Trent Dilfer, Tim Tebow and Earl Morrall have more in common than you think.
Tim Tebow was third on the Denver Broncos' depth chart when the season began, but since taking over as the starter in Week 6, he has guided the team to seven wins in eight games and is now poised to lead them to their first playoff berth since 2005.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since the NFL-AFL merger 1970, there have been 66 quarterbacks who have taken over as starter after the team's first four games and started at least eight more games the rest of the season.
Only three of them have gone 7-1 or better as starters in that same season: Earl Morrall with the 1972 Miami Dolphins, Trent Dilfer with the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, and now Tebow with the Broncos this year. Both the previous teams went on to win the Super Bowl in those years.
When most people consider the legacies of the 1972 Dolphins and the 2000 Ravens, however, the team’s starting quarterback is hardly the first name that comes to mind.
For the Dolphins, it almost didn’t matter who was behind center as the team went 11-0 with Morrall and 6-0 with Bob Griese, who started the Super Bowl; for the Ravens, their historic defense captured the headlines.
But for the Broncos, Tebow has been the center of attention during the team’s incredible run over the past two months despite evidence that the Broncos success late in games hasn’t all been about Tebow.
Since most of the arguments made for Tebow are about how the team has done in his starts, let’s put individual statistics aside and compare these three quarterbacks in terms of how their team performed with each of them at the helm.
QBs 7-1 or Better
After Taking Over Midseason
Morrall and Dilfer’s offenses were much more prolific and consistent than Tebow’s and they were supported by defenses that also allowed significantly fewer points per game.
However, the Broncos’ scoring defense average is heavily skewed by a 45-10 loss to the Detroit Lions. Excluding that contest, they’ve given up just 16.4 points per game.
They have held their opponent to 15 or fewer points in five games, a number that matches the defense of 1972 Dolphins and is one fewer than what the 2000 Ravens did.
The main difference between Tebow’s situation this year and the other two quarterbacks is that the 1972 Dolphins and 2000 Ravens still had winning records without Morrall and Dilfer, but the Broncos were 1-4 with Kyle Orton as starter.
This may speak to a leadership or inspirational element that Tebow provides which somehow motivates the team (in particular, the defense and special teams) to play better than before he was the starter.
Could that be the only reason that Tebow has been brought up in MVP talk while Dilfer and Morrall are generally considered “weak links” on teams that went on to win the Super Bowl?
The facts show that each team’s success with these three starting quarterbacks who took over in the middle of the season is very similar, yet Dilfer and Morrall were never given the credit that Tebow has received this season.