By Stephen J. Dubner
Tim Tebow led six fourth-quarter comebacks in his first 11 starts.
That, not surprisingly, is an NFL record. Also not surprising: It led to a full-fledged outbreak of Tebow Fever. As Tebow ran his record as the Broncos' starting quarterback to 7-1, it was hard to turn on the TV or pick up a magazine without catching a case of it. In this installment of "Football Freakonomics," we look at the numbers behind Tebow's remarkable surge.
We've all heard it: Tebow is not the kind of quarterback who looks good in practice. As it turns out, he doesn't look very good in the first three quarters of games either. Just how bad is he in the early going? In the first half of what ultimately became a Week 10 win against the Chiefs, Tebow missed all four of his attempted passes, making Denver the first team to take a lead into halftime without having a completion since the Packers did it against the Bears in 1994. (The quarterback in that game, by the way, was Brett Favre.)
As bad as Tebow has been in the first 45 minutes, the fourth quarter has plainly been Tebow Time. During his 7-1 run, his fourth-quarter passer rating was 111, third-best in the league. In the critical final five minutes of games, his passer rating was a whopping 124.5.
Let's also not forget Tebow's running. He's been a stud, a horse, a clutch runner who stiff-arms linebackers and sniffs out the end zone.
But Tebow Fever can't be attributed solely to Tebow. During the run, Tebow was helped by several forces:
1. The Broncos' defense, which allowed 28 points per game during Kyle Orton's starts, allowed only 17 under Tebow.
2. Kicker Matt Prater had four game-winning field goals.
3. Several of the Broncos' opponents were missing starting quarterbacks, while others made game-changing mistakes.
The fact is that the Tebow was bound to fall back to earth, as evidenced by the Broncos' recent two-game losing streak. So it's time to look forward. One has to wonder, is Tebow sustainable as a quarterback if he's going to take so many hits as a runner?
One thing I know: while Tebow Fever might have died down for now, there'll surely be another outbreak sometime down the road.