published Monday, January 9th, 2012

Wiedmer: If only Tebow were a real NFL quarterback

It becomes more obvious every week that Tim Tebow can't play quarterback in the National Football League. A real NFL quarterback would never have been forced to go to overtime to knock the defending American Football Conference champion Pittsburgh Steelers out of the playoffs Sunday evening.

A real quarterback would have carved them up in regulation rather than being forced to throw an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first offensive snap of OT to win 29-23.

Heck, a real NFL QB could have thrown for 516 yards instead of 316 (including OT) against Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, even if LeBeau is supposed to be the best in the business (especially since Monte Kiffin ran off to save his son's collegiate coaching career).

And all that running around from Tebow. What real NFL quarterback risks his future or his team's sizable financial investment in him by running for 50 yards against the likes of Pittsburgh hit man James Harrison?

It's all almost enough to make you think Tim Terrific thinks he's the second coming of that former outrageously talented Denver Broncos quarterback, you know, that John Elway fellow.

Crazy, huh?

But for at least one more week, all these purists who think trumpeting Tebow as a special NFL talent is like hailing Justin Beiber as the new Elvis will have to swallow hard and admit, "I'll grudgingly admit he's better than I thought he'd be."

Of course, while Tebowmania is great and growing -- at least until Sunday's trip to New England -- Atlanta Falcons Nation must ponder what it is to do with coach Mike Smith, quarterback Matty "Ice Cold" Ryan and an offensive line that couldn't move whipped cream.

When Smith oddly went for it on fourth down in overtime against the New Orleans Saints inside the Georgia Dome during the regular season it almost -- almost, mind you -- made sense.

As Smith said later, handing the ball back to Saints QB Drew Brees when all he needs to do is engineer a field goal is definitely rolling the dice.

But Sunday against the New York football Giants wasn't a regular season game against one of the three most lethal offenses in all of football. Sunday was against the conservative Giants, a team unlikely to score big points, a team whose defense had ranked 27th in the NFL prior to the playoffs, though injuries had certainly created a false positive.

Point is, field goals could have sufficed for a time. Field goals might have made the Giants jittery. Field goals, if nothing else, would have kept the Birds close.

But did Smith attempt to kick two near-certain field goals when drives stalled? No. He twice ran Ryan into the line on quarterback sneaks for no gain.

The first was reasonably understandable, though a field goal would have given Atlanta an early 3-0 lead. But the second was inexcusable. Down 10-2, Smith ordered a spread formation with an empty backfield, then asked Ryan to push forward for a yard with no momentum.

The resulting failed play sent all the momentum the way of the Giants, who scored a backbreaking touchdown three plays later to put the fragile Falcons in a 17-2 hole.

Game over. Season over. Belief that this Atlanta coach and this Atlanta quarterback have what it takes to do anything more than reach the playoffs over.

Fair or not, both Smith and Ryan are 0-3 in playoff games, and the last two have been disasters.

Beyond that, Atlanta won two games all season against teams that finished with winning records _ Detroit and Tennessee.

So what to do? Fire the coach? Trade the quarterback? Take a step back, relax and reluctantly admit this team may still have some maturing to do?

First, Smith has done far more right than wrong during his four years as head coach. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey may need to move along, and the offensive line clearly needs work, but the overall product remains strong.

As for Ryan, he may not yet be Peyton, but neither is he Vince Young. He's a hard worker with a capable arm and a bright mind. And with a little better protection, he has the passing skills to be far more a game changer than game manager.

And since the Falcons mortgaged their longterm future for short-term success by dumping five draft picks last spring to pick Julio Jones, they have no choice but to build their offense around the pass.

Unless, of course, they want to now trade a wideout or two for a couple of offensive linemen.

Regardless, there's no way to overstate the negative message this result sends Falcons Nation, even if team owner Arthur Blank told the Atlanta media late Sunday, "I don't think the team took a step back, but I think obviously we're disappointed."

At least they don't have to trouble themselves with how to live with an overmatched quarterback such as Tim Tebow.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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