MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos were close to being knocked out again. They haven’t flinched in more than a month.
Tebow led yet another late rally, passing for a season-best 202 yards and two third-quarter touchdowns to help the unflappable Broncos win their fifth straight game with a 35-32 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Matt Prater kicked two field goals in the final 93 seconds for the Broncos (7-5), who moved into a first-place tie in the AFC West with a loss by the Oakland Raiders. Christian Ponder set Minnesota’s single-game rookie record with 381 yards passing, including a pair of touchdowns to Percy Harvin, but his sideline throw with 1:33 remaining was intercepted by Andre Goodman to set up the winner.
Harvin had a career-high 156 yards for the Vikings (2-10), who lost their fourth in a row.
After serving as the backbone of Denver’s resurgence, putting Tebow in position for all those comebacks, the Broncos got gobbled up by Ponder, Harvin and Toby Gerhart, who gained 91 yards on 21 carries. But they picked off Ponder twice, recovered his fumble and applied enough pressure to equalize the game.
PHOTO GALLERY: Broncos, 35, Vikings 32
Demaryius Thomas caught four passes for 144 yards and both touchdowns for the Broncos, who raised their record to 6-1 since Tebow took over for Kyle Orton as the starter. Tebow completed 10 of 15 passes.
Four of those victories have come by either four or three points.
The Broncos didn’t score on offense in the first half, totaling 48 yards on 19 plays. Tebow lost a fumble that gave the Vikings three points. But an eight-point deficit was hardly too tall for this strong-minded team — and the determined young quarterback.
After a dizzying display of back-and-forth touchdowns, with both Ponder and Tebow putting together their best games as pros, Ryan Longwell’s third field goal of the game with 3:06 left put the Vikings back in front by three.
So it was teed up for Tebow.
Tebow threw a wobbler that still landed on target, when a wide-open Thomas hauled in a 40-yard completion. Thomas couldn’t bring in the third-down pass at the goal line, but Prater tied the game with a 46-yarder before Ponder’s second glaring mistake.
That negated a beautiful game between Ponder and Harvin, who was just as wide open as Thomas all afternoon.
The do-it-all wide receiver raced 48 yards for his second score early in the fourth quarter to put the Vikings up 29-21, thanks to a textbook block by Ryan D’Imperio and a missed tackle by Kyle McCarthy. That was the first fourth-quarter touchdown given up by the Broncos in five games. They averaged 15 points allowed over their previous four games.
But there went the Broncos again. Tebow hit Thomas for 42 yards, and Willis McGahee rumbled into the end zone from 24 yards out. Then Tebow took the snap on the 2-point conversion and rolled to his right and over the goal line to tie the game at 29.
Ponder was every bit the rookie during an awful first quarter. He cost his team an easy three points by losing a fumble at the 15 when Brian Dawkins punched the ball out and threw an interception that Mario Haggan — starting in place of injured linebacker Von Miller — returned for a walk-in 16-yard touchdown. In Ponder’s defense, he hardly had any time to throw against a heavy blitz.
But he found a better groove before halftime and fired a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Then Jared Allen, who picked up a safety for stopping McGahee in the end zone on the first play for the Broncos, chased Tebow out of the pocket and stripped the ball as he sacked him with 39 seconds left in the second quarter, setting up Longwell for his second field goal to give the Vikings a 15-7 lead.
Tebow didn’t wait for the closing minutes to start the rally. The Broncos drove 78 yards for a score right after halftime to cut the lead to 15-14 on the first touchdown to Thomas. McGahee tore up the Vikings between the tackles on that possession and finished with 111 yards on 20 attempts.
Ponder, a college rival of the former Florida star Tebow while at Florida State, responded right away, though. He completed a 52-yard touchdown pass to Harvin, another Gators star, when Chris Harris fell down trying to cover the out route, letting Harvin race untouched to put the Vikings back up by eight.
Quan Cosby’s kickoff return past midfield put the Broncos back in position, though, and the next big play was all Tebow. Pushed out of the pocket with no one open, he ran left and delivered on on-target across-his-body throw to Thomas, who ran the rest of the way for a 41-yard score.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)