A late rally against the struggling Minnesota Vikings, however, might not be necessary.
Tebow looks to lead the Broncos to a fifth consecutive win Sunday when they visit a Vikings team that will be without Adrian Peterson for a second straight game.
Since becoming Denver’s starting quarterback, Tebow has directed three fourth-quarter comebacks, two of which set up overtime wins. He also rallied the Broncos (6-5) from a halftime deficit in a 38-24 victory over Oakland on Nov. 6.
In the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s game at San Diego, Tebow led Denver on a 68-yard drive, setting up Matt Prater’s(notes) 24-yard, game-tying field goal with 1:34 remaining. Denver went on for a 16-13 victory in overtime, its fourth straight win.
“I’d say our mentality changed to where it’s not, ‘Oh-oh, here we go again,’ it’s, ‘OK, give us the ball, we’re going to go and score,”’ said Eric Decker(notes), who has caught four of Tebow’s eight TD passes.
The Broncos are 5-1 since Tebow became the starter and have won all four road games. They’re one game back of Oakland in the AFC West race and are seeking their first five-game streak away from Denver since winning six in a row in 1998.
“This is a special team, a special team when you have a bunch of guys that when things aren’t going good we get closer instead of pulling apart,” said Tebow, who passed for 143 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers. “The No. 1 reason we are like that is because we believe in each other.”
Tebow is making a believer out of some of his critics.
With the former Heisman Trophy winner running the offense, the Broncos have scored 11 times in the fourth quarter or overtime compared to 10 scoring drives in the first three quarters combined. Tebow’s first-half passer rating of 64.9 is fourth-worst among the 37 quarterbacks with at least 50 first-half attempts, but his fourth-quarter QB rating of 107.8 trails only Eli Manning(notes), Aaron Rodgers(notes) and Tom Brady(notes).
Minnesota’s opponents have a 97.2 QB rating in the fourth-quarter, fifth-worst in the NFL.
But the Vikings have also been quite vulnerable early. During a three-game losing streak, Minnesota has been outscored 58-7 in the first half.
The Vikings (2-9) were down 17-0 at halftime last Sunday to Atlanta, and despite pulling within three early in the fourth quarter, lost 24-14.
“It doesn’t feel good,” said quarterback Christian Ponder(notes), who is now backed up by Joe Webb(notes) after Minnesota released benched veteran Donovan McNabb(notes) on Thursday. “It’s getting repetitive, but I have to say that I am proud of the team. They played for four quarters. … We are going to improve. We’ve got guys doing everything possible to win games.”
The Vikings placed four players on injured reserve Tuesday - receiver Michael Jenkins(notes), long snapper Cullen Loeffler(notes) and safeties Husain Abdullah(notes) and Tyrell Johnson(notes) - but Peterson’s injury is the most significant.
The four-time All-Pro, who is seventh in the NFL with 872 rushing yards and enters Week 13 tied for the league lead with 11 rushing touchdowns, will miss a second straight game due to a sprained left ankle.
Peterson said Thursday he was feeling better and that the soreness was “winding down,” but he was unable to practice Friday and the team announced he will be inactive Sunday.
Percy Harvin(notes) also missed practice Friday due to an illness, but coach Leslie Frazier said it’s not related to the migraine issues that have plagued his career and listed the team’s leading receiver as questionable.
While Tebow is receiving most of the attention for Denver’s surge, a strong running game and stingy defense have perhaps even more to do with the Broncos’ surprising playoff push.
Denver rushed for 208 yards last week, the third time during the winning streak it eclipsed the 200-yard mark. Running the option, Tebow gained 67 yards on 22 attempts - the most carries by a quarterback since at least 1950 - and Willis McGahee(notes) finished with 117 yards on 23 carries.
The Broncos will be facing a Minnesota defense that is ninth against the run, allowing an average of 99.6 yards.
Denver’s defense has been at its best lately, keeping the score close to give Tebow a chance to orchestrate a comeback. The Broncos haven’t allowed more than 13 points in their last three games.
“We would love to go and blow a team out, but if not, we’re going to fight and scratch and claw to pull (out) these so-called ugly victories,” safety Brian Dawkins(notes) said. “I’ll tell you what, though … we’ll take ugly victories any day.”
Rookie linebacker Von Miller(notes) underwent a surgical procedure to repair a strained ligament in his left thumb on Wednesday, and returned to practice Friday. He’s listed as questionable, but even if he does play, it’ll likely be with a cumbersome cast.
Miller is a key piece of Denver’s defense and, with 10 1/2 sacks and 58 tackles, is a favorite for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.