DENVER – The best thing they always said about Tim Tebow as a quarterback is that he is a winner. Even if the football was flawed, his mechanics wrong and he came off more as a running back masquerading as a quarterback, those who believed in him before the 2010 NFL draft believed for one reason: He won.
It's a hard concept to grasp, mainly because it involves an intangible so difficult to measure aside from looking at a scoreboard. Believe, the men who loved him, liked to say. But believe in what? His wobbly passes? The fact it took him forever to let go of the ball? The men who loved him always shook their heads.
Well there it was Sunday night – winning. All wrapped up in a pass like none other Tebow has thrown in his NFL career, a brown streak screaming through the mountain air and into the hands of Demaryius Thomas, who raced to the end zone on the first play of overtime. And how many times does Tebow have to bang us over the head before we get it? He wins, OK. He wins.
He pulled the Broncos here, to a division title they had no business winning and then in a 29-23 overtime wild-card playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, in which Denver was supposed to have been trampled, he instead delivered 316 passing yards, a passer rating of 125.6 and two touchdown throws. And when hope dwindled, when a big lead dissolved, overtime had come and he needed to make a throw that would answer everyone, he delivered.
Sunday's game wasn't about luck. It wasn't a funny bounce of the ball or a defensive player stumbling and falling down. It wasn't the dysfunction created by the Broncos' plodding, conservative running attack. Several times on Sunday, the Broncos' coaches spread the offense wide, lined up several receivers and asked their quarterback to throw in the face of what might be the league's most aggressive defense. They asked him to complete passes he hadn't handled well in the previous weeks and he made them.
It was the most complete game he has had since this experiment began back in October. It came at a time when many in the organization appeared to be distancing themselves from him as the team's long-term solution at quarterback. And it was yet another piece of proof of what the believers had been saying for so long.
He's a winner.
Yes, this is still very much an experiment. The Broncos can't be sold. Neither will the rest of the NFL who can't forget the two horrendous weeks (and season-ending three-game skid) that proceeded Sunday's game. Many around the team wondered if Tebow had lost his confidence, something he almost admitted on Sunday evening saying, "I think there were certain plays that I should have probably been more aggressive on, absolutely."
But just when everyone was ready to give up on him, he gave everyone a performance for the ages. The only other players to pass for 300 yards, two touchdowns, run for 50 yards and a touchdown in the postseason are Joe Montana and Jeff Garcia. Tebow did it against a team that was supposed to crush him; a team with key injuries, but also a team with enough depth to make him panic. Instead, he humiliated last season's AFC champions and then ran down the field behind the sprinting Thomas, plowing through a delirious mob of teammates and then leaped into the stands.
[ Related: Which Steeler goofed on game-ending play? ]
Later, after walking into the locker room, he stood in front of his locker, slowly pulling off two T-shirts and three layers of long johns. His body was covered with scratches, bloody spots and bruises. He had taken the hardest the Steelers had to give and won.
He rubbed at some of the scratches and then described a play late in regulation when two Pittsburgh players grabbed his facemask. He protested to the officials but did not receive the call.
"I was hoping to get it," he said of the officials' flag. "But I'll take the way it ended."
So will the few who were apparently right about him all along.
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