Kovacevic: Tebowing for the truth
In the spirit of the rise and subsequent fall of Tim Tebow, I offer this morning a few myths and realities regarding the mile-high main attraction of the Steelers' Sunday playoff duel.
And we'll begin, naturally, with ...
Myth: Tebow is a winner.
Reality: His record as an NFL starter is 8-6, so there's that. But toss aside his handful of late heroics and ESPN's symphonically scored narratives, and it's easy to see the real burden has been on Denver's defense. When the Broncos held opponents to 15.8 points per game in Tebow's first eight starts, he was 7-1. They've given up 29.3 over the past three, and all were losses. That's not drama. That's the D.
Myth: All that matters is the W.
Reality: That's true of a team, but it's a lousy way to evaluate individuals in a team sport. Unless you really believed that the Pirates' Kevin Correia was the National League's best pitcher at the All-Star break. Or that Trent Dilfer was a better quarterback than Dan Marino.
Myth: Tebow's legs make up for his arm.
Reality: His 72.9 passer rating ranks 28th among the NFL's 34 qualified quarterbacks, and he has rushed for 47 yards per game. The latter is neat for his position, but it's well short of a fair trade.
Myth: Because John Elway has vowed that Tebow will be Denver's starter entering 2012, there's no way coach John Fox would pull him mid-game against the Steelers.
Reality: Elway and all concerned aren't about to hand away a playoff game. Fox answered a question on the topic yesterday this way: "I don't do well with hypotheticals. I anticipate that we will play very well this Sunday." That's hardly taking umbrage at the notion.
Myth: The Steelers have to make significant defensive adjustments to counter Tebow.
Reality: Buffalo and Kansas City, Denver's past two opponents, have come at him from both sides to cut off his running room and force a quick pass. If that sounds familiar, that's what the Steelers have been doing since Dick LeBeau was watching Dick Van Dyke.
Myth: James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley must make that happen.
Reality: Did you see Troy Polamalu sacking Cleveland quarterback Seneca Wallace on a running play Sunday?
Myth: "Hey, I'm just trying not to get 'Tebowed,' " Harrison said Monday.
Reality: Don't buy it. The Steelers aren't about to overlook a playoff opponent, but their intimidation level regarding Tebow is zero.
Myth: The Steelers should be worried about a subpar quarterback because Curtis Painter, Tyler Palko and Wallace nearly pulled off winning drives at game's end.
Reality: Um, scoreboard?
Myth: Stop Tebow, and you stop the Denver ground game.
Reality: The Broncos' rushing offense ranked No. 1 in the NFL with an average of 164.5 yards per game. They were led by a revitalized Willis McGahee's 1,199 yards, including 10 rushes of 20-plus yards (one more than the entire Steelers roster). On the other side, as Steelers safety Ryan Clark said, "Our rushing defense has been our Achilles' heel, so this will be a great test."
Myth: Clark's absence won't hurt.
Reality: He plays in Polamalu's shadow, but he's consistently graded No. 1 by the coaches for open-field tackling, and he had a team-high 10 tackles Sunday. One was a sensational sack with Cleveland tight end Evan Moore clinging to his back like an octopus.
Myth: Part of Mike Tomlin's 36-second tribute to Tebow at his Tuesday news conference was this: "When I look at Tim Tebow, I see a guy who just wins. He's at his best in the significant moments. He makes those around him better. They buy into what he's selling. He's got natural charismatic leadership ability."
Reality: Should have heard his outlook for the Rams.
Myth: If Tebow beats the Steelers, someone in Baltimore will douse John Harbaugh with Gatorade.
Reality: Please. He'll be doused because the Ravens made it through the bye week.
Myth: I don't like Tebow.
Reality: That's not the case at all, honestly, although some of this might come across that way. I respect what he's done given clear limitations, as well as his faith and unflappable confidence. It's been, at times, a story fit for Disney. But the "Moneyball" generation of statistical analysis should teach even the sappiest sports fan to take emotion out of the mix. That's why they often call reality harsh.