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Tebow makes best case yet for Eagles spot

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 9/4/2015 by Martin Frank, USA TODAY Sports

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The most-hyped battle for the third string quarterback job, perhaps in NFL history, reached its climax Thursday night when Matt Barkley and Tim Tebow alternated quarters in the preseason finale, bringing interest to an otherwise uninteresting game.

The official winner of the competition will be determined when Eagles coach Chip Kelly makes the final cuts sometime before the deadline Saturday at 4 p.m.

But if this last game was any indication, Tebow clearly had by far the better night in the Eagles’ 24-18 loss to the New York Jets on Thursday. That was the major point of interest in a game in which the Eagles sat 27 starters or first reserves, both to make sure they’ll be healthy for the season opener Sept. 14 in Atlanta, and to evaluate several players trying for one of the 53 roster spots.

The tone for the night was set on the second play of the game, when Barkley underthrew Josh Huff and the ball was intercepted by Darrin Walls. Tebow, on the other hand, was much sharper, both with his passing and with his running. He made a strong case to be on an NFL roster for the first time since the 2012 season ended.

Tebow was mostly accurate with his throws, including a 45-yard deep ball to Freddie Martino in the fourth quarter and an 18-yard touch pass into the back of the end zone to Rasheed Bailey just before halftime.

In all, Barkley was 4-for-9 for 45 yards with an interception; Tebow was 11-for-17 for 189 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for 32 yards on four carries.

Tebow’s last attempt to make an NFL roster ended in the preseason in 2013 when he was cut by the New England Patriots. Tebow had been out of football until the Eagles signed him in April after Tebow had spent time working with former pitching coach Tom House on his throwing motion and accuracy.

Barkley, meanwhile, had been the Eagles’ third-string quarterback the past two seasons. But he hadn’t done much to distinguish himself during that time. And that remained true into training camp, when he couldn’t separate himself from Tebow.

Coming into Thursday’s game, both quarterbacks were ordinary at best. They were barely over 50 percent passing — Barkley was 23-for-43 for 306 yards, Tebow 10-for-19 for 97 yards. But Tebow had 50 yards rushing and a touchdown. That’s an element that Barkley, a pocket passer, doesn’t provide.

On Tebow’s first drive, he hit Raheem Mostert for 24 yards. Mostert dropped Tebow’s next pass. It was one of three Tebow passes that were dropped in the first half as Tebow was 6-for-10 for 105 yards. Mostert finished with 69 yards rushing and 93 yards receiving. But Kenjon Barner, who barely played, is expected to make the team over him.

Tebow had a great opportunity to score when Jaylen Watkins intercepted Jets quarterback Matt Flynn, giving the Eagles the ball at the Jets’ 4. But Tebow handed off three straight times to Mostert and the Eagles settled for a field goal.

Tebow’s best drive came on the final possession of the first half. The Eagles took over at their 15. Tebow escaped the rush and picked up 22 yards running down the right sideline. After an incompletion, Tebow completed two straight passes — for 28 yards and 23 to Mostert and Quron Pratt, respectively — getting the Eagles down to the Jets’ 12.

Two plays later, Tebow feathered a pass to Bailey in the end zone from 18 yards out.

Barkley only got one series in the third quarter because the Jets held the ball for more than nine minutes on the opening drive. He couldn’t do anything with the chance. After Mostert ran 13 yards for a first down, Barkley missed Mostert on a pass, then took a sack. His third-down pass was incomplete and the Eagles punted.

Tebow, meanwhile, kept his run going when he returned in the fourth quarter. On the first play, he lofted a deep pass to Martino, who hauled it in at the Jets’ 16. But Tebow then took an intentional grounding call, setting up a 3rd-and-28 from the Jets’ 34.

Tebow’s next pass went for 13 yards, setting up a 4th-and-15. Tebow tried throwing into traffic and was intercepted.

But Tebow came right back on his next drive, running twice for 15 yards. He had a 4th-and-6 from the Jets’ 9 when he started running to his left before finding Martino in the end zone. Martino dove and caught the ball while dragging both his feet in bounds.

There was no more Tebow could do. He had made his case to make the roster. Now it’s up to Kelly.

Martin Frank also writes for the (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal

Noah K. Murray, USA TODAY Sports © Noah K. Murray, USA TODAY Sports Noah K. Murray, USA TODAY Sports


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