FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Even now, it is all very puzzling, this Tim Tebow thing. He was billed as a short-yardage force, but more than half of his offensive plays have come on first-and-10. Sometimes the New York Jets deploy him in the red zone, but usually they do not. He lines up at quarterback, at receiver, at running back, at fullback, performing admirably, doing what he is asked, which is not all that much.
Barely a quarter of their season has elapsed, but the Jets have reached a stage where small samples no longer exist. Tendencies have surfaced. Patterns have developed. Five games into this experiment, Tebow’s role is no less nebulous than it was back at training camp at State University of New York College at Cortland. At least then, a certain intrigue existed, an anticipation that the Jets were concocting plays to integrate Tebow so ingenious, so creative that they could have been hung on the refrigerator.
That suspense has dissolved. In its place is bewilderment. Even as the Jets’ offense has sputtered, Tebow has been used sparingly, far from emerging as the “major contributor” that coach Rex Ryan told the NFL Network he would be back in March.
In that interview, Ryan said Tebow could appear in as many as 20 snaps in a game. Not including special teams, Tebow has participated in 39 offensive plays all season, according to game charting by statistical website ProFootballFocus, including seven in each of the last two weeks. Of those 39 plays, 25 have come at quarterback, and only once — in Week 2 in Pittsburgh — has Tebow played three consecutive snaps.
When asked about his limited chances, Tebow dips into his stash of diplomatic responses — everything is a blessing, I’m excited for the opportunity, you do the best job that you can — that apply to another delicate (and related) subject, his satisfaction with backing up the shaky Mark Sanchez. If Tebow is at all frustrated, which would not be an unreasonable reaction, he does not show it. But even if the Jets were considering a change at quarterback, it would seem difficult for them to gauge Tebow’s readiness.
He has run the ball 12 times, gaining 49 yards, and twice more on fake punts, converting both. He has dropped back three times, absorbing one sack, throwing one incompletion (on a long pass Monday night that was dropped by Jason Hill) and connecting on a 9-yard pass (in Week 4 against San Francisco) that, oddly enough, came on his lone appearance on a play defined as third-and-short — the type of situation that would seem his specialty.
The only other area in which Tebow theoretically could be just as effective, if not more so, is inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Of the Jets’ 38 offensive plays inside the red zone, Tebow has appeared in eight, touching the ball six times.
Those plays, which included a 5-yard sack in Miami, gained a total of 13 yards. All of the training-camp hypotheticals posed to Sanchez — as in, could you handle ceding touchdown glory to Tebow after leading the offense 75 yards — have been rendered moot.
It all creates a perception that the Jets are reluctant to use Tebow, which, given their stagnant running game, seems a bit foolish and a rather elaborate ruse. Or, that they have yet to figure out how to use him, as much of a challenge as it seemed when the Jets traded for him seven months ago.
From a football standpoint, Tebow appealed to the Jets much as Tom Tupa, a former quarterback turned punter, did to Bill Parcells in 1999. To Parcells, Tupa counted as two players on game days, such was his versatility. In Tebow, the Jets had gained a defensive coordinator’s nightmare, a special-teams asset and a backup quarterback — one with a specialized, personalized bundle of plays — all for the low, low price of $2 million.
Based on those criteria, Tebow has benefited the Jets. But have the Jets backed up their stated plan for him?