FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- He's a phenomenon, he's a lightning rod, he's a winner and yet, he's derided as a gimmick and a faux quarterback in a fullback's body.
It's presumed but so far unconfirmed that he's also driving his new boss, John Elway, absolutely crazy on style points alone. Elway just can't publicly say so because Tim Tebow -- the so-called worst passing quarterback in NFL history, according to his critics -- just happens to be a surprising 3-1 as Denver's 2011 starter. And by this Monday morning, Tebow and the Jets were both the talk of the NFL, albeit for wildly different reasons.
Just hours before the Jets got smoked Sunday in their AFC East showdown with their archrivals, New England Patriots, to damage their division title chances, Tebow's Broncos -- whom the Jets travel to play Thursday -- pulled off two things that even Elway never accomplished in his Hall of Fame career: They won a game by throwing just eight passes and completing only two (something Giants quarterback Eli Manning thought was a typo when he was checking NFL news on his cell phone Sunday night) and beat their AFC West rivals Oakland and Kansas City on the road in back-to-back weeks.
So whatever swagger the Jets still have left after their 37-16 loss to New England was for the most part tucked away Tuesday as they spoke about facing Tebow and a Broncos offense that ran the ball 55 times for 244 yards in its 17-10 win in Kansas City on Sunday. Plenty of Jets may have been among the players who voted Tebow the NFL's most overrated player in a recent Sporting News survey, but only cornerback Darrelle Revis was saying anything remotely provocative about him Tuesday amid Rex Ryan's compliments about Tebow's passing and LaDainian Tomlinson's characterization of Tebow as "a winner."
When asked if the Broncos can win in the NFL over the long haul with Tebow and an option rushing offense that passes as infrequently as Denver has, Revis said maybe -- if your quarterback is Michael Vick and your running back is Chris Johnson, Tennessee's former NFL rushing leader.
What about with Tebow?
"No," is all Revis said.
Tebow has heard similar slams before, of course. When asked during a conference call with reporters Tuesday if he had any reaction to Revis' remarks, he just said, "No, not really. He's a great player. And I'm really looking forward to playing him Thursday night ... I honestly don't necessarily pay attention or worry too much about what others say. I just try to get better."
Tebow's long-term prognosis should be the least of the Jets' concerns right now. The Jets are only 5-4, and they badly need a win because they're in a dogfight for even a wild-card playoff spot. Earlier this season, they couldn't hang on to beat Oakland on the road, where Tebow and the Broncos just trounced the Raiders, 38-24. So it'd be smart for the Jets to avoid getting caught up with what's not supposed to happen with Tebow and commit themselves to not contributing to his legend. Or figuring out how to stop a Denver rushing attack that has now racked up an unbelievable 543 yards in its last two games.
That ain't supposed to happen in the NFL, either. And the way Tebow's NFL career is going, if someone says they've got film of him walking on water in the team's whirlpool, opposing teams should just nod and add it to the scouting report, no questions asked.
They can put it right next to the line about how Tebow has actually had more rushing attempts in his 1½-year NFL career than pass completions, or how his overall stats can't compare with those of Carolina Panthers rookie Cam Newton, a better long-term NFL prospect who couldn't beat out Tebow for the starting quarterback job when they were both at the University of Florida. But look: Tebow already has one more 2011 win than Newton has had in five more starts this year.
For his next trick, Tebow may just spark Denver to the division title in the mediocre AFC West if the Broncos keep winning. And that would give the Broncos their first playoff berth since 2006.
All of that seemed unthinkable when Tebow took over as the Broncos' starter amid conspiracy theories that Elway and coach John Fox were only starting him in place of Kyle Orton to shut up the Tebowmaniacs once and for all, and to prove the kid can't play at the NFL level even if departed coach Josh McDaniels did draft Tebow in the first round.
Fox tried to dismiss the sabotage accusations Tuesday, saying, "That doesn't make any sense. It's like buying a Ferrari and pouring sugar in the gas tank."
But the Tebow decision was partly blamed for costing McDaniels his job. And you couldn't blame Fox, an NFL longtimer and former Bill Parcells assistant who waited years to get a head coaching shot, if deep down he regards Tebow as a coach-killer too. The lack of a bona fide quarterback in Carolina cost Fox his job this offseason, seven years after he took the Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII.
So for now, anyway, Fox is just trying to come up with some kind of offense that works for Tebow. Elway is biting his tongue and throwing out the sort of platitudes he did Monday, telling a Denver radio station, "Winning is how a quarterback is judged."
And although Tebow could reasonably find the constant stream of negativity during his encounters with analysts and reporters and opponents personally defeating -- it often seems as if they're wielding a hammer, and he's the nail -- he rarely lets on that it bothers him, let alone asks for anyone's indulgence.
When the Detroit Lions sacked Tebow in their game a few weeks ago and then mocked how he sometimes takes a knee and prays on the field, Tebow left it to others to rip the Lions for mocking his religious faith.
He prefers to point out that he does have a huge legion of believers, too. And some of them are in the Broncos' locker room.
"Oh yeah -- I'm buying Tebow," rookie linebacker Von Miller says.
The Broncos are on a little roll right now. The Jets are not. Even Fox concedes he has no idea if winning with Tebow hardly passing the ball can last.
The Jets' goal this week should be to avoid judging or explaining or underestimating the Tebow phenomenon.
Just consider him unconventionally dangerous. Then stop him. And leave it at that.