If a writer aims to sell a script to a Hollywood studio, the screenplay must include an interesting twist on page 12. Then an unexpected turn on page 37. And then a true shocker on page 50. And so on. The twists and turns must be intensely compelling and rhythmic. Kind of like Tim Tebow's NFL career.
In the midst of just his second professional season, Tebow has already provided a story tailor-made for the big screen, with numerous quirks in the plot:
» It begins with his surprise selection in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft. Tebow is taken at No. 25 overall by Josh McDaniels, a young, offensive-minded coach looking to restore excellence in a football-hungry city.
» But 12 games into Tebow's rookie season, McDaniels is fired, putting the quarterback's future with the organization in flux. How will a new regime, particularly franchise legend and newly minted executive vice president of football operations John Elway, utilize Tebow's unique skill set?
» After a lackluster 1-4 start, the Denver Broncos hand over the reins to Tebow, hoping to determine if he has a future with the organization. Amazingly, he guides Denver to seven wins in eight games, showing a penchant for late-game heroics. Tebowmania is born.
» But then Tebow and the Broncos hit the skids, losing their last three games and backing into the playoffs.
» Just as it appears "Tebow Time" has run out, the second-year signal-caller guides the Broncos to a thrilling, 29-23 overtime upset of the Steelers, Denver's first playoff win since 2005. Tebow throws for 316 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning score to Demaryius Thomas -- a player McDaniels also selected in the first round of the 2010 draft.
» Then the screenplay takes its most compelling twist yet. In the divisional round, the Broncos draw the New England Patriots, who just welcomed back McDaniels to his old post of offensive coordinator. Tebow vs. the coach who initially took a chance on him. Not even Francis Ford Coppola could imagine a script this interesting.
Tim Tebow is like the encyclopedia salesman that gets turned down door after door, but it never sways a belief that he'll one day make the big sale. Nothing can shake Tebow's confidence or his competitiveness. He always looks forward to the next play, the next game, the next challenge. No outside factors affect him. Tebow has the mental makeup of a great golfer that never allows a bogey from the previous hole to linger. And every time people think the end is near, Tebow rises up and adds another incredible chapter to his young career. After performing horrendously in Week 17 at home against the Chiefs, Tebow turned around to play his best game of the season against the Steelers' top-ranked defense.
After slaying the Steelers with a walk-off touchdown pass on Sunday, Tebow can finally end all those stupid questions.
Does Tebow have what it takes to be an effective starter in the NFL? Is he the man next year for the Broncos? When will defenses catch up to him?
Simply put, Tebow was the difference in a playoff game. His ability to run the ball forced the Steelers to play close to the line of scrimmage. They dared Tebow to beat him with his arm. And he did. Tebow consistently moved the offense with some of the best passes of his young career. The Broncos determined that Pittsburgh did not have anyone capable of covering Thomas on the outside and Tebow exploited this all game long. Tebow's inaccuracy has been a crippling issue at times this season, but that was not the case on Sunday. He made some incredible throws down the field, ending with a fantastic throw (and an even better catch) on the last play of the game.
With a potent passing game, the Broncos are a different team. The Patriots can no longer just dare Tebow to throw. And this could really open up the ground game, allowing the Broncos to control the clock and keep the Pats' high-powered offense off the field.
The buildup for Saturday night's showdown will be overwhelming. Typically, Bronco fans don't want to give McDaniels any credit for helping assemble this team. But they should. Tebow (and Thomas) saved their season. Denver is one of just eight teams still in the Super Bowl hunt, and that alone deserves a big thank you.
The Tebow story has all the makings of a great screenplay, and next weekend could offer the biggest twist yet ...
Things I loved
» I loved watching Saints quarterback Drew Brees throw the ball and run the offense from the line of scrimmage. And I loved the aggressive nature in which coach Sean Payton managed the game, knowing that his best defense was his offense's ability to keep scoring. Payton knows that every time his defense makes a stop, the offense has to score and raise the tempo of the game. Not many teams have the volume of offense or the ability to score like the Saints. And few teams have the toughness to match the Saints, which is what makes them so dangerous.
» I loved that the Texans were able to convert 50 percent of their third downs on offense with rookie quarterback T.J. Yates making quality throws and decisions. Yates played under control and never tried to take over the game. While knowing any mistake he made would hurt his team, he played confident -- not careful. The Texans were able to run the ball and did not force Yates to make every throw. With just 20 passes in the game, Yates was able to drive the ball down the field and win the possession downs.
» I loved how the Giants defensive line dominated the game, not allowing the Falcons to run the ball or convert any fourth-and-shorts. The strength of the Giants is in their front, and it was clearly evident the Falcons were getting pushed around. Each time the Falcons tried to sneak the ball for a first down, the Giants pushed back and the Falcons lost yards. When the Giants play this well up front, they are tough for any team to beat.
Things I hated
» I hated that Marvin Lewis was out of challenges before the half for the second time in his playoff career. Last time against the Jets in 2010, he had to go almost three quarters without any challenges; Sunday against the Texans, it happened once again. Clearly Lewis is allowing emotion to get in the way of his judgment. Lewis needs to do a better job of understanding game situations. Why challenge a spot on second-and-2 with more than 10 minutes to go in the second quarter? Why risk losing a timeout as well as a challenge for one yard on a non-possession down? The risk far outweighs the reward.
» I hated that the Falcons could not make any explosive plays in the passing game against one of the weaker secondaries in the league. And for all this talk about them being a tough team on both sides of the ball, how did they continue to fail in short-yardage situations on offense and on defense allow the worst running team in the NFL to rush for more than 170 yards. The Falcons are an average team at best. The first issue they need to address is rebuilding the offensive line with more power. And don't get me started on the bad game management from coach Mike Smith. That was another part I hated.
» I hated that the Lions forced two turnovers in the first half and could not covert them to points, thus wasting critical opportunities. Also, I hated that they could not win the time of possession as they allowed the Saints to score seven of the 10 times they touched the ball, never forcing the Saints to punt. The Lions need more help on defense, starting with a shutdown corner. They cannot be satisfied with just making the playoffs in 2011 and must work harder to become a legitimate Super Bowl team. They are close, but must fight off contentment and re-focus for 2012.
Things on my mind
» The Lions need to find a way to get tougher on offense and that might start with getting Mikel Leshoure back. Playing the Saints twice in one year should give the Lions the right prospective on the kind of toughness they need to be successful.
» Had the Steelers won, I'm not sure they could have fielded a competitive team next week in New England. Injuries took their toll on Pittsburgh.
» The Bengals had time to throw the ball, but they never made any big plays in the game. Next year they cannot allow a team to take away A.J. Green and hold him under 10 yards per catch like the Texans did.
» I hated the lack of effort from Cincinnati defenders on the last long run by Arian Foster. They looked like they cashed it in, and I hate seeing that. Play to the end.
» The Broncos gave up 400 yards and most people think they played well on defense. They made a few plays, but they did not play well.
» I expect the Steelers to go much younger on defense next year. They have to find some players that can stay on the field.
» I don't think the Giants can win it all without helping right tackle Kareem McKenizie in pass protection. He's a huge weak link in their line.
» Atlanta wasted money this year on defensive end Ray Edwards. And 2010 free-agent signee Dunta Robinson played poorly this season, as well.
» How do you pay Matt Ryan like a top quarterback after that performance? Until he can prove he can throw the ball outside the numbers in bad weather, Ryan will always be labeled a dome quarterback.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi