Tebow Returns Home but Seems to Belong Nowhere

Northern Florida's favorite son and very own Heisman hero stood on the opposing sideline for 60 interminable football minutes and heard no one chant his name. Nobody stormed the gates or flew a plane over EverBank Field to demand that Tim Tebow run one measly play in the Jets' Wildcat offense that for the most part this season has been locked in a cage.

A year ago at this time, Tebow the Bronco was the toast of a vast football nation. On Sunday, with him back in hometown territory and in the state where his legend was born, the case could be made that the phenomenon had symbolically expired in an atmosphere of sustained indifference.

"It can be hard -- you want to help your team," Tebow said after Mark Sanchez and Co. didn't need any assistance from him after waking up in the second half to defeat the 2-11 Jaguars, 17-10. "Plus I have a lot of great memories in this stadium, from Pop Warner on."

He might have returned this season as a Jaguars quarterback, a homecoming icon. He might have filled some of those empty seats for the league's most desultory franchise and eked out a couple of more victories than the statuesque Chad Henne.

Tebow being Tebow, he stuck to the refrain that the trade from Denver "wasn't my call," even though it had been widely reported that he lobbied for what has become a most public purgatory in Greater New York.

He wasn't going to express regret -- not yet or probably ever -- while continuing to be the perfect gentleman and consummate professional in an increasingly awkward position.

His only culpability in it might have been convincing himself he was signing on for something else.

"I love Jacksonville, and the fans are great," Tebow said after pulling a blue sweater over a pink and gray checkered shirt. "But I'm a New York Jet. I was hoping I'd get an opportunity today, but it's a big win for us, keeps us alive."

Call it a miracle or Coach Rex Ryan an oracle, but the Jets (6-7) vaulted back into playoff contention in a 20-minute stretch in which they held off the Jaguars' last push, the Chargers finished off the Steelers and the Cowboys rallied to nip the Bengals. The Jets are one game behind the Bengals and the Steelers and have three sub-.500 opponents to finish the season with.

The Jets won this game with an effective ground attack in the second half and an opportunistic defense, with Sanchez completing the one pass he absolutely had to -- a 37-yarder over the middle to Jeff Cumberland -- to save his team from a late punt from its end zone.

Insisting that he would have liked to dress three quarterbacks if not for other personnel issues, Ryan grew testy when asked if he actually would have gone to Tebow -- as he did to Greg McElroy last week -- had the offense not partly revived behind Sanchez after a scoreless first half.

Ryan doesn't bully reporters when a question frustrates him, like Bill Parcells. He doesn't mumble his disapproval, like Bill Belichick. He uses humor as a shield, sarcasm as a sword.

"I wasn't going to put a backup tackle in," he said, clearly buoyed by the possibility of sneaking in the back door of the playoffs and answering his critics with the last laugh.

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SOURCE: The New York Times
Harvey Araton
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