For all his flaws and deficiencies as a player, New England Patriots quarterback Tim Tebow has—over a limited sample size—proven to be a considerably better player during the winning moments of games.
Whether or not that makes Tebow a "winner" in a broader sense of the word is much harder to pin down.
Over 16 career starts, he is just 9-7 overall (including the postseason). Most would agree that a career winning percentage of 56.3 shouldn't be tied to one of the game's true "winners."
Even Mark Sanchez, who kept Tebow on the bench last season in New York, has a career winning percentage of 54.4, which clocks in only slightly below Tebow.
While NFL teams can and should be judged solely on win-loss records, it's fairly clear that accessing the winning capability of a quarterback shouldn't be placed solely on this rudimentary metric.
This is especially the case for Tebow.
The former Denver Broncos and New York Jets quarterback will never match Drew Brees in completion percentage or Peyton Manning in passing touchdowns. His career passer rating might always remain closer to JaMarcus Russell than Aaron Rodgers.
But there's something to Tebow's makeup that allows him to provide winning plays in the winning moments of games.
Bob Kraft, the Patriots owner that signed off on Tebow coming to New England this week, spoke to Mike Rodak of ESPN Boston on Wednesday about what his new quarterback brings to the table.
If you want to win in this league, you need quality depth management, in the age of the salary cap. Whenever you can get a competitive, first-grade person to join your team, you never know what happens. But for me personally, having Tim Tebow on this team, he's someone who believes in spirituality, he's very competitive and works hard, and has a great attitude, and he's a winner.
There's that word again: winner.
Wherever Tebow has landed in the NFL, the "winner" label has followed.
But determining if such a statement is accurate or not is a more tedious process than just looking at a few surface numbers. Let's peel back the layers on the "Tebow is a winner" onion to help find an answer.
Production When it Counts
Tebow's career numbers are certainly underwhelming, and far from what you'd expect from a "winner." He has completed just 47.9 percent of his 361 career attempts for 2,422 yards (6.7 yards/attempt), 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His career passer rating is only 75.3, well below the new standard for quarterback play.
But overall numbers don't tell the whole Tebow story.
Over nine games during his rookie season of 2010, he produced a passer rating of just 66.9 during the first half of games. Over the next 30 minutes? His passer rating skyrocketed to 91.3.
Such a statistical split could be thrown out over such a small sample size (just 82 passes in 2010). But the next season, in which Tebow played in 14 games and attempted 271 passes, the same phenomenon showed up again.
During 2011, his first-half passer rating finished at a pitiful 58.9. No quarterback with at least 250 attempts was worse over the first 30 minutes.
As was the case in 2010, the lightbulb came on for Tebow during the second half.
In the third and fourth quarters, he put together a respectable passer rating of 80.4. Almost all of his passing production came after halftime, including 10 of his 12 passing touchdowns and nearly 1,300 of his 1,729 yards.
In fact, in the fourth quarter alone, Tebow completed nearly 54 percent of his passes for 961 yards and six scores. He also produced 14 of his 25 completions over 20 yards in the final period.
He was also better in the fourth quarter of close games (within seven points), when his yards per attempt of 9.88 ranked in the top five of quarterbacks.
Even Tebow's rushing numbers peaked late in games during the 2011 season.
In the fourth quarter, he rushed for 258 of his 660 yards (most of any quarter) and three of his six touchdowns.
There are a number of possible explanations for Tebow's improvements late in games, including play-calling (offense opened up) and the scoreboard (Broncos frequently trailed). But there's no doubting that Tebow's numbers spiked in the biggest moments of games, including the fourth quarter.
Comebacks and Game-Winning Drives
Tebow has made just 16 career starts, and won only nine games, but seven of those wins have come complete with a game-winning drive or fourth-quarter comeback.
Not all comebacks are made equal, however, so let's take a quick glance back at all seven from his brief starting career:
2010, Week 16 vs. Houston Texans (24-23)
Down 17 points at halftime of his second career start, Tebow helped generate four second-half scoring drives—including a six-yard touchdown run with less than four minutes remaining that gave the Broncos a one-point lead. Rookie cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson intercepted Texans quarterback Matt Schaub on a deflected pass in Broncos territory with just over a minute left to secure the win.
After the game, Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey used a familiar phrase to describe Tebow.
"I've never seen a winner lose. He's a winner," Bailey said, per ESPN. "And I expect him to win a lot of games as a pro quarterback. Hopefully, I'm around here to see him do it."
2011, Week 7 at Miami Dolphins (18-15 OT)
After a disastrous first 55 minutes of his first 2011 start, Tebow rallied the Broncos for 15 points in the final 2:44 of the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime. Matt Prater then kicked a 52-yard field goal in the extra period to steal the improbable win.
