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John Elway and Tim Tebow: One Final Comparison


After Tim Tebow's first five starts of the 2011 season, long before Tebowmania had fully bloomed and before Tebowing was even a thing, I took the occasion to compare his five starts to John Elway's first five turns under center in Denver. Neither statline was pretty, but fortunately, Elway had a patient Bronco braintrust that was fully prepared to give him all the time he needed. 

Elway would offer his young protégé no such time to develop. 

The sometimes thrilling, sometimes maddening, always fascinating Tebow era in Denver is over, and not a moment too soon for Elway, for whom every Tebow fourth-quarter comeback was like a kick in the horse-teeth. I have to admit that I'll miss the pressbox shots of Elway chewing nails while fans rejoiced and Tebow bowed in prayer after yet another improbable win. 

So, in honor of their apparent parting of ways, I'm giving this Tebow-Elway comparison thing one last go-round. To those of you who thought I was being unfair to Elway the last time due to the small sample size and Elway's eventual greatness, I've decided to compare Tebow's 11 starts in 2011 to Elway's first 10 seasons in Denver. Surely, that's enough time for Elway to have established himself as far superior to this latter-day saint masquerading as a QB, right?

Judge for yourself.

                                              Tim Tebow (11 starts)                John Elway (10 seasons)
Winning %                                      .636                                            .631
Postseason Winning %                   .500                                            .583
Postseason 300-yard games               1                                                 2
Comp %                                         46.9                                             54.7
TD-INT                                         11-6                                  158-157 (avg. season 15.8-15.7)
TD responsibility/game                  1.5                                               1.3
INT/game                                        0.5                                               1.1
Total yards/game                           206.7                                           225.7
Rushing yards/game                      56.6                                             15.8

Judging from these numbers, Elway's first decade in the league was not decisively better than Tebow's 2011 season in Denver by any metric — even passing, a category where Elway's yardage and accuracy advantages are offset by his alarming interception propensity.

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I know, I know, different era, rules changes, yadda yadda yadda. Plus, by this point in his career, Elway had cashed in on his potential with three Super Bowl trips. Of course, once he got there, he taught the world a thing or two about colossal failure on the biggest stage. In those three games, he threw two touchdowns and five interceptions. His 10-of-26, 108-yard, two-interception debacle, a statline that produced a passer rating of 19.4, in the Broncos' 55-10 Super Bowl loss to the Niners would have embarrassed Tebow on his worst day.  

Tebow will get no such opportunity to humiliate himself with the whole world watching, at least in a Broncos uniform. Elway has jettisoned his problem child for the one guy who allows him to get away with it cleanly. Savvy move. 

I leave you with a quote from my previous article, since I still stand by it:

"Tebow is not the NFL prototype at the position that Elway was, and he may never be an effective pocket passer. But he brings attributes to the position that still make him worth the risk, particularly for a team that's going nowhere and doesn't possess a better option. It's hard to play NFL quarterback; there are fewer than 32 guys on the planet who can do it competently. I may be crazy, but given Timmy's intangibles, I think this experiment could still work."

-by Rob Doster