Tebow Wins Praise but His Arm Is an Asterisk

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton’s perfect 15-yard touchdown strike to Steve Smith on Sunday? Newton is proof that quarterbacks who played the spread option in college can smoothly transition to the N.F.L., as long as they possess powerhouse arms and decent accuracy. Vince Young starting for the Philadelphia Eagles? Evidence that a dual-threat quarterback with a better arm can still miss throws just as wildly as Tebow.

It has come to this for the N.F.L.: Tebow’s play continues to confound almost everyone who watches him. But after the ’ stunning victory over on Thursday night, the conventional wisdom seems to be shifting to grudging acceptance of him and praise for Coach John Fox to turn his offense upside down to suit what he does well.

The Broncos are in the playoff race because they have thrown up their hands and embraced the unsightly but exciting brand of football Tebow plays. On Sunday, the former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin said on the NFL Network that Tebow could take the Broncos to the . Irvin, of course, can afford to be charitable. He has not been an intended receiver watching one of Tebow’s passes sail 5 yards away from him. But with six games to go and the Broncos one game behind the Raiders in the American Football Conference West, the question is how much longer Tebow’s style, which is unpredictable, unstable and unfailingly riveting, can sustain itself.

The Broncos, according to people who tracked the game closely, played the option 40 percent of the time against the Jets, about double the number of snaps they played in the option against Miami and Detroit earlier in the season, but about the same amount they played in a victory over the Raiders two weeks ago, when the Broncos turned fully to the option. Until the final drive, when the Jets were worn down and seemed unable or unwilling to tackle, they defended the Broncos well. The Broncos had just 229 yards of offense, but 95 yards came on the final drive.

When Tebow was made the starter, the former quarterback and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer predicted that there would be a four- to seven-game window when Broncos opponents would struggle to adapt to a very unorthodox offense, much as teams struggled against the Wildcat when the Miami Dolphins unleashed it. Tebow has now made five starts, winning four.

“Against a good defense it doesn’t work,” said the former Redskins and Texans general manager Charley Casserly, who compared the use of the option now to when Marv Levy used the Delaware Wing T while with Kansas City in the 1970s. “Once you eliminate the element of surprise — the Raiders fell victim to that — and you’re able to get more game tape and study what they can’t do, the clock is winding down on the option offense.”

Why can’t Tebow continue this much longer, the way Michael Vick did in Atlanta, or Vince Young or Randall Cunningham did in earlier incarnations? Because they had more dynamic and accurate arms, forcing defenses to account for the passing game. That is what Tebow does not have. Since he has been starting, his accuracy has improved slightly, and Dilfer believes Tebow has been more decisive in recent weeks as he has grown more comfortable. But the Jets gave Tebow plenty of opportunities to throw and he missed his intended targets. Casserly said there has been no pattern to Tebow’s misses — sometimes he has poor footwork and sometimes he just misses — but he calls the inaccuracy mindboggling. And while Tebow has thrown some eye-opening passes — one against Kansas City was notable and so was the 28-yarder on the first snap of the game against the Jets — his lack of consistency allows opponents to relax against the pass and load up to stop the run, a critical difference from other dual-threat quarterbacks.

“They could launch it 45 yards or fit it into a window down the sideline,” Dilfer said. “They would make enough explosive plays with their arm that you could not only defend the run. You’d always be wondering at what point is he going to knife us.”

Dilfer points to evidence that the Jets never feared that with Tebow: they had linebacker Bart Scott, who has been coming off the field rather than lining up against athletic tight ends, covering Daniel Fells, a very athletic tight end. Denver could not capitalize on the apparent mismatch: Fells was targeted just once and did not have a catch last Thursday.

Bears’ Defense Overwhelms Ailing Dolphins in Shutout

Miami’s already depleted offense lost the Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall to a hamstring injury and center Cory Procter because of a left knee injury. With the third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen struggling in his first start since 2008, the Dolphins (5-5) were no match for a Bears defense that took over the league lead in points allowed per game.

The Bears (7-3) won for the third time in 12 days and moved a half-game ahead of atop the N.F.C. North.

SCHAUB EXPECTS TO PLAY quarterback Matt Schaub is back with the team after he was hospitalized with an injury to the bursa sac in his right knee.

Schaub practiced Thursday, and Coach Gary Kubiak said he expected his No. 1 quarterback to start when the Texans visit the Jets on Sunday.

Kubiak said Schaub took about half the first-team snaps Thursday. The only way Schaub will not start is if he has a setback.

“Everything is pointing in the right direction,” Kubiak said.

Schaub said his knee has been bothering him most of the season. He said the pain increased Tuesday morning, and he checked into a local hospital and stayed overnight. He said the knee did not bother him during Thursday’s workout.

GOING BEYOND THIRD STRING Brian St. Pierre has thrown five passes in eight N.F.L. seasons. He was not in a training camp this summer, and as recently as last week was a stay-at-home dad.

On Sunday, he will start for the .

A season of multiple injuries and one victory took an even stranger twist when Coach John Fox picked St. Pierre, 30, over the rookie Tony Pike to play against Baltimore.

That is good enough to start for Carolina, which has no healthy, experienced quarterback.

The rookie Jimmy Clausen missed practice again Thursday with a concussion sustained Sunday against Tampa Bay. Matt Moore was lost to a season-ending shoulder injury last week.

Enter St. Pierre, who since becoming a fifth-round pick of Pittsburgh in 2003 is 2 of 5 for 12 yards, a touchdown and an interception with three teams.

St. Pierre, who last practiced in January as he finished a stint with Arizona, was spending his days taking care of his 18-month-old son in the Boston area. He was signed to the practice squad Friday and promoted to the active roster Tuesday.

GIANTS THIN AT TACKLE The Giants are uncertain who will play left tackle Sunday with Shawn Andrews sitting out a second consecutive practice with soreness in his back. Andrews had started at left tackle the past two games in place of the injured David Diehl.

“He’s being treated, and hopefully he’ll be a little better today and a little better tomorrow,” Coach said of Andrews, whose status is day-to-day. “He has had a stiff, sore back before, so this is what we’re dealing with right now.”

MARK VIERA ’ SECONDARY HOBBLED The Washington Redskins could be without half of their starting defensive backfield when they face the on Sunday.

Carlos Rogers said his right hamstring was sore after hurting it Monday against Philadelphia, and safety LaRon Landry has a sore Achilles’ tendon that has limited him in practice for weeks. (AP)