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IN TIM THEY TRUST; Tim Tebow is no conventional pocket passer, but his legs and his leadership are getting the job done for the Bronos who are keeping the faith in their young QB

Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos are turning conventional football wisdom on its helmet this season.

In a league dominated by precision passing, Tebow and the Broncos win with the run. NFL teams, on average, are passing on 57 percent of their plays this season. Super Bowl champion Green Bay is throwing on 60 percent of its plays.

Denver is throwing on a league-low 47 percent.

The elite quarterbacks in the NFL are laser-like in their accuracy. New Orleans' Drew Brees is on pace to set an NFL record for completion percentage, hitting 71.5 percent of his passes. The Packers' Aaron Rodgers, the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, seemingly could throw a football through the eye of a needle, blindfolded and wearing handcuffs.

Denver's Tebow is completing 48.6 percent of his passes, the worst rate in the league. Yet Tebow has produced 15 touchdowns with just two interceptions, and he's 7-2 as a starter.

Tebow brings his compelling act to Ralph Wilson Stadium today to face the Bills.

Denver (8-6) hopes to clinch the AFC West title. Buffalo aims to end its seven-game losing streak.

The story line of Denver's season has captivated football fans nationwide: Can Tebow, devout Christian, ultimate All-American role model and late-game savior, lead the Broncos to an improbable playoff berth?

All the while, the football establishment wonders: Can Tebow enjoy long-term success playing quarterback like this?

"He's not a great thrower of the football, and he'll never be a great thrower of the football in my estimation, because you're not going to get him to change," said former Bengals great Boomer Esiason in a Boston radio interview this week. "And why would you ask him to change, especially with the way he's been playing the last few weeks in the fourth quarter alone. I don't think he's the long-term solution at quarterback for the Denver Broncos."

"It's amazing to watch it," said former Raiders great Rich Gannon. "It's not the prettiest thing, but he's making plays at the end. The throwing concerns you -- the inaccuracy."

It concerns the Broncos' brain trust, too, which is why coach John Fox has adjusted his team's style. Denver ranks No. 1 in the league in rushing. John Elway, Broncos executive vice president of football operations, had been non-committal toward Tebow earlier in the season. This week, Elway gave Tebow an endorsement, saying "he's not going anywhere."

"We've seen, I believe, improvement over the last six games," said Hall of Famer Troy Aikman in a Sporting News webcast a week ago. "Is that going to be enough? I don't know. There's a part of me that still thinks when this season ends, however it ends for the Denver Broncos, that John Fox and John Elway probably are still going to be standing there and saying, 'I don't know if this is the guy for us.' "

The question, for most former quarterbacks who watch Tebow, centers on how much better the second-year player can get. Ultimately, the Broncos are going to have to expand their passing offense.

Tebow mostly runs a one-read offense. He does not routinely follow a progression across the field in looking for his receivers.

"He has to improve in some of the things that all NFL offenses have to take for granted," said former Giants great Phil Simms, who will work today's game for CBS. "That means, looking at the first receiver, and when he's not open, throw it to the second one. Just get a routine 8-yard completion and let's move on. I haven't seen that yet from them.

"They haven't gotten there," Simms said. "It's not that important now, because of how they've managed their football team, but it will be important in the future."

In last week's 41-23 loss to New England, the Patriots played more man-to-man defense in the second half, and Tebow struggled. Receivers did not get open quickly, and it forced Tebow to make tougher throws into smaller windows. Tebow was 6-of-15 passing in the second half and 11 of 22 overall. The Bills may try the same tactics today -- if they can get Denver into passing situations.

Denver is averaging 163 rushing yards a game. Buffalo's run defense ranks 29th -- allowing 139.5 a game.

Former Bills back Willis McGahee needs just 10 yards today to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in rushing for the season. Tebow has rushed for 610 yards, best among all NFL QBs by a yard over Carolina's Cam Newton. Tebow is averaging 5.8 yards a carry.

Denver's Fox sloughs off the accuracy question with Tebow.

"Percentage of passes can vary sometimes with the type of passes you throw," Fox said. "We spend more time running it than we do throwing those short passes, which kind of improves that completion percentage. That's just one little statistic. I think the biggest one is his record. They don't predicate much with the rating with his running ability. That's been as big an impact as his passing ability."

Denver's offense also has benefited from an improving defense. During their recent six-game winning streak, the Broncos allowed only 17 points per game. Denver's 39 quarterback sacks are tied for fourth most in the league.

Denver clinches a playoff spot today with a win and a loss or a tie by Oakland (7-7) at Kansas City.

Whatever happens, it looks like Tebow has earned enough credit with Elway to get the chance to develop more as a passer next season.

"I think the big picture with Tim is we've got to see the whole body of work," Elway said this week. "And so really what you want to see with him is the improvement that's going to happen over time.

"Because he's done what we knew he could do, and where we've seen his progress is what he does within the pocket," Elway said. "We know Tim's a great player, and what we've got to do is make him a great quarterback. And what I've learned is you've got to be able to win from within the pocket. Do I think he'll get there? Yeah, I do."

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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