DENVER – If believing in Tim Tebow meant believing in miracles, I doubt that I could ever be truly swayed.
I am both a realist and a skeptic. It is difficult for me to wrap my brain around what I can’t see. It is why my religious faith has come and gone multiple times, because what I can see is what humans do with it — which often disappoints and dismays to no end.
But only in mythology or religion are miracles individual efforts. In football, as in life, miraculous efforts are accomplished by a collective of people and circumstances.
Of course, failures also belong to the collective, as any NFL player worth his salary will tell you. Teams succeed together and suffer together.
For most of Sunday afternoon, the Broncos suffered.
At halftime, you needed an electron microscope to see Tebow’s 9.5 quarterback rating. He went 0-for-3 in the third quarter — including an on-the-money deep pass to Demaryius Thomas that sailed through the second-year receiver’s hands — and his rating actually increased, albeit to a still-embarrassing 13.5.
The Broncos’ running game, which had averaged 4.8 yards on 20 first-half carries, only averaged 2.5 on six third-quarter rushes. Thomas and Eric Decker had more drops (five) than the entire team had completed passes (three).
When the Broncos trailed 7-0. It felt like 17-0. When Robbie Gould sent a 57-yard missile through the north uprights for the Bears’ longest field goal in their 90-season history, the 10-point deficit seemed closer to 100.
Finally, after the Broncos’ sixth fruitless possession of the second half, they punted once again. The clock wound under six minutes as Britton Colquitt and the punting unit trudged onto the field for their eighth appearance of the afternoon. That in itself wasn’t a sign of impending doom; since 2006, the Broncos were 5-2 when they punted at least eight times in a game.
But with the clock bleeding seconds and the Broncos needing two scores with a timeout already burned, I did the clock math in my head and felt the Broncos had no choice but to go for it. That made the punt on fourth-and-9 feel like a capitulation.
I should have known better.
I should have known what the Broncos still had at their disposal.
It’s Tebow and the passing game shaking loose the detritus of the first three quarters to soar in the game’s final moments. He completed 18 of 24 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter and overtime, compiling a 111.6 rating that fit securely in with the 106.5 rating he amassed after the start of the fourth quarter prior to Sunday.
Passes that had been dropped or had sailed above their targets were grabbed confidently as he diced the Bears with short-to-intermediate-length passes that hadn’t been a significant part of the Broncos’ game plan in previous weeks. Tebow, Thomas, Decker, the unsung Matt Willis and Lance Ball made the daunting Bears defense look tired and ordinary, and after accounting for 13 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, the Tebow-led Broncos are averaging 36.2 points per 60 minutes of final quarter and extra-session play.
Is there any other offense you’d rather have in the endgame or sudden death?
It’s Matt Prater drilling a game-tying 59-yard field goal that would have been good from 69, then following that six and a half minutes later with a 51-yard bazooka through the north uprights. Sure, he’s struggled from 40-49 yards this year, but he’s now 4-of-4 for his career in overtime, with two of the successful kicks from outside 50 yards.
Is there any other kicker you’d rather have late in the endgame or sudden death?
It’s a defense that hasn’t allowed a touchdown in the last half of the fourth quarter since Week 3. In the 10 games that have followed, it has only allowed four field goals after the 7:30 mark of the fourth quarter.
It’s linebacker Wesley Woodyard doing his best Jeremiah Castille impersonation and stripping loose the football from Marion Barber III, who had already burst past the fourth-year linebacker to set up a makable field-goal attempt.
That’s five takeaways from the opposing offense in the last four games; two have been returned for touchdowns; two set up game-winning field goals; two snatched near-certain field goals away from the opponent. Woodyard’s strip did both of the last two.
Is there any other defense you’d rather have trying to make a big play in the endgame or sudden death?
With 5:55 to go, I didn’t know that — or, more accurately, I didn’t think about what this group had done before. It doesn’t turn water into wine; it turns long periods of frustration into short, loud bursts of ultimate success that are enough to turn defeat into victory.
I didn’t, but many did. Most of the fans knew; few left early, a complete reversal of the trends of recent years, when a two-score deficit with 10 minutes remaining sent the turnstiles whirring in reverse.
Those who stayed knew that this team was different. The Broncos knew, too.
“Those last five minutes, if it’s within reach for us to get it, we feel like we’re going to win,” said Woodyard.
“I think it’s like an inner thing that we built as a team. We can feel it,” said rookie safety Quinton Carter, whose ascension to the starting lineup came the same week as Tebow’s, Week 7 at Miami. “Every time we’ve been in the game late, we’ve pulled it off.
“We’ve been here before. We know how to finish.”
Florida Gators teammates knew, as the Vikings’ Percy Harvin explained last week. Florida fans who watched Tebow’s exploits knew. Even my mother knew, and she’s neither the religious type nor a Gators fan. She didn’t pick the Broncos to win games in September. She picks them every week now.
It’s not so much that she’s picking Tebow. It’s that she’s picking the Broncos for what Tebow helps do — which is to be the galvanizing element that helps bring the entire collective together, a group of 11 players on the field at any one time that week after week turns the unimaginable into reality.
So it’s not one player in whom I’ve come to believe. It’s one team — and there are perfectly logical reasons for that belief. It’s not something supernatural; it’s something quite tangible.
If there’s another 10-point deficit with five minutes to play, I won’t doubt the 2011 Broncos again.
It’s time for belief in Tebow and the Broncos … because they’ve provided more than ample evidence to justify it.