Victories are hard to come by in the NFL. The whole concept of an ugly win was something I have never been able to comprehend. Thursday night, the Broncos earned a great win, and Tim Tebow has now led them to three straight. It might not have been conventional or pretty, but it was effective.
All I could think about watching Tebow lead the Broncos on the game-winning drive was a Mark Twain quote about sword fighting, from "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court."
The best swordsman in the world doesn't need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn't do the thing he ought to do and so the expert isn't prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.
Tebow is the unconventional swordsman in the league. His final march was not a normal NFL two-minute drive -- he ran the option, some trick plays, some single wing and a few conventional pass plays. He had the vaunted Jets defense on its heels, tired from chasing him and his teammates around, as conditioning does matter a mile above sea level.
For most of the game, the Broncos option offense was held completely in check, showing no ability to run or pass. But when the game was on the line, Tebow found a way to make the plays. The biggest one of all was his touchdown run, breaking contain off the edge when the Jets decided to all-out blitz, something they had not done the entire game. Credit Tebow for recognizing the defense, credit him for making a quick instinctive decision and most of all credit him for never getting frustrated during the bad periods of the game. Being competitive comes easy for Tebow, and it has become infectious among his Broncos teammates.
Tebow will steal the highlights and get most of the praise for the win, but the real hero of the game was the Broncos defense. They played hard, disrupting the passing game of the Jets, and Von Miller showed America why he was the second overall pick in the draft. Miller was impressive in all areas, but he is particularly dominant when rushing the passer. His play will remind some of Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas of the Chiefs, but Miller plays with more power and just as much speed. Along with Elvis Dumervil, Miller gives the Broncos two outstanding rushers off the edge. When the Jets were unable to extend their lead, it allowed the dynamic rushers of the Broncos to be a part of the entire game, which proved to be the difference.
The Jets offense will get blamed for the loss, which is what always happens in New York, but this was a total team loss -- from the defense's inability to stop the Broncos on the last drive, to their horrible clock management at the end of the half, to their inability to score touchdowns in the red zone. Yes, losing running back Shonn Greene hurt their ability to run their offense because Joe McKnight is so limited in pass protection, but this was not the real reason for the loss. The Jets cannot make explosive plays on offense. Every drive has to be perfect and every scoring drive needs at least 10 plays, with many third-down conversions. There are never any downfield throws because for all the fanfare that Plaxico Burress brings, he lacks the speed to put fear into defenses. He really is just a red-zone receiver. Santonio Holmes has disappeared because without another receiver who can threaten the defense, the opponents can roll the coverage his way and force quarterback Mark Sanchez to throw the ball elsewhere.
The Jets want to be a ground-and-pound team, but they do not have a blue-chip runner. Greene has been good but not great. The Jets have spent nine of the 13 draft picks under the Rex Ryan regime on running backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks, but have not been able to find that diamond in the rough in the later rounds. They lack depth, too. If any team wants to run this style of offense, they need a great runner -- just ask the 49ers, which is the kind of team the Jets need to be. Most will blame offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, but in reality the Jets problems run deeper than the play call.
Everyone in the Mile High City has Tebow fever. Can he lead them to the AFC West title? I would never rule that out, but if the Broncos are to win the West, it will have to be in the style they won Thursday night -- effective, but not pretty.
The First 15
1. Can anyone beat the Packers? It is going to take a team that can rush the passer with its front four, score a lot of points, limit the Packers to under 10 possessions and feature an excellent kicking game in terms of covering and returning. The 49ers could be that team, but another NFC foe that fits the criteria are the Cowboys. If Tony Romo continues to play well and their offense has the balance, they can give the Packers a great game.
2. Did Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb help beat the Eagles because he knew the hand signals of the Philly offense? I don't think so. What beat the Eagles was what always beats the Eagles -- inconsistent play and undisciplined football. The Eagles offense is not hard to figure out. At least Kolb thinks he was helping -- because the way John Skelton has played in his absence, Kolb must feel like he has to do something. I get the sense from talking to everyone in Arizona that they have to go back to Kolb when he is healthy, but there will be a short leash when they do.
3. Everyone in Philadelphia is calling for the head of Andy Reid, without any regard to who they want as the next coach. Reid is under heavy fire, but calling for his head without finishing the sentence is not wise. Before running Reid out of town, the team must know who it wants, because Reid will be hard to replace.
