Tired of TebowMania yet, non-Denver Broncos fans?
Well, of course you are. But buckle up because Tim Tebow isn't going anywhere -- other than perhaps to the postseason.
One of NFL’s most remarkable stories took another remarkable turn Sunday as the Broncos and their young quarterback continued to win in close fashion. They are now tied with the Oakland Raiders for first place in the AFC West, setting up a wild final quarter of the season between two long-time rivals.
Denver beat the Minnesota Vikings 35-32 in another final-second win and Oakland was hammered 34-14 at Miami. Both teams are now 7-5.
The Raiders have to worry about Tebow and the Broncos. They have won six of Tebow’s seven starts this season, including five straight games. Considered a contender to land Andrew Luck after starting 1-4, the Broncos are now supremely relevant in both the AFC West and AFC wild-card races.
This was another complete team win as the surging Denver defense made several timely plays Sunday. It was the Broncos’ third straight win in the closing seconds of the game and the fourth in Tebow’s seven starts.
Oakland, on the other hand, was completely flat and was terribly outplayed by the 4-8 Dolphins. The Dolphins were leading 34-0 before the Raiders finally scored midway through the fourth quarter. The poor effort came out of nowhere for the Raiders, who had won three straight games and who had a strong hold on a playoff spot.
Now, it is all in question. It is too early to talk about tiebreakers, but all of the scenarios are laid out in our playoff machine. This race looks like it could go down to the wire.
Denver’s four remaining games are home against Chicago and New England, at Buffalo and then at home against Kansas City. Oakland plays at Green Bay, home against Detroit, at Kansas City and home against San Diego.
Oakland and Denver are 1-1 against each other. Denver is 3-2 in the AFC West and Oakland is 2-2 in the division. Denver is 3-2 against common opponents and Oakland is 3-3.
While both teams have a strong chance to win the division, the Broncos enter the final quarter of the season with a lot more steam.
Most encouraging to Denver is that Tebow is making significant strides as a passer. He was 10-of-15 passing for 202 yards and threw for two touchdowns Sunday. Denver scored 28 points in the second half. After carrying the ball a record 22 times for a quarterback last week at San Diego, Tebow ran the ball only four times for 13 yards Sunday.
He is looking more and more like a legitimate quarterback. He made several nice throws Sunday and developed a nice relationship with fellow 2010 first-round pick Demaryius Thomas, who had four catches for 144 yards Sunday.
Tebow made some big passes late against the Chargers last week and his development continued Sunday. Most impressive for Tebow is that he is making strides on longer passes.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tebow was 5-of-8 passing on throws of 11-plus yards Sunday. He averaged 20.1 yards per pass. He threw both of his touchdown passes on those throws. Tebow was 3-for-5 for 100 yards and a touchdown pass against the 4-3 base defense. He had thrown only one touchdown pass in 55 previous attempts against opponents' base defense this season.
While Tebow is making strides, Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer was unimpressive Sunday. He ended up throwing for 273 yards, but when the game was in doubt, Palmer was never comfortable.
Palmer has been mostly solid as a Raider, but only against San Diego on Nov. 10 did he look like the dominant player for whom Oakland gave up two premium drafts picks to Cincinnati in October. The Raiders’ offense was missing a lot of firepower Sunday without running backs Darren McFadden and Taiwan Jones and receivers Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore. The team hopes to get McFadden back as soon as next week against the Packers.
The Raiders will need him, because Tebow and the Broncos showed they are prepared to be in this race for the long haul.