Tim Tebow's presence isn't holding back Mark Sanchez one bit. He handles questions about his job security affably and self-assuredly and is confident enough about his abilities to rally the Jets from 10 points down in a fourth quarter at Foxboro.
Sanchez is not as consistently accurate as the elite quarterbacks and may never be. But he still is in only his fourth season and already has directed 11 fourth-quarter comebacks to victories, plus won four postseason games. And that is a lot. After a bad start without his two best receivers — one of whom, Dustin Keller, has returned — the Jets QB 1 has resumed doing just fine, leaving Tebow's presence instead to threaten the reputation of new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano.
The "tip of the iceberg," what Sanchez called the first Wildcat showing by the Jets in their opener against Buffalo, has turned out to be a dry Popsicle stick. Seven games in, these "packages" for Tebow that Sanchez referred to again yesterday are delivered in plain brown wrapping.
Three direct snaps to Tebow in punt formations have resulted in one passing first down and two running first downs, further enhancing Mike Westhoff's reputation as the best special teams coach of them all. But those successes also point out how the Jets are not even scratching the surface of the capabilities of Tebow from scrimmage, leaving the fans understandably itchy.
From third-and-2 at the New England 3 on Sunday, Tebow picked up a first down and Shonn Greene finished an impressive game-opening drive. But on second-and-4 at the Patriots 5 in the third quarter, Tebow stayed on the bench as Greene ran for 2 yards and an entirely predictable slant to Chaz Schilens was batted down.
The Jets recovered a fumbled kickoff with a chance to run the clock down and win the game against a New England defense that had barely been to the bench. In came Tebow for the first play — The Play the Jets should have been saving for six weeks and for Bill Belichick. Instead, Tebow took it into the line for his by now standard 2 yards, and long yardage became even longer after one run by a crippled Joe McKnight and a sack on third down.
Against Houston, Tebow ran for 13 yards and a first down to the Texans' 3, got buried for no gain on the next play, and out he went, thank you very much for coming. The Jets settled for a field goal. In Miami, Tebow turned a little too late for a Sanchez pass in the flat, had it hit him in the helmet and the Jets haven't thrown to him since.
He receives no series of his own, no opportunities to run an option or to be the option. But Tebow does get to stand in front of the media every Wednesday and some Fridays and say he's happy to do whatever is asked, which he knows and we all know is not enough.
"You just try to be prepared for what they ask you to do that week," Tebow repeated yesterday. "It changes every week."
It doesn't, though, not on Sundays anyway, which likely diminishes the time opponents have to prepare for Tebow, all the while increasing the questions of what he is doing here.
"We haven't had the dramatic results we've had with the punt team, where he affects almost every punt," said Rex Ryan on Wednesday. "When he's back there playing personal protector, New England just plays defense and Robert Malone is able to take his time and launch some punts because they know we'll fake it.
"I know we're scared, but we'll fake it in our own territory and all areas of the field."
Just a little sarcasm there from a head coach who was accused of timidity in playing for a field goal when a touchdown would have all but put away the Patriots. But the Jets surely aren't scaring the Dolphins Sunday with anything other than fake punts. The Jets have not been firing a unique weapon that last season got Denver to the second round of the postseason.
"We've played seven games," said Ryan. "We'll see at the end.
"I will say this: I'm happy Tim is with us, no question about this. And I stand by my comments that he is a tremendous football player and quarterback."
The tremendous football player and quarterback got four touches in a game for the division lead against the Jets' archrival. Whether Tebow was Ryan's and Mike Tannenbaum's idea or Woody Johnson's, No. 15 is here and capable of making things easier for Sanchez.
That's the definition of good coaching, putting players in situations where they can most be successful. For that task, the Jets hired Sparano, who oversaw the introduction of the Wildcat into the NFL when he was head coach of the Dolphins, even though the true architect, then-Miami quarterback coach David Lee, is in Buffalo.
Tebow is in New York, surely wondering why, along with everyone else. Since the Jets seem to have little idea how to use him, the lingering debate about him as either a torch to light Sanchez's fire or the pyromaniac to burn the starter's confidence to a crisp has proven ridiculous.
The Jets aren't changing to some option-type quarterback system that their head coach and offensive coordinator seem to have no interest in running. So the whole issue of a debilitating starting quarterback controversy is a red herring, especially since Ryan lights up when he talks about Tebow as the ultimate bait and yet the Jets can't or won't dangle him on the hook.