FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tim Tebow walked off the practice field with no reporters blocking his path to the locker room. Finally, a few strolled up for a 90-second interview, then moved on to longer chats with other Patriots.
The media circus that surrounded him last season is gone.
His uncertain future remains.
Ten weeks into what could be his last shot at staying in the NFL, Tebow seems to be on the roster bubble. He is simply trying to make the team now, but has played poorly in two exhibition games.
His passer rating was 0.0 — that’s zero-point-zero — in New England’s 25-21 win over Tampa Bay last Friday night.
“You would definitely want to do better in some areas,” said Tebow, the only quarterback the Patriots used in the second half against the Buccaneers. “Also, you have different things happen that you just try to handle the best way you can.”
He completed just one of seven passes for a loss of one yard, and had one interception on a badly overthrown pass. He was sacked twice on his first nine plays. But the lefty who has trouble reading defenses and zipping passes did what he does best, running six times for 30 yards.
A week earlier, in his debut, he was a bit better — 4 for 12 for 55 yards with four runs for 31 yards in a 31-22 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Numbers may not lie, but Coach Bill Belichick sees a larger truth. He watches Tebow at every practice, sees how diligently he studies and how dedicated he is in the weight room.
And he sees some positive steps from the player traded by the Denver Broncos and cut by the New York Jets in a span of 13 months.
“Yeah, definitely,” Belichick said. “I think if you look at the entire week last week, that it will look different than the game did.”
Tebow could get another chance in the third preseason game on Thursday night against the Lions in Detroit. That’ll be five days before the mandatory roster cut to 75 players. The Patriots finish the exhibition schedule Aug. 29 against the New York Giants. The final cut to 53 comes two days later.
Tebow, as expected, says he’s not thinking about his prospects of sticking around. Grasping the New England offense is difficult enough.
“I just focus one day at a time,” he says, “improving every single practice.”
It’s not even an issue?
“Just getting ready for the practice,” he says with a smile.
Belichick has been typically reticent. The Patriots signed Tebow for a reason, of course, and though New England often carries just two quarterbacks, the veteran coach is unfazed by preseason results.
Asked last week if he plans to keep Tebow, if healthy, on the 53-man roster, Belichick said, “That’s not anything that we’re ready to talk about right now. A lot of competition out there. We’ll see how it all plays out.”
There are some factors in Tebow’s favor.
He could be used as a punt protector, forcing opponents to play for a fake on a direct snap. He could line up as a receiver, pose as a decoy, or give Tom Brady a target for a quick pass to the sideline that he can run with. He’s played only quarterback in training camp drills, all open to the media, but could be used elsewhere now that the practices are open for just a short time period.
With Tom Brady having thrown all but 47 of the Patriots’ passes the last four years and Ryan Mallett entrenched as the backup, coaches may view Tebow as a project with plenty of time to work on his quarterbacking skills without having to play in games.
And would the Patriots keep a sixth defensive end or sixth cornerback instead of him?
But then, there are the negatives.
The Patriots have kept just two quarterbacks in three of the past four years. Tebow tends to scramble too soon, without exhausting all options down the field. And when he does look down there, finding his third or fourth receiving option has been a problem.
And then, of course, some throws have been well out of the receivers’ grasp.
But Belichick is known for utilizing a player’s strengths even if he has glaring shortcomings. That’s the Patriot Way.
“All players have different skill sets and some guys do some things better than others,” he said. “I think we see a lot of good quarterbacks in the NFL. They aren’t all maybe the best passers, but their ability to run and pass and make plays — design plays, scramble plays, whatever it is — makes them a high level player. I don’t think there’s one specific style you have to have or don’t have to have.
“In the end, it’s about production and being able to do enough things to be successful.”
Tebow had success in Denver. He threw the winning pass on the first overtime play from scrimmage against Pittsburgh in the AFC wild-card round, before losing to New England the next week.
He was a flop after the Broncos traded him to the Jets. New York never figured out how to use him and released him last April 29.
From there, Tebow watched and waited. And just when it seemed no team wanted him, the Patriots gave him a non-guaranteed contract on June 10.
But soon, Tebow may be looking for work … again.
“I’ve just got to go out there and play as hard as I can and try to improve,” he said. “And I’ll let a lot of smarter people grade us and judge us.”