Tim Tebow Wins Again: Comparisons to John Elway Grow with Each Victory

Scott GyurinaCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2011

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 11:  Quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos breaks a tackle by linebacker Brian Urlacher #54 of the Chicago Bears as he scrambles during the overtime period at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 11, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Bears 13-10.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Tim Tebow, likely the most polarizing player in the NFL, has done it again. His fairy-tale run at the helm of the Denver Broncos has continued with yet another dramatic come-from-behind victory.

This time, the Broncos returned from the brink of almost-certain defeat as they trailed the Chicago Bears 10-0 in Denver with only 4:34 remaining on the clock.

When the Broncos took control of the ball at their own 37-yard line following a six-yard punt return by Quan Cosby, they had gone scoreless over their first 11 possessions of the game. Once again, Tebow came to the rescue, authoring an improbable comeback in the waning minutes of the game to force overtime, from which Denver eventually emerged victorious.

It began with the Broncos' penultimate drive of the game, which consisted of seven consecutive completed passes from the left arm of Tebow. He led his offense 63 yards downfield, distributing his passes among four receivers before the drive culminated in a 10-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.

After a failed onside kick, the Denver defense was able to hold Chicago, forcing the Bears to go three-and-out, returning possession to the Broncos with a punt which Quan Cosby returned nine yards to the Denver 20-yard line.

With only 53 seconds remaining and the Broncos trailing 10-7, Denver drove 39 yards on eight plays to set up a long field-goal attempt from the Chicago 41 with only three seconds on the clock.

As time expired, Broncos' kicker Matt Prater drilled a 59-yard field goal, tied for the longest of his career, and sent the game into overtime, something which had seemed inconceivable only minutes before. 

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 11:  Place kicker Matt Prater #5 of the Denver Broncos hits a 59-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter to tie the game against the Chicago Bears at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 11, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (P
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Though the Bears won the coin toss in overtime, they were unable to produce a scoring drive, and once again turned over possession to the Broncos, this time via a Marion Barber fumble at the Denver 33-yard line.

Gifted the ball with Chicago within field goal range, Tebow and the Broncos didn't waste the precious opportunity. 

Over nine plays, he and the offense moved 33 yards downfield, setting up a 51-yard field goal attempt for Matt Prater, which he summarily converted. After he had his first field-goal attempt of the day blocked, Prater nailed two clutch field goals and an extra point within the final 4:34 of regulation and 6:26 of overtime.

The thrilling victory on their home field was the Broncos' seventh in eight games, a successful run which coincides perfectly with Tebow's reign as their starting quarterback. He is an astounding 7-1 since assuming the starting role from Denver's original 2011 QB Kyle Orton, who is now with the Chiefs.

Another game, another chapter in the storybook season of Tebow, the young man who has become a sensation in only his second NFL season. The former University of Florida Heisman Trophy winner had been a high-profile firebrand even before becoming an NFL regular.

His brilliant collegiate career made him an amateur gridiron star, but his personality and occasionally controversial Christian beliefs made him an oft-discussed player even before he has accomplished anything of significance at the professional level.

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Florida Gators throws a pass against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisana Superdome on January 1, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty I
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Tebow's status has been elevated dramatically in recent months however, as he has turned his once-struggling Denver team into an AFC West-leading playoff-bound machine. At 1-4 before his ascension to the starting role, the Broncos were destined for a lost season.

Now, seemingly week after week, Tebow performs a football miracle, leading his Broncos to stunning victories, often coming from behind late in contests. 

In only 11 career starts, Tebow has now led his team to six victories when his team was losing at the beginning of the fourth quarter. With five victories of such a come-from-behind nature in his first 10 starts, Tebow tied an NFL record.

The left-handed QB's tactics and mechanics aren't always conventional, as his detractors deride his throwing motion and reliance upon scrambling. In a few games this season, he has had more rushing attempts than passes thrown.

His critics slam his completion rate, the strength of Denver's schedule, his goodie-two-shoes image, perpetual evangelizing and, most of all, the national media's obsession with the young QB. 

Just as many people are horrendously sick of hearing about him as there are those singing his praises. The inexperienced QB has become a household name and has even inspired a popular meme, Tebowing, a craze inspired by his celebratory, prayerful, kneeling pose.

The national media cannot get enough of him, and the obsession has reached a fever pitch. His persona has transcended the game, inspiring water-cooler talk among those even far-removed from NFL fandom.

