ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – The Denver Broncos are living on the edge and loving it.
They’ve won six of seven games since Tim Tebow became their starting quarterback, and five of those have involved second-half comebacks, including a 35-32 win at Minnesota on Sunday that pushed them into a tie with Oakland atop the AFC West at 7-5.
The recipe for this remarkable resurgence is to hang around with a usually stellar defense and a ball-control, low-risk, no-frills offense, playing for field position. That is until crunch time, when Tebow takes over and either scrambles for a touchdown or sets up Matt Prater for a game-winning kick.
Counting his first career win against Houston last season, the quirky quarterback whose dogged determination and running abilities make up for his imperfect passes is 7-3 in his NFL career. Five of those victories have been fourth-quarter rallies.
“He’s the comeback kid. That’s what we call him,” receiver Eric Decker said. “He brings this attitude about him that he’s so positive and always optimistic. That does rub off on guys. To be able to consecutively do this on the road, at home and in the fourth quarter is great. If we have a chance to win, we’re going to win.”
The only two other quarterbacks in league history to collect five fourth-quarter comebacks in their first 10 pro starts were the Giants’ Scott Brunner and the Raiders’ Marc Wilson, both in 1980.
It even took Broncos boss John Elway, the king of the comeback, about three times as many starts to collect this many heart-stopping rallies at the start of his storied career.
The growing compilation of comebacks has boosted the Broncos’ confidence in Tebow and each other. They’ve overcome a 1-4 start under Kyle Orton to head into the final four weeks with a chance to end their five-year playoff drought.
“When you’re winning these close games you’re getting confidence later in games because some people get down on themselves when they’re losing or whatever. We never do that. We always keep fighting,” Champ Bailey said. “It’s the way it is. If that’s the way we have to win, I’m all for it.”
With Tebow running — literally — an unconventional offense that has turned the NFL on its ear, the Broncos have decided they’re going to beat teams the old-fashioned way in this pass-happy league.
They’re not winning many style points, but they’re unflinching in their methods.
“I don’t necessarily think for us it matters too much how we get the W or who makes the plays,” Tebow said. “… It doesn’t matter what the score is or how good it looks because the reason we play is to win and that’s all that matters.”
“Nothing comes easy,” said cornerback Andre’ Goodman, whose late interception set up the winning field goal at Minnesota. “At the end of the day, getting the win is all that matters, no matter how it comes.”
The Vikings did their best to take away the Broncos’ bread-and-butter ground game Sunday, but Tebow completed 10 of 15 passes for 202 yards and a career-best passer rating of 149.3 against the Vikings’ depleted secondary and in the comfy environment of the dome.
He hooked up with Demaryius Thomas, his fellow 2010 first-round draft pick, four times for 144 yards and two scores as the Broncos scored 28 second-half points to keep pace in the shootout that Prater ended with a chip-shot field goal as time expired.
“We’re pretty young in our passing game, have young receivers, a young quarterback that continues to improve and get better,” coach John Fox said. “We had to lean on it, people are starting to stack the box pretty heavy for us in the run game and I thought we made some good plays in that area.”
The Broncos are getting comfortable with these crazy finishes — and with each other.
“When adversity hits and you’re not doing good, most teams pull apart and they’re not on the same page anymore, but our team grows closer together,” Tebow suggested.
And the Broncos are really starting to believe in Tebow.
“There were a lot of questions on the outside (about Tebow). Sometimes it gets built up like they were on the inside, but the one thing I will say is the guy wins,” Fox said. “He does it with his feet, he does it with his arm. He’s young, he’s just going to get better.”
Hall of Famer Steve Young has been a vocal critic of the way the Broncos are relying so heavily on Tebow’s read-option skills honed at Florida and not working to make him more of a prototypical passer. But, he said, you can’t argue with the results.
“They kind of have, it’s not flourishing, let’s be honest,” Young said about opponents adjusting to the Broncos’ new/old offensive philosophy. “But you let Tim hang around, he’ll beat you. He will beat you. There’s nobody I can say that more emphatically about than Tim Tebow. If he’s around at the end, you’re dead.”
Over the last two months, the Dolphins, Raiders, Jets, Chargers and Vikings have all paid the price for not burying the Broncos early in the game, allowing Tebow the chance to pull off his last-minute magic.
“I think because we’ve been through these situations it makes us more comfortable,” Tebow said. “But I think overall we count on the guy next to us. We trust the guy next to us and lay it all on the line on every play. When that’s your mentality, and you have that perseverance, and you believe the guy next to you is going to do his job, then until the clock hits zero and maybe even after that, we’re going to keep believing.”
Linebacker Mario Haggan also credits Fox for instilling a new attitude in Denver, where the Broncos haven’t sniffed the playoffs since losing the AFC championship to Pittsburgh following the 2005 season. For the first month of this season they looked like they were headed for another dismal finish similar to last year’s franchise-worst 4-12 mark.
“This whole team would run through a brick wall for him,” Haggan said.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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