DENVER (AP) – Tebow Time might have only been a temporary switch. Or maybe it was the wobbly passing of the torch.
Broncos coach John Fox isn’t saying who his starting quarterback is following Denver’s 29-24 loss to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
Kyle Orton was benched at halftime and Tim Tebow nearly rallied the Broncos from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit. Fox said he still has to watch the film, talk with his staff, think things over.
The fans who chanted “Tebow! Tebow!” in appreciation after the Broncos (1-4) fell three games behind the Chargers (4-1) are eager for an answer. So are Broncos teammates.
“Kyle’s a great quarterback and I have all the faith in the world with him in the game. Tim came in and played great today,” guard Chris Kuper said. “What do I say? It’s hard to say what’s going to happen. As much as we can, we have to tune out the (drama) and stay together in the locker room.”
No matter who their leader will be.
“We’re looking to have long-term success with somebody, and who that somebody is yet, I’m not sure,” said Fox, who indicated he wasn’t in any hurry to name his starter.
Tebow ran for a TD and threw for another after replacing Orton to start the third quarter, and had one final shot for the win before his pass fell incomplete in the end zone on the final play.
Maybe Orton returns to the field, uses this as a wake-up call and leads a turnaround. Maybe Tebow earned another shot with his inspiring play after he was buried on the depth chart following a terrible training camp.
Ready or not, Tebow was thrust into the game, appeasing the fans who have been calling for him with the Broncos continuing their losing ways under Orton, who is 6-21 since winning his first six starts in Denver.
“He makes plays, you can’t deny that,” Chargers linebacker Takeo Spikes said of Tebow. “People can talk about the way he throws the ball, people can talk about his release. But at the end of the day, this league is about what have you done for me lately? And if you can come in and make the plays that another guy can’t, then you’ll play a long time.”
After Orton went 6 for 13 for 34 yards and an interception in the first half, Tebow went 4 for 10 for 79 yards and a touchdown and ran six times for 38 yards and a score.
“Tim did a good job,” Orton said. “I thought the offense responded and gave us a chance to win.”
Orton wouldn’t lobby for a return to the field but said he feels he should still be the starter: “That’s how I approach it until he tells me differently,” he said of Fox.
Tebow also had no indication who will be under center in two weeks when the Broncos visit Miami.
“Thankfully, I don’t have to make those decisions,” he said.
It will be intriguing either way.
Orton was pursued by the Dolphins in the offseason but trade talks crumbled presumably over his desire for a long-term contract that would have spread out his $9 million salary for this year. And the Dolphins will be honoring the 2008 national champion Florida Gators — who were led by none other than Tebow, when the Broncos visit Sun Life Stadium on Oct. 23.
Philip Rivers overcame two big turnovers to throw for 250 yards and a touchdown to go with a TD run, and the Chargers prevailed despite a banged-up backfield with Ryan Mathews (calf, wrist) and Mike Tolbert (concussion) getting hurt.
Mathews managed a career-best 125 yards on 25 carries and Nick Novak, who is on the Chargers roster because Nate Kaeding is out for the year after injuring his left knee on the season’s opening kickoff, made all five of his field goal attempts.
Down 23-10, the Broncos punted on their first three possessions with Tebow under center before he scored on a 12-yard run. Willis McGahee’s 2-point conversion cut San Diego’s lead to 26-18 with 6 1/2 minutes left.
Robert Ayers sacked and stripped Rivers on the ensuing possession, and cornerback Andre’ Goodman recovered at the San Diego 41 with 4:38 left. Knowshon Moreno turned a short screen pass from Tebow into a 28-yard touchdown. But Brandon Lloyd couldn’t come down with the 2-point conversion pass.
After Novak’s fifth field goal made it 29-24 with 24 seconds remaining, Tebow hit Lloyd for 20 yards and tight end Daniel Fells for 31. He raced downfield and spiked the ball at the Chargers 29 with a second left.
He took the final snap, spun and scrambled, but his desperation pass fell incomplete in the end zone.
“It just shows the kid is a fighter; we always knew that,” Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil said. “Some things just don’t change from the collegiate level. Give him credit. He came in and gave us a spark, so we’ve just got to finish better.”
Notes: Cassius Vaughn’s 55-yard INT-TD was the first by a Denver defender since Champ Bailey in 2006. … Broncos RT Orlando Franklin said he would travel to New Jersey to be with his family Monday as they grieve the death of his 20-year-old brother, who died last week. “Football helped me out this week because I used it to escape for a few hours each day,” he said.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)