guts and desire -- and at no point was that ambition more transparent than on that pivotal late drive Tebow engineered on an exhausted New York defense ready to tap out in the thin Rocky Mountain air.
"Everyone talks about what he can't do, but they don't talk about what he is doing, which is winning games," Denver cornerback Andre Goodman, who helped swing the momentum with a critical interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter, said of Tebow.
In some ways, Tebow's career has drawn parallels to that of Young, who had an opportunity for salvation of his own when pressed into service for the Philadelphia Eagles' all-important game at the New York Giants on Sunday. Both were revolutionary talents at the college level who guided their programs to a national championship, and have also been able to win games in the pros in spite of individual totals that are hardly jaw-dropping.
But while Tebow is still in the evaluation stage with his first professional organization, Young is on his second seeking another chance as a starting quarterback after fumbling away a golden opportunity in Tennessee.
It was nearly a year to the day in which Young's career unraveled due to his own immaturity, when the onetime University of Texas sensation underwent a colossal meltdown following a home loss to the Washington Redskins. He never played another snap for the Titans after an embarrassing incident in which the two-time Pro Bowl selection threw part of his equipment in the stands and had a heated exchange with then-head coach Jeff Fisher, and was forced to repair his reputation as a modestly-paid backup to Michael Vick in Philadelphia during the offseason.
Young wasn't particularly sharp in filling in for the injured Vick against the NFC East-leading Giants -- he threw three interceptions and two were because of his own misreads. But just like Tebow, the mercurial sixth-year pro was able to deliver in crunch time with both the game and the Eagles' season squarely on the line.
The Giants had regained momentum in Sunday's clash following a game-tying touchdown early in the fourth quarter, placing a fragile Philadelphia squad that had squandered final-period leads in five of its six losses this season back on edge. Young remained poised, however, and skillfully orchestrated an 18-play, 80-yard possession that consumed nearly nine minutes of the game clock. The 28-year-old successfully converted five third-down situations on the deciding drive and capped it with a short touchdown pass to wide receiver Riley Cooper for a 17-10 Eagles' lead with under three minutes to go.
"He didn't flinch, like the seasoned veteran that he is," said Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid.
All of a sudden, an Eagles team that had been left for dead following a dreadful home loss to lowly Arizona the week prior has gained new life, and the same may be said for Young's cloudy future following his heroics. When considering the current state of some teams at the quarterback position, one certainly could do worse than bringing in an experienced player with a requisite skill set and a 31-17 lifetime record as a starter -- a winning percentage greater than Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Vick and Young's Tennessee replacement Matt Hasselbeck -- not to mention one who's in the prime of his career.
In the meantime, Young will attempt to continue to embrace his still-foreign new role with the noteworthy professionalism he's exhibited this season, while Tebow deals with the all-too familiar backlash that will inevitably come the next time he and the Broncos fail.
Judging by the results so far, neither situation figures to be one that two players who have grown accustomed to the constant media microscope can't handle.