- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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SAN DIEGO -- With Tim Tebow kneeling in prayer and Matt Prater’s 37-yard field goal going through the uprights with 74 minutes, 31 seconds expired from the game Sunday, Denver Broncos rookie safety Quinton Carter bolted for the San Diego Chargers’ helmet logo in the middle of the field.
Facing the befuddled Chargers’ sideline, Carter dropped in the white painted portion of the field and “Tebowed.” The craze that erupted across the country early in Tebow’s wild six-week journey was once mocked by Detroit Lions players after a sack of Tebow. This time, it was a tribute by one of Tebow’s teammates.
Any concern that the decision to bench quarterback Kyle Orton in favor of Tebow would cost first-year Broncos coach John Fox to lose the locker room has dissipated. This team is completely on board with the Tebow train that is moving quickly toward the playoffs.
Denver’s 16-13 overtime win against San Diego (which has lost six games in a row and is 4-7) was its fifth in Tebow’s six starts this season. The Broncos -- who looked like a prime contender in the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes earlier this season -- are 6-5 and are a game behind Oakland (7-4) in the AFC West. Denver also is a game off the pace in the AFC wild-card chase.
Not only is Tebow Mania captivating the country, but it isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
And Tebow's teammates couldn’t be more thrilled.
“I told everyone I was going to [do the Tebow] late in overtime, I knew Tebow was going to win for us,” Carter said. “Philip Rivers gave me a little look when I did it, but that’s OK. … I wanted to celebrate for our quarterback. We’re riding with him and he’s riding with us. Who cares about his throwing motion or a hitch or whatever. We are winning with him.”
More and more, that is becoming the bottom line with Tebow. You just can’t argue with winning.
There is something special at work in Denver.
Since Tebow took over the offense for the since-released Orton (who was 4-14 since the start of the 2010 season as the starter), the Broncos look like a completely re-energized team. They are playing winning football on both sides of the ball.
Is it a coincidence that Denver is playing much better on defense since Tebow took over? This was the No. 32-ranked defense in the NFL last year. But Fox and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen have the unit playing exceptionally well.
The combination of Denver’s dominance on the ground and timely defense is the reason the Broncos have worn down their opponents in Tebow’s five victories. This was the Broncos’ second overtime win since Tebow took over.
"We're doing what it takes on both sides of the ball,” said Broncos linebacker Von Miller, who has 10.5 sacks this season and is a leading defensive rookie of the year candidate. “We’re playing great team football.”
The insertion of Tebow in the offense has allowed Fox to play the type of football that won a lot of games for him in Carolina during the past decade. His formula is to run the ball on offense and play strong defense. That’s how Denver is winning.
Using forms of the option Sunday, Denver ran for 208 yards on 51 carries. Willis McGahee had 117 yards on 23 carries and Tebow had 67 yards on an incredible 22 carries. It was an NFL record by a quarterback since the 1970 merger. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 17 of the runs were designed. You could see the rushing attack beat down the Chargers late in overtime.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Broncos gained 147 of their rushing yards on option plays. All of McGahee’s 45 yards on the ground in overtime came on the option.
Still, what has to be exciting for the Broncos is that Tebow made strides as a passer late Sunday. He finished 9-of-18 passing for 143 yards, but he made several nice plays to key the win. Tebow completed 5-of-10 passes that were thrown 10 or more yards downfield, including a touchdown pass. Prior to Sunday, Tebow had completed only 26 percent of his passes in those situations. He was last in the NFL in that category.
“Getting better every week,” Broncos receiver Eric Decker said of Tebow. “I really believe that.”
All the while, Tebow is showing great ball security. He has turned over the ball only once in 236 touches this season.
There were periods of time that Tebow was not effective Sunday, as has been the case in virtually all of his starts this season. But he’s improving in key areas and the team is getting better as a whole. Oh, and the Broncos are winning at an impressive rate.
“That’s why I Tebowed,” Carter said. “We’re all having a lot of fun.”
1dEric D. Williams