Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow may be the most polarizing figure in the NFL, with opinion about the second-year quarterback from Florida breaking one of two ways in most cases, with very little middle ground.
Is Tebow a mechanically unsound fullback playing quarterback with no real long-term potential because of his inability to deliver the ball accurately, or is he a winner with all the intangibles necessary to make plays when they must be made?
The answer to that question on Sunday, when Tebow made his first start of the season against the Miami Dolphins, was a resounding “yes.”
Yes, he threw the ball like lightning—as in, never hitting the same place twice—for much of the game as the Broncos dug themselves a 15-0 hole. Tebow was inaccurate, but at least he was really slow to decide where he wanted to almost throw the ball, taking seven sacks.
At the point Denver got the ball back at its own 20 with 5:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, Tebow was 4-for-14 for 40 yards, and the Broncos had not converted a single third-down opportunity.
Then, something clicked. Tebow led Denver on an 80-yard drive in less than three minutes, capping it with a five-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas, and the Broncos had at least avoided the ignominy of being shut out.
Denver caught a break when Miami couldn’t field the ensuing onside kick cleanly, getting the ball back trailing by eight with around 2½ minutes to work with. Tebow ran around, converted a couple of key third downs with his feet, then threw the ugliest beautiful pass I’ve seen in a long time.
Tebow found a diving Daniel Fells in a crowd of three Dolphins defenders with a fluttering, wounded-duck looking pass that was good for 28 yards and a first down at the Miami 3. Fells scored moments later on a tight end screen with 17 seconds remaining to make it a 15-13 game.
Tebow audibled to his own number on the two-point conversion, bursting in basically untouched on a quarterback draw to tie the game.
Midway through the overtime, Denver recovered a fumble by Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore when linebacker D.J. Williams recorded a strip-sack, and three plays later, Matt Prater—who had already missed two closer attempts—drilled a 52-yard field goal.
Just like that, the Broncos were 2-4 and the Dolphins 0-6.
On those final two drives in regulation, plus the overtime, Tebow was 9-for-13 for 121 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 65 yards on eight carries in the game.
He spent much of the game looking just like the guy his critics say he is. He was shut out for 3½ quarters by a defense that came in ranked 26th in the league. He underthrew receivers. He overthrew receivers. He was so slow making reads that whatever time he did have to throw evaporated.
But when the game was on the line, he morphed into the guy who just got it done, even if it wasn’t always pretty.
The bottom line for the Broncos is that Tebow now has as many wins as their starter this season (one) as Kyle Orton was able to manage in five starts.
The kid who sometimes seemed too good to be true while at the University of Florida was, on Sunday afternoon, everything we’ve been told that Tim Tebow is …for better and for worse.