MIAMI (Reuters) - It was one of the most engaging stories of last year’s NFL season - ‘Tebow Time’, the thrilling fourth quarter comebacks led by the unorthodox Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.
One year on from the start of that exciting and unlikely series of games Tebow finds himself on the sideline for the struggling New York Jets, used very occasionally as a receiver.
It was the October 23 game last year against Miami when Tebow, a Heisman Trophy winner with the University of Florida, made his first start of the season and after three quarters he had completed just three of eight passes for a paltry 24 yards.
But two touchdowns in the final three minutes led Denver to a remarkable 18-15 overtime win and started a run of form that captivated the public.
Six thrilling wins in the remaining 10 games of the season took Denver into the playoffs and he threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns in a memorable win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
A crushing 45-10 defeat to the New England Patriots ended the adventure but few would have imagined that Tebow would not have started a game at quarterback by week eight of this season.
Tebow, whose frequent kneeling for on-field prayers led a trend for ‘Tebowing’ and sparked widespread admiration and debate, was traded by the Broncos in the off-season as Denver upgraded to free agent Peyton Manning - a move which so far is paying off well for the 4-3 Broncos who lead the AFC West.
The deal was always going to be better for Denver than it was for Tebow, given that the Jets had a starting quarterback in Mark Sanchez and their head coach Rex Ryan had made it clear that Tebow was going to be used sparingly in the occasional ‘wildcat’ formation.
But in the past three games Tebow has been allowed to make just one pass and in Sunday’s woeful 30-9 home loss to divisional rivals Miami he was involved in just five snaps, running the ball once.
On Sunday some Jets fans vented their frustration at the struggling Sanchez by chanting for Tebow but coach Rex Ryan said he had not even considered changing quarterbacks.
“I never felt it was the time to do it. Mark is our quarterback. I just though he gave us the best chance to win,” said Ryan at the post-game news conference.
Sanchez said the crowd chants did not worry him: “There is nothing I can do about it. You’re playing in a big market and this is a grown man’s game. They want results and we’re not playing well so they are going to call for someone else. It doesn’t matter”.
Tebow, as he has done since arriving in New York where he has been unerringly cautious in his statements, played down the impact of the chants for his introduction.
“I‘m just ready and willing. Whenever they call my number, I go out there to help the team and I‘m not listening to what the crowd is saying,” he said.
He repeated similar lines when asked about being disappointed with his lack of opportunities and whether he would discuss his situation with the coaching staff.
But it is hard to imagine someone as competitive and as self-confident as Tebow is enjoying being a bit-player in a mediocre team.
Talking to the Star Ledger on Monday, Ryan conceded that Tebow might be frustrated.
“Any competitor wants to be out there playing, it wouldn’t be shocking if that is how he felt,” he said, adding that the Jets would take a “hard look” at how they are using him.
But Ryan also said that “hard look”, for the moment at least, does not involve giving Tebow a chance at quarterback.
With no strong rumors of a move for him before this week’s trade deadline, one of the most popular and talked about personalities in American sport looks like being left on the sidelines.
Reporting By Simon Evans; Editing by John Mehaffey