Just a taste of Tebow

CINCINNATI – Tim Tebow’s New York Jets preseason debut showed us that The Most Popular Backup Quarterback Ever can run when he needs to and isn’t afraid to take a hit or try to stick a pass into traffic.

Nothing has changed there. And nothing has changed with the Jets’ plans, either. Rex Ryan has been adamant that Mark Sanchez is his starter and Tebow is his backup and situational quarterback.

In a game that means little in the big picture and would have been even more of a snoozer if not for Tebow’s presence Friday night, the Jets saw Tebow bust two first-down runs, throw one beautiful pass that was dropped, throw one interception in scoring territory and play as the personal protector on their first two punts. In summation, Tebow did what any good backup tries to use these preseason games to do during the Bengals’ 17-6 win Friday.

He got noticed. He made his coaches remember what they like about him.

“Tim did a nice job,” Ryan said. “When he steps in, he can burn you with his feet. He did a nice job throwing the ball. Unfortunately, he had a big drop. The one that got intercepted has to be thrown in front of the receiver, but I thought Tim played well.”

The Jets have a situation involving an offensive line that isn’t blocking much of anybody, leaving Sanchez susceptible and leaving open the thought that a quarterback who’s a natural runner might, eventually, be the best fit. It’s early and the preseason means little, but there are few indications that the Jets offense, in its current state, is going to be putting big points on the scoreboard.

The whispers will continue. The big lefty who looks like a fullback — and sometimes throws like one, too — will remain somewhere between a viable and valuable option.

Tebowmania. Stay tuned.

Tebow’s final line Friday night was 4-of-8 passing for 27 yards with the interception and a positively Tebowian passer rating of 18.2. Remember, he went 2-for-8 passing in a game vs. Kansas City last November, and his Broncos won. He got an 8-8 Broncos team to the playoffs and eliminated the Steelers. He has been known to find a way, and the Jets traded for him in March thinking he’s a unique risk worth taking.

Whatever it is that Tebow does to get himself free and keep plays alive was on display Friday night, even if it was in abbreviated form and against a second-team defense. He got 34 yards on four rushes. On his first, he stepped away from what looked to be a sure sack and turned it into a 14-yarder. He got 10 yards on another improvised keeper later in the drive.

The Jets got a field goal and picked up five first downs over three drives Tebow led. A fourth started deep in Jets territory in the final minute of the first half and featured three straight-ahead runs designed to try to kill the clock.

“I like the poise Tim showed,” Ryan said. “He made some big runs and that’s what we say he can do. If you want to come after him, you’d better get to him. In time, he’ll kill you running and that’s what he did.”

Tebow’s been working tirelessly — that’s his specialty — on improving his passing mechanics and becoming a better, um, regular quarterback this summer.

“I’m getting better,” Tebow said. “My footwork and rhythm (are better). My drops from under center are better. All that leads to better accuracy.”

His first pass of the night was a dart, a 12-yarder thrown right on the money to rookie receiver Stephen Hill. It was Hill who dropped a third-down pass that killed Tebow’s second drive.

His last pass of the game was intercepted by diving Bengals rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who read Tebow’s eyes as he rolled left and sprawled out to keep Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland from having a chance to make a play on the ball.

“Obviously, I want that last throw back,” Tebow said. “We were (driving). There’s no reason for me to try to force that. It was just a stupid play by me and a great play by the linebacker to catch it. I should have just swung it out to the flats.”

When Sanchez and the Jets’ starters left the field after going three and out to start the game, Tebow said he started following Sanchez to the bench to meet with the coaches before realizing he was supposed to be on the punt team. He jogged to his spot on time and without incident, and he tangled with Bengals running back Brian Leonard while in pursuit of the return.

Maybe he can’t even believe he’s actually playing on the punt team.

Any short-yardage, goal-line or Wildcat packages the Jets might have for Tebow were not used Friday night. In fact, Ryan said that Bengals coach Marvin Lewis called him this week and asked him not to use any Wildcat plays in this game. Presumably, Lewis was saying that his team hadn’t had time to install any Wildcat-defense plans. There’s generally very little, if any, gameplanning involved with the first preseason game. That coaches would talk on the phone at all – let alone about strategy – says it all about what these games mean in the big picture.

Gamesmanship, though, is one reason Ryan teases the Wildcat and keeps Tebow ready. Even if Sanchez isn’t running for his life when the real games start, Jets’ opponents will have to prepare for Tebow cameos, Tebow on the goal line, Tebow running fakes with the punt team.

“I guess I’m the only one who thinks the Wildcat has a place in the NFL,” Ryan said. “Me and every defensive coach in the league. It will help us.”

Tebow said he’s fine keeping whatever specialty plays the Jets have in mind under wraps until the real games begin.

“Whatever the coaches want to do is fine with me,” Tebow said. “They know I’m going to give my heart and soul. They’re smarter than I am so we’ll see how that all goes.”

Friday’s game proved, again, that Tebow is certainly anything but another backup quarterback. Fans were so excited to see Tebow that a group of them gathered at a Downtown Cincinnati hotel Friday afternoon to watch Tebow come down an escalator and board the bus for the stadium. A television camera on the 25-yard line on the northwest side of the stadium was devoted strictly to following Tebow on the Jets’ sideline from the time the Jets took the field in pregame until after the first punt.

The Jets got a punt blocked for a touchdown late in the first half when Tebow’s quarterback duties left the personal protector duties to someone else. Maybe the Bengals had a great rush plan drawn up and would have blocked it with Tebow in there. Or, maybe he’s the best personal protector ever. Time will tell.

That’s the thing with Tebow. None of us know where his career — or this calculated Jets risk — is headed. We just know it will continue to be a captivating watch.