Posted December 11, 2011

Broncos’ spectacular, improbable run continues

Denver Broncos

Matt Prater's overtime field goal gave the Broncos their sixth win in a row. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Sometime down the road, when all the Tim Tebow hysteria wears off a bit — maybe when Denver gets knocked out of the playoffs or in the lull of the offseason — we’ll all look back and appreciate this Broncos run for what it really is:

A spectacular, if not wholly unexplainable, sports experience.

This is right up there with Butler making a run to the NCAA Tournament final or that wild, ridiculous final day of the 2011 baseball season. Whether you love or hate Tebow and the Broncos, there is just no way you can sit still and watch these games without showing any emotion.

It defies explanation how Denver has risen to 8-5, and Sunday’s 13-10 overtime win over the Bears has to rank at the top of the Broncos’ list of miraculous outcomes (box | recap).

Denver trailed by 10 with 4:35 left when Tebow set off on a 63-yard touchdown drive to pull the Broncos within three. But a failed onside kick and a complete absence of remaining timeouts seemingly meant the clock striking midnight on Tebow Time.

Then, for no real reason, Chicago running back Marion Barber headed to the sidelines and allowed himself to get knocked out of bounds on third down.

The clock stopped with 1:06 left. Just like that, Denver had life again.

And, as we’ve seen time and again this season, giving the Broncos even an ounce of hope is giving them one ounce too many. Tebow completed three passes in four plays, the last a 19-yarder to Matt Willis, who got to the Chicago 41 and stepped out of bounds.

Fifteen seconds later, Matt Prater unloaded a 59-yard field goal that might have been good from 70.

Pandemonium in Denver. Disbelief all over America.

Tebow did it again? Impossible.

This time, though, unlike some of Tebow’s other rescue missions, the job wasn’t done. Denver and Chicago headed to overtime, and the Bears won the toss. As they got to the Broncos 38 — within Robbie Gould’s field goal range — Barber had a chance to redeem himself. On third-and-7, he broke through the Denver line and was headed for the end zone.

Except things are never that simple against Denver. The last man in his way, Wesley Woodyard, stripped the ball out of his hands, the Broncos recovered, and the result from there was obvious.

Prater’s 51-yard, game-winning field goal was as straight and true as his first. As it sailed through the uprights, the TV cameras cut, naturally, to Tebow, who said a quick prayer and then let loose an exuberant shout.

Before, when Tebow pulled rabbit after rabbit out of his hat, it was easy enough to chalk it up to Denver’s new quarterback giving the entire team a jolt — more confidence that, no matter what, the game was never out of reach. That’s all still true, but the reason this Broncos run has continued goes beyond that.

What’s happening now is that opposing teams are starting to buy in, too. No one will ever admit to it, of course, but Tebow is in the league’s head.

Chicago spent so much time in the final few minutes of regulation and overtime worried about where Tebow might run, that it forgot about everyone else. Tebow may not be able to beat teams solely with his arm, and the Bears showed Sunday that it’s possible to limit the impact of his legs as well. But the mental part of it? The part that gives a team a little extra swagger, a little extra juice when it needs it most? There isn’t a team in the league, save for maybe Green Bay, that can match Denver’s mojo right now.

It’s almost as if the Broncos are waiting for that moment in the fourth quarter when Tebow says to himself, “Let’s go.” Sunday, he had three completions — three — over the first three-plus quarters and none in the second or third quarters. Then, in the fourth quarter, he went 15-for-20 with a touchdown and hit on another three completions in overtime.

From a pure football standpoint, what Tebow and the Broncos are doing in Denver makes absolutely no sense. Sometimes, though, sports’ jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, magical moments come from the most improbable of places.

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