While the 15-point comeback in the final three minutes was the first of its kind, Tebow had some help. A successful onside kick following the first score gave him a chance to tie the game late, while D.J. Williams' sack of Matt Moore in overtime put the Broncos into field goal position.
Once again, the talk postgame was about Tebow's ability to win.
"Hopefully the critics will get off him about what he can't do and talk about the things that he can do, and that's figure out a way to win the game, no matter what," Dolphins center Mike Pouncey said, per ESPN.
2011, Week 11 vs. New York Jets (17-13)
The Tebow legend continued to grow a month later.
Down three points with less than six minutes left, he orchestrated a 95-yard scoring drive to beat the visiting Jets. Tebow contributed 92 of the 95 yards on the winning drive, including the 20-yard touchdown run that became an iconic play for the Broncos' 2011 season.
Not to sound like a broken record, but the same winning commentary followed.
2011, Week 12 at San Diego Chargers (16-13 OT)
Tebow ran 22 times—a record for quarterbacks since 1970—and the Chargers missed a game-winning field goal in overtime as the Broncos once again snuck by with a narrow win.
After Nick Novak missed a 53-yard field goal, Tebow marched Denver 30 yards to set up Prater's 37-yard kick with just 27 seconds left in overtime.
Also, it's worth nothing that the Broncos only got to overtime after Tebow helped set up a game-tying field goal with a 60-yard drive late in the fourth quarter.
2011, Week 13 at Minnesota Vikings (35-32)
The Broncos rallied from three different deficits in the second half, thanks in large part to two third-quarter touchdown passes from Tebow and three other scoring drives in the fourth.
Down 32-29 with 3:06 left in the final period, Tebow led Denver to a quick field goal before Christian Ponder was intercepted with under two minutes left. The Broncos milked some clock before kicking the game-winning field goal.
"Hard to argue. That guy wins games," Ponder said, per ESPN.
"He's a winner. He's a leader," Vikings receiver and former teammate Percy Harvin said. "All of the things you hear about, you may think it's too much, but that's what he is."
2011, Week 14 vs. Chicago Bears (13-10)
The Broncos scored 10 points in the final 2:08 to once again erase a game's worth of offensive futility.
Tebow found Demaryius Thomas on a 10-yard score before Prater hit a 59-yard kick in the Mile High air to tie the game with three seconds left. Bears running back Marion Barber helped the cause when he ran out of bounds—stopping the clock—on Chicago's final drive of regulation.
Barber then fumbled in overtime with the Bears in field-goal range, which allowed Tebow to drive the Broncos 33 yards into field goal range. Prater connected a 51-yard kick to win it.
2011, Wild Card Round vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (29-23)
After watching Ben Roethlisberger recreate some Tebow magic late in the fourth quarter, the Broncos stunned the visiting Steelers with one of the most dramatic finishes in NFL playoff history.
On the first play of overtime, Tebow connected with Thomas on a deep crossing route that resulted in an 80-yard, walk-off touchdown. He finished with 316 yards passing, two touchdowns and a passer rating of over 120.0.
"He showed he's a quarterback in the NFL, case closed," McGahee said, per ESPN.
Judging by the volume of comebacks, it's probably no surprise that Tebow's passer rating jumped to just below 85.0 when the Broncos were down in games he started from 2010-2011.
His comebacks came in all shapes and sizes, and he's certainly benefited from a number of lucky breaks. However, there wasn't a single comeback that wasn't fueled by at least one big play from him in a crucial moment. In a number of the wins, it was Tebow who produced the signature play of the comeback.
Winners produce results in the biggest moments of the tightest games. Even over a limited sample size, Tebow has certainly accomplished this.
Is Tebow a "Winner"?
The answer to this question will likely depend on your own interpretation of the word.
If your kind of a winner is a quarterback like Brady, who has three Super Bowl rings, a sparkling win-loss record and universal respect as a passer, Tebow probably doesn't fit your mold.
But if the qualifications are more slanted towards playing your best in the biggest moments, Tebow still has a case. It's also worth noting that he won two national championships at Florida and then brought one of the more improbable division titles to Denver after the Broncos started 2011 with a 2-5 record.
Tebow's accomplishments in 2011 might always remain overlooked, especially after a disastrous 2012 season in which he rotted away on the Jets bench. His career is now at a crossroads, with a chance to learn behind Brady as the best chance of finding an eventual role down the road.
However, Tebow's ability to step to the plate during a game's biggest moment shouldn't be understated, even if he never gets another chance to start for an NFL franchise.
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