DENVER (AP) – Wild wins are becoming routine for Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos, who flail away through most of four quarters before coming through in the clutch.
Matt Prater’s 51-yard field goal 6½ minutes into overtime gave the Broncos a 13-10 victory over the stunned Chicago Bears on Sunday. Prater’s 59-yarder with 3 seconds left in regulation tied the score after Tebow led another rally.
“If you believe,” Tebow said, “then unbelievable things can sometimes be possible.”
It was Denver’s sixth straight win and seventh in eight games since Tebow, dubbed the “Mile High Messiah,” was promoted to starter. The Broncos have trailed in the second half in six of those victories.
This latest comeback put Denver in sole possession of first place in the AFC West after Oakland’s 46-16 drubbing at Green Bay.
“Never say never,” wide receiver Eric Decker said. “That’s a great characteristic of this team. … Again it wasn’t pretty. But again in the fourth quarter, we found a way to make some plays. Matt Prater, man, the kid can boom it.”
After failing to score on their first dozen possessions, the Broncos (8-5) erased a 10-0 deficit in the final 2:08 of regulation.
“I think we’re rewriting the book on ‘keep fighting,'” coach John Fox said. “Our guys never blink. They remain positive. As bad as it looked today — we didn’t play well; we had some drops. But the guy who dropped a couple of passes caught the … touchdown. That’s kind of the M.O. on this bunch.”
Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas with a 10-yard TD pass, then got the ball back with 53 seconds left after Marion Barber saved the Broncos precious time by going out of bounds when the Bears were trying to run out the clock.
Denver was out of timeouts after Thomas’ touchdown and had to try an onside kick, which the Broncos couldn’t recover. But on second down after the two-minute warning, Barber cut outside and was pushed out, stopping the clock.
The Bears would have to punt, and Tebow got the ball back at his 20 and went to work, not needing to go far with Prater’s strong leg in the thin air.
He drove the Broncos 39 yards for Prater’s kick, which he rocketed through the uprights.
“We missed the onside kick. Then, all of a sudden, Barber goes out of bounds and gives us a chance,” Champ Bailey marveled. “We knew right then we still had a fighting chance. If you give our offense a chance in the end, good things might happen.”
The Bears (7-6) won the toss in overtime and quickly got into field goal range before Barber, who rushed for 108 yards but will be remembered for his two late mistakes, coughed up the football at the Broncos 34, and Elvis Dumervil recovered.
Barber had already broken through the first line of defense for the first down when linebacker Wesley Woodyard reached out and grabbed his right arm, popping the ball loose.
“It’s crazy,” Bailey said. “He has a free lane to run. All of a sudden, somebody snatches the ball out. Wow! We made a play when we had to. We hadn’t had a turnover all day.”
All of a sudden, it was Tebow Time. Again.
“It’s not Tebow Time,” the quarterback retorted. “It’s Broncos Time.”
While Tebow was leading the Broncos on their game-winning drive, Barber looked despondent, and quarterback Caleb Hanie comforted him.
“He was making a tough run, trying to get extra yards,” Hanie said. “It’s unfortunate. You want to stay in right there but that didn’t lose the game for us. We lost it by not generating more points.”
Barber, who hasn’t talked to reporters since training camp, avoided the media after the game.
“I hate to say it — we gave this one to them,” Hanie said.
Tebow took the Broncos from their 34 to the Chicago 33, and Prater sent the stadium into delirium.
“I don’t know if they just kind of wait until they think, ‘Oh, man, we might lose this game,’ and start playing,” Fox said. “It’s aging me quickly.”
Tebow, who also led the Broncos to wins in OT at Miami and San Diego, ran 12 times for 49 yards and completed 21 of 40 passes for a season-best 236 yards.
Tebow was intercepted once, fumbled the ball away on another play and was sacked five times by Brian Urlacher & Co., who couldn’t seal the win despite their stout defense.
The Bears, whose playoff hopes are faltering, are 0-3 since Hanie replaced an injured Jay Cutler, the former Broncos QB who has a broken thumb on his throwing hand and is out indefinitely.
Hanie completed 12 of 19 passes for 115 yards and was sacked four times.
The Bears also were without star running back Matt Forte, who’s out indefinitely with a knee injury. His replacement, Barber, broke a scoreless tie in the third quarter with a 9-yard touchdown run.
With safeties Brian Dawkins (neck) and David Bruton (calf) sidelined, the Broncos were left with rookies Quinton Carter and Rahim Moore, and both of them missed the tackle on Barber’s TD. Cornerback Andre’ Goodman sustained a concussion three plays before Barber scored.
Barber gained 16 yards on a screen pass from Hanie on third-and-27 on the final play of the third quarter, setting up Robbie Gould’s team-record 57-yard field goal.
He would be outdone by Prater, who’s never had this many pressurized kicks.
“I am definitely going to be bald at the end of the season,” Prater said. “Bald or gray, one of the two.”
Notes: Bears GM Jerry Angelo said he was not considering retirement, disputing an NFL Network report that raised the possibility. … The Broncos have recorded at least two sacks in 12 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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