4. One of my favorite pictures at NFL Films is one of Forrest Gregg covered in mud from head to toe as he is walking off the field. This week we all learned that Gregg is suffering from Parkinson's disease, which has limited his movement, speech and voice. Gregg is truly one of the toughest men ever, and I sincerely hope he can conquer this disease.
5. After my Wednesday column on the Bucs, where I claimed they need leadership and not more excuses, GM Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris commented. First Morris: "The games that we have lost were to the Houston Texans, who are in first or second place in their division. We also lost to the Chicago Bears, who are second in their division. We lost to the New Orleans Saints, which lead our division, and we've played some tougher teams. We played the Detroit Lions who are second and third in their division and are off and rolling. We've played some really tough teams," Morris said. Are you kidding me? Who does Morris want to play? Army? Navy? Central Florida? Then Dominik said: "We have a high standard around here in terms of what a loaf is in terms of Buccaneers history. So, when an effort is questioned, it is because we hold guys to a very high standard. Maybe some will see it as a lack of effort. Internally, from our organization, that is how we pride ourselves as a football team -- the way you play all the way through the down. We will continue to stress that, I think, out at practice." I am at a loss for words. Instead of putting fear into the players, the leadership continues to make excuses for them. Do you think those words above would have come out of Mike Tomlin's mouth, or Bill Belichick's? As I mentioned on Wednesday, the Bucs need leadership, not more excuses.
6. The Browns have not had a great season so far, but first-round pick Phil Taylor has played really well at defensive tackle. He is a force inside, showing power as well as the ability to convert his run-stopping skills into a pass rush.
7. With the Texans losing quarterback Matt Schaub for an extended period of time, many feel their playoff hopes might not be realized. But with a great running game and a good defense, they can still earn their first playoff appearance. But they will need to continue their fast starts in games, as the Texans have scored more than 80 points in each of the first two quarters. Playing with the lead has been a huge help to the Texans, and now it will be even more important.
8. The Redskins look horrible and it is doubtful it will get better any time soon. Their offense has regressed each week and it has to be clear to Mike Shanahan that he needs a quarterback. It will be interesting to see which quarterback Shanahan targets this offseason. He cannot blame the scheme for the offensive failures, since his son Kyle runs his offense, so expect them to be aggressive in trying to move up in the draft. The Redskins offseason will make the political scene on Capitol Hill look mild.
9. The Cardinals' Adrian Wilson is not a safety or a linebacker, and unless he is blocked on every play, he will make every tackle. He is a tackling machine without a real position. He plays best near the line of scrimmage and is used in the Troy Polamalu role in the Cards defense. Wilson has been a disruptive force all season and fun to watch.
10. Speaking of Polamalu, he does not have an interception all season. He has not shown the same burst or speed as he had in the past. Looks like Father Time is catching up to him, especially in the passing game. He looked bad on the A.J. Green touchdown catch last week, which has to worry the Steelers about playing him in the middle of the field.
11. The unsung hero of the 49ers has to be kicker David Akers. Akers is 5-for-5 beyond 50 yards this season and has only missed two field goals all year. With only five fumbles lost, three interceptions and just two missed field goals, the 49ers never seem to turn the ball over. Remember, missed field goals are like turnovers. Akers has been great, even though in the past he has not always kicked well in the wind of Candlestick.
12. Much like the Jets, when Baltimore loses everyone points to quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense. But last week, in spite of playing poorly the whole game, the Ravens had a chance to win -- but they could not get the ball back from the Seahawks. Look a little deeper, because losing in the league is never one side's fault. It usually takes a team effort, just like winning.
13. As hard as I have been on the Seahawks this year, they have gotten better each week and their defensive front is tough to handle. Defensive end Chris Clemons is really playing well and Red Bryant is a force on the edge. It is not easy running the ball on the Seahawks.
14. This talk that the Bears offensive line is playing better is just a myth. Jay Cutler is playing great, making incredible throws under heavy pressure. The Lions really controlled the line of scrimmage last week, and the difference in the game was Cutler's ability to make incredible throws.
15. Playing the Vikings in Minnesota is not an easy chore, and the Raiders will have to prove they can pass protect with all the crowd noise. This will be a tough game for the Raiders as the key matchups favor the Vikings. Winning in Minnesota will prove to many, myself included, that the Raiders are the best in the West. Or maybe the Tebow-led Broncos are? They just might be.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi