It was unlikely that James Surowiecki had the quarterback depth chart of the Denver Broncos in mind when he wrote The Wisdom Of Crowds, but it seems that Broncos coach John Fox may be applying his ideas. After weeks of listening to fans chanting for Fox to promote Tim Tebow to the starting quarterback role over Kyle Orton, Fox made the long-hoped for move in the second half of the Broncos' loss to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
With the unpopular incumbent starter struggling, the Broncos dug themselves a 23-10 hole in the first half. Orton completed six of his 13 pass attempts in the first two quarters for a paltry 34 yards. He tossed one interception and was not involved in his team's only touchdown, which came when Cassius Vaughn returned a Philip Rivers interception to the endzone.
Facing a manageable deficit but saddled with an underperforming signal caller, Fox told No. 15 that he'd be the No. 1 in the second half. Fans had yearned so badly for this move that they were willing to shell out for a billboard proclaiming their desire to see the former University of Florida star lead the offense.
At long last, those fans got their wish. And, at first, the results looked a lot like what Orton had produced during the first half.
Under center for the Broncos' first drive of the third quarter, Tebow handed off on first and second down before completing a short pass for no gain on third. Punt. Looking like an out-of-practice quarterback who had began the season as the team's No. 3 option, Tebow helmed another three-and-out the next time that he got on the field, following another handoff with two incomplete passes. Punt.
By the time he got the ball in his hands again it was the fourth quarter. Although Willis McGahee picked up a first down on the ground during that drive, Tebow continued to struggle with his arm, throwing two more incomplete passes. Before this drive also ended in a punt, Tebow did show the fans -- and, likely, the coaching staff -- a glimmer of what makes him special: he scrambled for a five-yard gain on 2nd down and 9.
Tellingly, Tebow took off running three times during the next Broncos' possession without attempting a single pass. The final dash of that drive went for 12 yards and a touchdown. The pro-Tebow crowd, predictably, went wilder. McGahee punched in the two-point conversion and the Broncos were on the comeback march at 26-18. In spite of the fact that Tebow had zero passing yards, the offense seemed to have more life than it had at any point during the first half. More tangibly, it had a touchdown to its credit.
After the Denver defense forced and recovered a fumble, Tebow and his offensive cohort took over on the San Diego half of the field with less than five minutes remaining. Again, Tebow was running on first down. After another McGahee run moved the chains, Tebow threw his most important pass of the game. It was a short toss completed to Knowshon Moreno, who was behind the line of scrimmage when he got the dump off from Tebow. Moreno then broke for the edge and rolled 28 yards for a touchdown. Trailing 26-24, the Broncos again went for two. Tebow threw a pass to wide receiver Brandon Lloyd in the corner of the endzone, but a defensive player made a terrific play to dislodge the ball.
Although the Chargers would score a field goal on their next drive, Tebow got the ball back in his hands with 24 seconds remaining and the chance to author a mircacle drive for a game-winning touchdown. On the first play of this drive, Lloyd made up for his drop on the earlier two-point conversion by make an outstanding one-handed grab on an overthrown ball by Tebow. With the clock wearing a Chargers uniform, Tebow completed his forth pass of the half to Brandon Fells in the middle of the field. After clocking the ball, Tebow dropped back and scrambled awkwardly before an incomplete Hail Mary attempt ended the game.
With the Broncos entering a bye week, many around the country -- and likely most season ticket holders in Denver -- are expecting Tebow to be the starter when the Broncos take the field against the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 23, even if Fox was noncommittal during his postgame remarks to the media.
While his deficiencies as a passer do not seem to have been be remedied, there is little doubting his effectiveness as a rusher -- or as a fount of crowd enthusiasm. If Tebow's time comes and goes without the Broncos improving their position in the league table then perhaps this episode will be less associated with Surowiecki's The Wisdom Of Crowds and more with the work that partially inspired its title: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay.