Tebow's story contains an important lesson for Niners fans

getty images file photoAll it takes: Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has proven that being successful in the NFL is as much about not making big mistakes as it is about making big plays.

Niners fans should understand the sports world’s biggest story as clearly as anybody.

The success of Denver quarterback Tim Tebow, the most hotly debated topic in any sport anywhere, has played out over the past seven weeks in much the same fashion as Alex Smith’s 2011 season.

As Smith has proven to the Niners Nation through the first 12 games this season, quarterback success in the National Football League is tied as closely to avoiding huge mistakes as it is to completing touchdown passes.

Tebow’s improbable success has baffled every so-called expert to the point they are guaranteeing that he won’t be a long-term success. That he takes too many hits. That the scheme he’s playing in can’t win a Super Bowl.

However, if those prognosticators would just take a close look at the difference between Smith’s play the past few years and his play this year, they’d understand Tebow’s success immediately.

As bad as Tebow looks throwing the football, he hasn’t been throwing interceptions and he hasn’t been fumbling. Turnovers transform a quarterback from an asset to a liability as fast as anything in the pro game.

Smith’s problems in years past came from his penchant for turning over the football. In 54 games over his first six NFL seasons, Smith committed 76 turnovers. In his 12 starts this year, he’s committed just seven.

Tebow has committed just three turnovers since taking over as the Broncos’ starter. Keeping the Broncos in the game has been as important to Tebow’s success as his last-minute heroics.

For the most part, the NFL is so closely balanced that every possession has to net a team some sort of positive, in terms of either points or field position. An interception or a fumble can be catastrophic to a game that hangs in the balance.

Give an opponent an extra possession — not to mention one that gives away great field position — and it can mean the difference between winning and losing. That’s why a team’s ratio of turnovers committed versus turnovers forced is so closely watched.

This year, Smith’s new-found composure has enabled the 49ers’ offense to mature. Even in the loss to the Baltimore Ravens, his taking sack after sack enabled the 49ers to stay in the game a lot longer than if he’d been giving the Ravens extra chances with a fumble or interception.

And by not turning over the football, Smith has allowed coach Jim Harbaugh and his offensive staff to build their trust in him. Now, they’re willing to try more and more things, and the 49ers offense has grown from a timid approach in Week 1 to one with some serious vertical threats.

The Broncos offense is growing around Tebow in much the same fashion.

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. Email him at tliotta@sfexaminer.com.

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