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Tim and Tom Terrific

             As I begin to write a column comparing Tim Tebow to Tom Brady, I want to make it perfectly clear that I’m not comparing Tim Tebow to Tom Brady. While that appears to be a contradiction, it sort of depends on what your definition of the word “is” is, as someone famously once said.

            Tim Tebow is no Tom Brady. I don’t expect Tebow will ever develop into the complete and elite quarterback that Brady is today, and that Brady has been for the better part of eight years. Brady is awesome. Tebow is not. There really IS no comparison.

            However, there is a commonality between who Tim Tebow is now, and who Tom Brady was in 2001. And that’s what makes this national conversation about Tim Tebow so distinctly interesting in New England: We’ve all seen this before. When Brady was winning games, but not performing like a traditional quarterback by piling up yards or points, his supporters quickly re-defined what makes a great quarterback. It became much more about winning, managing the game, and minimizing mistakes. Tebow supporters are working just as hard today to explain what makes him a successful and quality quarterback.

            When Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe 10 years ago, he led the Patriots to eleven victories in the regular season, and of course, so much more in the post-season. As a sixth round draft pick, Brady didn’t have the same hype or expectations that Tebow has, but it didn’t take long for people to recognize Brady is a winner. The Patriots, who came out of the gate dropping their first two games, won 11 of 14 with Brady. But his contributions in that first season were far less than what they would become, and far more similar to Tebow’s current contributions than Patriot fans are remembering.

            In Brady’s first start, for instance, he threw for 168 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 79.6. It was a good first start, but it doesn’t come close to explaining how the Patriots beat the Colts that day, 44-13. How does a team score 44 points without a touchdown from its quarterback? Well, the Patriots picked off Peyton Manning 3 times that day, and ran two of them back for touchdowns.

            In his next start, Brady threw for just 86 yards, and fumbled a snap that Miami returned for a touchdown. The Patriots lost, 30-10. That’s a lot like Tebow’s Detroit Lions game. In Tebow’s second start this year, the Broncos lost 45-10. It happens to the best of them – and Tebow.

            Brady’s third game was an overtime win over San Diego with Adam Vinatieri kicking a 44-yarder to win it. Tebow has won three overtime games so far, and against the Bears, he needed 59-yard and 51-yard field goals from his kicker. For as clutch as both quarterbacks are, they’ve both needed reliable kickers to finish their comebacks.

            Those in Tebow’s corner, at least those I’ve heard from, don’t claim he’s an elite quarterback, or even that he’ll develop into one. They acknowledge Tebow’s flaws, particularly in the first three quarters of games. And they don’t say the Broncos are winning because of Tim Tebow. But the Broncos record with him at quarterback can’t be ignored any more than the Patriots record in 2001 with Brady at the helm.

            I remind you, before Brady started lighting up the scoreboard and plastering his name in the record books with an all out aerial attack, he was praised for managing the games, for not making mistakes, and making the plays that needed to be made. It was true for him then, and it’s true for Tebow now. In that first year, Brady threw 18 touchdown passes and 12 picks. Tebow has 14 touchdowns (including runs) and 2 picks, so far. He’s actually managing games better than Brady and making fewer mistakes. And yes, he’s getting help from his defense – just like Brady.

            Of the Patriots 11 wins in 2001, (14 if you count the playoffs) only once did their opponents score more than 17 points. That was the overtime win over San Diego, 29-26. Brady gave us a glimpse into the future that day when he threw a game tying touchdown pass with :36 to go. There was no questioning his poise or ability to come up big in the clutch even then. Isn’t that also true of Tebow today? Tebow, by the way, already has wins against opponents who scored 24 and 32 points, and his defense is ranked 22nd in points allowed. So, it’s not as if he’s quarterbacking the ’85 Bears.

            The Patriots finished the regular season in 2001 with 6 straight wins. In the first game of the streak, Brady was phenomenal with 4 touchdown passes. But in the next five games, he threw just two touchdown passes and five interceptions. Also during those last five games, he never had a QB rating above 94, and had three QB ratings in the 60’s. And even though none of us knows how to compute the QB rating, we know that the 60’s indicates below average to poor play. In the playoffs, Brady’s numbers remained unimpressive: 3 games, 1 td, 1 pick, and a QB rating of 77.7. But, and this is what Brady fans said then, and what Tebow fans say now, he found a way to win.

            Somehow, Tebow managed to win a game while completing just two passes. His critics scoff at that game, in particular. But one of Tebow’s completions was a touchdown, and he also ran for a touchdown. The Broncos ran for 244 yards that day, but Tebow still found a way to help – in his own way.

            Tebow’s good fortune and the Broncos winning streak may come to an end on Sunday, yielding to Brady and his decade of dominance, but that won’t change the fact that, in many ways and despite their dissimilar skill sets, Tebow is what Brady was. That may only be a competent, confident football player who believes in himself, and who his teammates believe in, but that was enough for the Patriots then, and it may be enough for the Broncos now.

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