For as long as pro scouts have analyzed Tebow, they have made that comparison – they have put him up against proverbial the bedroom door of quarterback legend and measured him next to the marks left by Tom Brady, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers.
That measuring stick makes sense, after all. The National Football League is in its Golden Age of the Quarterback. An elite passer is the one indispensable integer in pro football’s current winning formula. And by that measure, Tebow is a kindergarten quarterback.
His mechanics are a mess. His accuracy is more shotgun than sniper. His passes often wobble like wounded clay pigeons.
But on Sunday, Tebow took the first real steps toward telling the football world that there might be another measuring stick. One that applies only to him.
The Broncos pulled off the biggest upset of the weekend for many reasons. But foremost among them was that Tebow was at least an average passer. Some of his throws were arcing darts of genuine skill. Some failed to find the intended area code.
But, on balance, he made the important throws that the defense gave him. If he can find a way to do that more consistently, he could become a revolution of one.
The fact is, Tebow presents challenges to a defense that no other quarterback in pro football can. Essentially, he is a running back who can throw.
This is different from, say, Michael Vick, who has enormous skill running the ball, but whose build is too slight to take routine battering from linebackers who see him as a green-clad bulls-eye. The threat Vick presents to defenses is that he can turn a failed pass into a big gain.
Tebow, by contrast, is a threat to run the ball on any given down – not from a broken play, but because he is an excellent runner who can dish out as much punishment as he takes. There are, quite simply, no other quarterbacks who can do this.
That means defenses need to account for it. The quarterback is no longer a passive target playing hot potato with the football. He is a weapon in himself that needs to be accounted for, and often tackled.
That threat turned the Broncos into the best rushers of the ball in the league this season – with nearly 10 yards more per game than the No. 2 team.
Defenses must respect that – and they have by basically daring Tebow to throw the ball. The tactic has worked mostly because Tebow has so far shown himself incapable of consistently finding and hitting open receivers with passes.
That changed Sunday.
Actually, Tebow completed only 10 passes – less than 50 percent of those he attempted. By way of comparison, Brees completed 33 Saturday – 77 percent of those he attempted. But because the Steelers were programmed to stop the run, those 10 completed passes were nuclear in their impact.
The most obvious example was the game-winning pass in overtime. Tebow burned the Steelers defense with a 15-yard pass that receiver Demaryius Thomas ran another 65 yards for a touchdown. Thomas could run all day because all the Steelers were behind him, waiting for a running play.
One commentator said it was a pass that a high school quarterback could have made. But that is the world Tebow has made for himself. If he can make high-school passes, he can make it in the NFL.
That fact highlights Tebow uniqueness.
For most young quarterbacks, the problems to overcome when they arrive in the NFL are grasping the pro game’s complicated schemes and defenses' tremendous speed. For Tebow, still in his first year as a starter and second year out of college, the challenge is completely different.
Learn how to pass the ball – to be even an average NFL passer – and he could be an extraordinary asterisk in the Golden Age of the Quarterback.