Seven times in their past eight games with Tebow in charge, the Broncos have somehow won when they shouldn’t have – six times coming back in the second half, five times in the fourth quarter and three of those in overtime.
Along the way, Tebow has befuddled critics, delighted his growing flock of fans and flummoxed opposing coaches, not to mention his own on occasion. He has dazzled analysts and left it to teammates to explain the chain reaction of events – freak turnovers by opponents, sparkling catches by young receivers, Tebow’s pinball runs through defenders – that have made the closing minutes of Denver games must-see TV.
The latest one might have been the most improbable.
Trailing Chicago 10-0 with 4:34 left Sunday, the Broncos faced the possibility of their first home shutout in team history. In short order, Tebow cobbled together a 63-yard touchdown drive, Denver failed to recover the ensuing onside kick attempt, then got the ball back after a punt with more time left than anyone expected. That’s because Chicago’s Marion Barber inexplicably ran out of bounds on a carry – stopping the clock – instead of simply falling to the ground.
“That’s usually something that never happens with a veteran running back,” Denver linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “It’s just like things go our way.”
As the Broncos have come to believe, things weren’t done going their way.
From his 20-yard line, Tebow marched the Broncos to the Bears 41, where Matt Prater coolly connected on a 59-yard field goal to tie the game at 10. In the extra period, Chicago was methodically grinding up a wearying Broncos defense when Barber bashed through a hole for another first down – only to have the ball stripped at the last second by Woodyard and recovered by teammate Elvis Dumervil at the Broncos 34.
From there, Tebow put together a drive to reach the Bears 33, where Prater converted a 51-yard field goal for the win.
How Tebow does what he does is still something of a mystery, still so tough to quantify that his fiercest supporters call it divine intervention. After the win over Chicago, coach John Fox called it simply “competitive greatness. He wants the ball in clutch time.”
In the 8½ games he’s played as a starter, Tebow has taken the Broncos on scoring drives on just 12 of 76 offensive possessions through the first three quarters. On the opening drives of fourth quarters, the number is just 1 of 9. But for the rest of the fourth quarter and into overtime, he’s choreographed the Broncos to touchdowns or field goals an incredible 16 of 28 times. Over that span, the defense has managed 10 takeaways, but half, notably, came in the final period or in overtime.
When Tebow got his first real shot at the job, watching him play was something you did while peeking between the fingers covering your eyes. It’s still the best way to watch the first three quarters. But after that, well, don’t dare take your eyes off him.