Every single Tim Tebow angle has been analyzed a bazillion times this week. One of the more interesting storylines relates to the Patriots, and another instance in which a second-year quarterback came in and captivated the country with an ability to win.
So, are we seeing right now with Tebow what we saw in 2001 with Tom Brady? The easy and probably most common answer to that question is no, because we’ve seen how it ended for Brady, and people probably aren’t ready to predict a Super Bowl title for Tim Tebow just yet.
Still, comparing the two unexpected seasons makes for an interesting discussion, because the one common denominator in the two cases is obviously winning, and unexpected winning at that. Nobody expected Brady to step in for the injured Drew Bledsoe in Week 2 and lead the Pats to both an 11-5 record and a Super Bowl title a season after they finished 5-11. Some might have expected Tebow to show his true colors as a winner, but did they honestly expect a 15-point comeback in the final three minutes of a game, among other heroics? Didn’t think so. For Brady back then and Tebow today, it’s been all surprises and success.
There are a few very notable differences between the two cases. Brady’s a righty, while Tebow is a southpaw. Tebow can take off and pick up a first down on foot, while Brady is -- to put it nicely -- known more for his arm. Still, one popular stat this week has been the fact that both players were 8-3 after their first 11 starts, and ESPN pointed out Thursday that Tebow has more combined touchdowns (19) than Brady did (16) through his first 11 starts.
Tebow, a 2010 first-round pick, is a marquee name, and Brady, who was selected 199th overall in 200, simply wasn’t at the time. Tebow was well-known -- to sports fans and non-sports fans alike -- well before he ever took an NFL snap. When his number was eventually called to take over for Kyle Orton after Week 5 this season, every second of every one of his starts was sure to be appointment viewing. Not to take anything away from what Brady did in his second season as a pro, but not too many people were champing at the bit to watch Tom Brady when he took over as the Patriots’ starting quarterback. Nobody was eager to see whether he could prove the naysayers wrong, because the national opinion of the sixth-round pick was more indifferent than anything else. The naysayers didn’t exist in the same way, because Brady was not a polarizing figure. To NFL fans, he was somewhat of an unknown.
Now for the similarities. Both quarterbacks led their teams to six straight wins, though Brady did it in the final six games of the season, while Tebow has already done it.
Though both quarterbacks were getting all of the attention when it came to their respective team’s offense, both the 2001 Patriots and the 2011 Broncos benefited from having a standout rookie on the defensive side of the ball. The Pats were seeing right away that sixth overall pick Richard Seymour was a good one, while linebacker Von Miller has 11.5 sacks for Denver this season.
Then there’s the fact that though the quarterbacks put their squads in position to win, each team also benefited from having a kicker who was just as clutch as he was capable. Adam Vinatieri got a lot of credit in 2001, and Matt Prater, who kicked field goals of 59 and 51 yards Sunday against the Bears to tie and then win the game, still might not be getting enough credit.
Both quarterbacks also did big things on squads that weren’t expected to contend the way they did. The aforementioned 5-11 record for the Patriots was bad, but not as bad as the Broncos’ 4-12 record last season.
We’ve touched upon most of the similarities and differences between the two cases, but there’s still one that ultimately makes it difficult to call this an apples-to-apples comparison: Tom Brady wasn’t unorthodox. He was an NFL quarterback proving that he was an NFL quarterback. With all due respect to Tebow, people still question whether he’s got what it takes as a quarterback, and it seems that he is simply proving that he can win without conventional methods. He’s won a game in which he was 3-for-16 passing for three quarters. He’s won a game in which he completed just two passes all day.
Still, while Tebow isn’t having as much success throwing the ball as Brady did back in 2001, he’s still throwing it nearly as much. Brady averaged 27.8 attempts per start in 2001, while Tebow is averaging 23.5 this season. That’s not the telling number, though. What tells the story is the fact that Brady had a 63.9 completion percentage back then. Tebow’s is 48.5.
The styles are brutally different, but the result remains the same. Brady established early on in his career that he was a winner by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy three times in four years. Tebow is showing now that he can win just like he did in college, but it will be another month and a half before anyone can truly say whether Tebow’s second year in the league was like Brady’s.
It’s all about how it ends.