New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said he had decided on 80 percent of the roster before their final preseason game began against the New York Giants, but the biggest question of the night was whether Tim Tebow would do enough—or had already done enough—to make the roster.
It looked like he was going to make the roster before, and now, it looks certain.
To start, there is value in keeping him on the roster to help the Patriots practice against the read-option, which they will see a lot of in 2013. The Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers will all most likely carry some read-option elements in their offenses.
If Tebow's on-field performance is how he's being judged for his likelihood to make the roster, there is no question that his outing on Thursday night was his best of New England's preseason.
"I think I showed some improvement in certain areas," Tebow said after the game. "We'll have to look at the film, but that's it, you're just trying to get better every single week."
In the NFL, if you're not getting better, you're getting worse. Teams are always trying to build the best rosters to win games, but part of that process has to account for whether a player is trending up or down.
Tebow was completing 26 percent of his passes to this point in the preseason. That's less than half the completion percentage of last year's worst quarterback, Chad Henne. By the end of the night, Tebow finished 6-of-11 passing (54.5 percent) for 91 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and an 83.7 passer efficiency rating, adding six rushes for 30 yards.
Beyond the stats were the poise and mental toughness he showed in the win.
New England's backup offensive line didn't make life any easier for him, especially at the start. Whether it was high snaps, poor pass protection or blown blocks in the running game, Tebow got very little help from the men up front. Josh Kline missed his assignment on two consecutive snaps, giving up back-to-back sacks on Tebow, and Matt Stankiewitch delivered a high snap that Tebow had to reach up and turn to grab, losing sight of the defense and forcing him to run.
They're backups for a reason, but they shouldn't have been so outmatched up against New York's backup defense.
Tebow started off with two completions for 16 yards, but things came unraveled, as Tebow would be sacked on four of his next five drop-backs. The Patriots began moving the ball on the next drive, before Tebow was halted on a 3rd-and-3 running play when poor interior blocking led to clogged lanes.
Tebow ran for his life behind that porous offensive line and had a few great throws on the night, three in particular to wide receiver Quentin Sims. The first was a 10-yard out, Tebow's first completion of the night. The second was the long touchdown pass, where Tebow put the ball in a good spot for his receiver to catch it, then watched Sims work his way to the end zone.
He finished the night making a throw backup quarterback Ryan Mallett couldn't make earlier in the night, a fade to the back corner of the end zone for a second touchdown to Sims.
Will Tim Tebow make the Patriots' final 53-man roster?
The good didn't come without the bad. He misplaced a deep pass for a streaking Aaron Dobson, with the ball landing too far inside, right into the arms of Giants cornerback Trumaine McBride.
Before he had the fans cheering for his two touchdown passes, they rained boos on him for throwing two consecutive deep balls out of bounds to receivers streaking open down the sideline.
So, it was a typical Tebow performance—some good, some bad and a fourth-quarter comeback—but he showed improvement, and if that's what Belichick wanted to see, Tebow's chances of making the roster certainly improved on Thursday night.
"I'm just blessed to be able to play football, for however long I play it," Tebow said. "I love doing it."
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.