Playing on a sprained ankle that, at first glance, appeared to snap like a dry twig against Cleveland last month, Ben Roethlisberger’s freelance artistry is expected to be severely inhibited on Sunday.
In other words, Big Ben won’t be able to run much.
Question is, will his counterpart, Tim Tebow, be able to pass?
Truth be told, even with a magical 7-4 record as a starter, Tebow has yet to prove that he can, in fact, consistently carry a team with his arm in the National Football League.
And therein lies the problem for the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon when they host Big Ben’s Pittsburgh Steelers in the Mile High City, in a highly anticipated wild card contest that will mark Tebow’s first taste of professional post-season football.
You don’t win games at this level on artistic merit. You do it with heart, with desire and, in the case of Tebow, with the unique intangible of finding ways late in games to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
In the process, even his harshest critics have to admit this kid is not someone who you can judge by a stat sheet.
No one can argue that he’s provided wonderful drama throughout the 2011 regular season. Upon further review, he might be the feel-good story in all of team sports, not just the NFL.
But maybe, just maybe, when you look beyond the adulation associated with the Tebow love-in that has come over many fans, you’ll find some ugly warts in his game.
For one, he’s inaccurate. At least early in games, anyway. Having said that, it’s amazing how he often improves in that area come the fourth quarter.
That’s part of the package you get with Tim Tebow. He can look awful through 45 minutes, then awfully good in the final 15.
What should be of more concern for Broncos head honcho John Elway and head coach John Fox is another one of Tebow’s Achilles heels — the fact that Tim Tebow is digressing into a turnover machine.
With most quarterbacks, turnovers take the form of interceptions. Then again, most quarterbacks try to beat you with their arms, not their legs. But Tim Tebow is not most quarterbacks. Many defences want Tebow to try to exploit them through the air rather than scrambling, a philosophy you can bet Steelers coach Dick LeBeau has preached all week.
More often than not, Tebow’s big plays have come via the running game. In that regard, his effectiveness has been minimized in the past month. Much has been made of the fact that the Broncos backed into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak. But Tebow’s turnover woes started two games prior to that.
Indeed, over the Broncos final five games of the regular season, Tebow lost a fumble in each of those. He also was picked off five times over that span, making him personally responsible for an average of two turnovers per outing.
Now he faces a Pittsburgh Steelers defence that allowed the least amount of points per game (14.2) in the NFL. If he stays true to form and hands the ball over twice to James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and friends, the Broncos will be in for a long afternoon.
If the Broncos can keep the game close entering the fourth quarter, they will have a chance. Denver’s defence might not get the same amount of ink as their counterparts in black-and-gold, but they are perfectly capable of making life miserable for a hobbled Roethlisberger.
For his part, Roethlisberger is sympathetic towards Tebow, feeling the hype heaped on the kid has raised expectations of him to an unfair level.
“I don’t think Tim calls up ESPN and says, ‘Hey, put me on every day, and make it the Steelers vs. Tebow’,” Roethlisberger told reporters the other day. “It’s probably tough for him to deal with that stuff.
“Every time you turn it on, you see something about Tebow. I can only imagine what it’s like for his teammates. Just watching today, it’s the Steelers versus Tim Tebow. No, it’s the Steelers versus the Broncos. So I can only imagine what it’s like for him with all the eyes and the attention on him and the pressure.
“It can’t be fun. I feel for him a little bit.”
Until the opening kickoff on Sunday, that is. Then Tebow becomes just another roadblock between Big Ben and a date with the New England Patriots next weekend.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE VERY UGLY
Here’s look at the roller-coaster season of the Broncos QB since quarterback Tim Tebow took over the starter’s role against Miami on Oct. 23. For the record, Tebow finished the season 7-4.
n Oct. 23
W 18-15 (OT) @ Miami
13-for-27, 161 yds, 2 TDs,
Miracle comback No. 1. Broncos scored all their points with less than seven minutes remaining in fourth quarter.
n Oct. 30
L 10-45 vs. Lions
18-for-39, 172 yds, 1 TD, 1 Int.
Looked as bad as the final score.
n Nov. 6
W 38-24 @ Oakland
10-for-21, 124 yds, 2 TDs, 0 Int.
Tebow’s 118 yards rushing proved to be key.
n Nov. 17
W 17-10 @ Kansas City
2-for-8, 69 yds, 1 TD,
Opportunistic Denver defence made up for Tebow’s pathetic passing.
n Nov. 17
W 17-10 vs. Jets
9-for-20, 104 yds, 0 TDs,
Silly decision by Jets to blitz allows Tebow to run to the outside for winning TD
in final minute.
n Nov. 27
W 16-13 (OT) @ SD
9-for-18, 143 yds, 1 TD,
Tebow leads Broncos to winning FG after SD’s Novak misses 53-yarder to win it.
n Dec. 4
W 35-32 @ Minnesota
10-for-15, 208 yds, 2 TDs,
His 149.3 passer’s rating would be his highest of the season.
n Dec. 11
W 13-10 vs. Bears
21-for-40, 236 yds, 1 TD,
Season high in passing yards.
n Dec. 18
L 23-41 vs. Patriots
11-for-22, 194 yds, 0 TDs,
Sacked four times, fumbled twice ... Brady vs. Tebow a one-sided wipeout.
n Dec. 24
L 14-40 @ Buffalo
13-for-29, 185 yds, 1 TD,
Personally turned over the ball four times (three picks, lost one fumble).
n Jan 1
L 3-7 vs. Chiefs
6-for-22, 60 yds, 0 TDs, 1 Int.
Least number of passing yards all season.