LAKE FOREST – Bears coach Lovie Smith will do everything he can this week to come up with a game plan to slow down Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.
At the same time, Smith is not afraid to admit that he is a big fan of Tebow.
“Yes, I am, for what he stands for,” Smith said after an outdoor practice Wednesday at Halas Hall. “Great for college ball, great for the NFL – a breath of fresh air. He’s pretty confident in his beliefs, and most of us let people know what we believe.”
But who could have believed this?
The Broncos (7-5) have won six of seven games since coach John Fox benched veteran quarterback Kyle Orton in favor of Tebow, a second-year player whose unorthodox mechanics and accuracy problems had prompted skepticism from scouts across the league.
Now, Tebow’s team is a three-point favorite in Week 14 against the beleaguered Bears (7-5).
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Tebow said on a conference call. “It’s been a fun ride for us.”
With every Broncos victory, more passengers have climbed aboard the bandwagon.
Although Tebow has started only 10 career games, including seven starts this season, he quickly has emerged as one of the biggest celebrities in the NFL. A spate of fourth-quarter comebacks have confounded longtime NFL observers and thrilled fans who also watched him win a BCS national championship with the Florida Gators at the end of the 2008 season.
However, Tebow’s path to success also has prompted a backlash.
Critics argue that Tebow’s success will be short-lived because of his flaws as a passer. They say the Broncos’ spread-option offense belongs in high school or college, not the NFL.
The Broncos are No. 1 in the NFL with 158.9 rushing yards a game. Meanwhile, they are second-to-last in the league with 155.8 passing yards a game.
Tebow has tried to tune out the criticisms.
“I really do my best in trying to not watch TV, not read newspapers, not go online, that sort of thing,” Tebow said. “But some of it, honestly, you can’t help but hear because it’s over-flooding to your family or friends or here at the facility. It’s hard to avoid all of it.
“With naysayers, I want to prove them wrong and it definitely fires me up a little bit. And the people that support me, I want to prove them right. I’m not going to lie and say that doesn’t fire me up, or I don’t want to prove people wrong that say I can’t be an NFL quarterback.
“That’s been my dream since I was a little boy. But more than anything, I just want to have fun living my dream, and I’m doing that every day.
“Because there’s been a lot of obstacles and a lot of naysayers since I started playing football when I was 6 years old. A lot of people said, ‘You can’t do this; you can’t accomplish that,’ and I just thank the Lord that I haven’t listened to them.”
Tebow’s next test might be his toughest yet.
The Bears will be without quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte when they visit Denver, but the team’s defense will be in tact. Since Smith was hired in 2004, the Bears have more takeaways (260) and three-and-outs forced (423) than any team in the NFL.
“They’ve got a lot of players on their defense that can frustrate quarterbacks, that’s for sure – led by some of the best linebackers in the game in Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs,” Tebow said. “They’ve got a lot of good players and they’ve got a great scheme. …
“It’s very exciting for me to get an opportunity to play this defense and play these great players. Shoot, it feels like I’ve been watching them for so many years now, and it’s exciting. It will be a lot of fun.”