The followers of the phenomenon that is Tim Tebow will be put to the test on Saturday night in Foxborough.
And I’m not talking about the God-loving, mechanics-challenged QB leading the Denver Broncos to an upset over Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s New England Patriots in the primetime NFL Divisional playoff game on Jan. 14.
To channel, the late Al Davis: Just keep it close, baby.
That’s all Tebow, according to many TV pundits, has to do, keep the Broncos — a 13.5-point road dog, who were vanquished 41-23 by the Patriots in Denver on Dec. 18 — in the game in order to take a run at the all-time Divisional playoff rating mark of a 24.2. That was established last year when the Pats lost to the New York Jets in Gillette Stadium before almost 43.5 million watching at home, the biggest audience for that pro pigskin playoff round in any time slot since 1988, which as far as CBS’s records date.
Tebow’s TD pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play from scrimmage in OT that eliminated the Nielsen-friendly Pittsburgh Steelers from the playoffs on Jan. 8 already had NFL and CBS officials taking a knee and saying thank you Jesus, thank you ratings Lord.
The over-hyped, polarizing, Heisman Trophy-winning Gator — the subject of a full hour on ESPN’s SportsCenter the other day, continually unleashed proselytizing by First Take apostle Skip Bayless and now the second-ranked alms-bearer for jersey sales behind the Pack’s Aaron Rodgers — is this season’s NFL Nielsen savior. Tebow has been anointed as the third member of the NFL ratings trinity of recent vintage joining the Brett Favre faithful/faithless who drove the numbers in 2009 and New England’s undefeated run that bounced people meters throughout the 2007 campaign.
With Tebow fever, compounded by Denver’s second-quarter explosion that earned the Broncos a 20-3 edge before Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers back, Black Rock scored a 24.0 rating and 42.4 million viewers for its coverage of the Broncos’ 29-23 OT win. That was the most-viewed Wild Card game in 18 years and 24 on CBS.
Last Sunday’s Mile High Miracle occurred in the late afternoon window and most believe if Broncos-Pats were in the same time slot, last year’s New York-New England record would fall easily.
Now, Tebow has to convert all those non-believers who routinely make Saturday the least-viewed night of the TV week. Will there be enough casual-viewing disciples to make Saturday night Tebow time as well? Maybe a little divine intervention in the form of snow in New England and other markets around the country will enhance his flock as well.
Unleash the Tebow — Saturday night’s alright for watching.