Patriots' Tebow, Mallett Must Seize Opportunity Following Brady's Knee Injury

Sean KeaneCorrespondent IAugust 15, 2013

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 09:  Tim Tebow #5 of the New England Patriots passes the ball in the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles on August 9, 2013 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennslyvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Following Tom Brady’s recent scare, New England Patriots backup quarterbacks Ryan Mallett and Tim Tebow have a golden opportunity in front of them against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday night.

New England’s carbon dioxide output fell drastically on Wednesday afternoon, as residents from all six states held their collective breath after Brady left practice with a knee injury.  Darin Gantt of NBC Sports noted it was the same knee Brady injured in 2008, tearing his ACL.  If, later that evening, anybody in the area was buffeted by a sudden gust of wind, chances are it was the regional exhale and subsequent sigh of relief.

The Patriots avoided catastrophe, at least for now.  At 6:09 p.m. ET, ESPN’s Adam Schefter earned the eternal good will of all Patriots fans by tweeting that an MRI of Brady’s knee and surgically repaired ACL came back negative. 

He should be fine.  In fact, Schefter reports he’s likely to suit up for Thursday’s practice.

I’m just speculating here, but even if he practices, it seems highly unlikely Brady will play against the Bucs in New England’s second preseason game.  There’s no reason to risk the star quarterback’s health in a meaningless exhibition bout.

That’s where Mallett and Tebow come in.

Mallett should start and work extensively with the first-team offense.  Perhaps more importantly, he’ll get significant work against Tampa Bay’s first-team defense.  Tebow may get some first-team reps as well, but if not, he’ll still have ample opportunity to improve on last week’s lackluster showing.

Friday’s game will be a nice litmus test for Mallett, who, for all intents and purposes is showcasing himself for a possible starting gig down the road.  Signed through the 2014 season, Mallet was heavily involved in trade rumors prior to this year’s draft.  There are a handful of NFL teams he could start for, or at least compete for the job.

With Brady under contract through 2017, he’ll never have that opportunity in New England, unless he elects to re-sign, wait for Brady to retire and spend the first seven-plus years of his career as the Patriots’ backup.

If those teams showed interest in acquiring him this offseason, they may very well revisit the idea next year.  The Patriots obviously didn’t receive an offer they liked, so for them to pull the trigger other teams will need to up the ante. 

It’s up to Mallett to provide the necessary motivation by capitalizing when he receives opportunities to establish himself.  A standout performance against a quality defense would go a long way toward doing that.

If he can attract enough attention to land the Patriots an enticing draft pick or package of picks, New England would be hard-pressed not to pull the trigger.  Mallet would finally get his first real crack at a starting role, and the Patriots would get valuable draft assets.

Everybody wins in that scenario, but it all hinges on Mallett’s performance, beginning with Friday’s matchup versus the Buccaneers.

Tebow’s prospects of starting an NFL game any time soon are grim, but that doesn’t mean he has any less at stake.  He’s fighting for a roster spot and can ill afford to follow up last week’s performance with another dud.

Maybe he was rusty in his first game action of the year.  Maybe he was nervous in his Patriots debut.  Maybe he was still getting up to speed in his most extensive look as a quarterback since the 2011 playoffs.  Maybe all these factors contributed to his uninspiring evening.

Whatever the case, he won’t have any excuses this week.

For the Patriots to use a valuable roster spot on him, Tebow needs to prove he can be an asset and not a liability.  New England will give him as many opportunities as possible, but he’ll need to earn it.  With only four preseason games in which to assert himself, he can’t keep wasting his chances. 

Stumbling through the halfway point of the exhibition season won’t inspire any confidence and will place him squarely on the roster bubble, possibly on the outside looking in.

Conversely, he can put many doubts to rest with a better game against the Buccaneers.  He probably won’t pass Mallett on the depth chart, but he can drastically buoy his chances of surviving roster cuts.  If Tebow can cement his role as the team’s third quarterback, he’ll become the de facto backup if and when Mallett gets dealt.

He will need to show continued improvement in preseason Weeks 3 and 4 as well, but a solid performance this week is certainly a step in the right direction.

Tebow and Mallet need to play well on Friday night.  In doing so, both quarterbacks will not only solidify their current roles with the Patriots, but also position themselves for future success and greater opportunities down the road.