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 11:  A fan displays a sign in support of quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos as they face the Chicago Bears at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 11, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Bears 1
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Recently, my 80-year-old grandmother, whom I had never known to watch a single down of a football game, asked me about Tim Tebow.

Tebow's recent heroics have drawn comparisons to a former Denver QB, legendary Hall of Famer John Elway. A two-time Super Bowl winner, Elway is an all-time great and now serves as the Broncos' vice president of football operations. 

Elway drew criticism from Tebow acolytes in November when he expressed doubt over the young QB's hold on Denver's starting position. When asked if he thought Tebow was the long-term quarterback solution, Elway said, "no," while discussing the need for the team to improve their passing game and third-down conversion rate.

Once he was pilloried for his comments, Elway explained further to KOA-AM in Denver:

Am I hopeful that Tim Tebow is our guy? I am very hopeful that Tim Tebow is our guy. Am I absolutely positive at this point in time? No, I'm not. But I want to believe that and that's what I want to happen.

Those loyal to Tebow criticized Elway heavily for his commentary, painting the Denver legend's words as "sour grapes," coming from a man jealous of the younger QB's growing stardom.

Tebow critics reveled in the fact that a football luminary of Elway's stature was seemingly taking shots at the target of their scorn, validating their criticism.

However, Elway said nothing out of line, as the Broncos had been getting by with a low percentage of completed passes, as well as poor conversion of third-down situations.

6 Dec 1998: Quarterback John Elway #7 of the Denver Broncos in action during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Chiefs 35-31.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Let's not forget though, that prior to Elway's transformation into a legendary play caller and Super Bowl champion, he was once a 23-year-old fledgling QB with a poor completion percentage and a horrendous quarterback rating.

During the 1983 season, Elway's first in the NFL, he played 11 games, 10 of them starts, and suffered through a difficult beginning to his eventually great career.

Though the 1983 Broncos finished the season 9-7 and made the playoffs, Elway was only 4-6 as a starter and was no more technically proficient than Tebow has been in his first year of regular action.

Over the course of his 11 games leading the Denver offense, Elway completed 123 of 259 attempts for a 47.5 percent completion rate. He threw seven touchdowns, but also 14 interceptions and finished the season with a lowly QB rating of 54.9.

John Elway would go on to craft a legendary career, built upon a legacy of clutch play and late-game heroics.

Not so unlike the auspicious early exploits of one Mr. Tebow.

Of course, Elway's legacy was built over the course of 16 NFL seasons, multiple runs deep into the playoffs, comprised of numerous fourth-quarter drives and comeback victories.

Tebow has not accomplished anything comparable yet, and he's not ready to be christened the next great Broncos' quarterback at this early stage.

However, the comparisons are too apt to ignore.

With such a propensity for heroics in the waning moments of games and dramatic, clutch play, Tebow is already crafting a reputation in the image of Denver's once-great leader. 

In 2011, Tebow's first as the principal starting quarterback, he too has suffered from a poor completion percentage, only completing 96 of his 198 attempts for 48.5 percent success rate. Prior to the week 14 victory over Chicago, his QB rating was 87.9, though his rating in the fourth quarter was 109.6.

While his completion percentage leaves something to be desired, he has now thrown 11 TDs to only two interceptions. His rushing game has been one of his greatest assets, as he has rushed for 517 yards on 94 attempts and three touchdowns. 

Most importantly to the Denver Broncos however, is that the young QB has continued to win.

However he does it, with a less-than aesthetically pleasing delivery and a poor completion percentage, Tebow keeps leading the Broncos to victory.

Criticize those aspects of his game if you must. Even mock his perpetually evangelical nature if his pervasive focus upon his faith grates upon your nerves.

One thing that cannot be denied, however, is his knack for winning.

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 11:  Quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos completes a pass to Demaryius Thomas #88 of the Denver Broncos from his own endzone against the Chicago Bears at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 11, 2011 in Denver,
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Sure, Denver's miraculous season turnaround could all come crashing down in the next two weeks, or even in a devastating first-round playoff exit as Elway's 1983 season did.

Whichever way you lean on the issue of Tim Tebow, his story has been a compelling one and it won't be going away soon.

In the midst of four consecutive fourth-quarter comebacks, Tim Tebow is creating a memorable season for the Broncos franchise and the fans in Denver.

Where it all ends has yet to be written, but the climax promises to be anything but boring.

Remember, even John Elway started somewhere.


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