- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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DENVER -- As the Chicago Bears' season hung in the balance, paused only by a futile timeout, the scoreboard at Sports Authority Field foretold the game's end.
The harbinger was a video shot of Tim Tebow seemingly praying, or Tebowing if you prefer, on the sidelines. Minutes later, Matt Prater kicked a game-winning, 51-yard field goal in overtime and the Denver Broncos had another amazing fourth quarter comeback and a 13-10 victory.
Let's be honest, a shot of Tebow praying is Denver's equivalent of Red Auerbach lighting up a stogie at the end of the bench.
Good living equals good fortune, I suppose. Faith is not a dirty word. Tebow might not be the only reason the Broncos are riding high, but he certainly symbolizes the team's special season.
With Tebow as a starter, the Broncos have won six in a row, and seven of eight, and have been transformed from moribund slackjaws into the feel-good story in the NFL.
Two months ago, even the most ardent Tebow fans would have found this story too unbelievable. But now, Tebow Time is the new happy hour.
"I don't think it's 'Tebow Time,'" he said. "I just think it's 'Bronco Time.'"
And the legend grows.
Of course he needed help, and it didn't come from a higher power.
Tebow got his chance for another wild fourth-quarter comeback from another source. While he didn't lead off his news conference by thanking Marion Barber, Tebow joked that he gave some thanks when Barber ran out of bounds late in the fourth quarter, giving the Broncos precious time they desperately needed.
With less than two minutes left, Barber ran out of bounds after a 5-yard gain as the Bears were trying to kill the clock with a 10-7 lead and the ball near midfield. One run later and the Bears punted. The Broncos got the ball at their 20 with 56 seconds left.
"I might have thanked the Lord when he did that," Tebow admitted to laughter in his postgame news conference. "I mean, we probably would have had 10 seconds if he stayed inbounds, but it was just special."
Tebow then completed three straight passes to get Denver to the Bears' 41-yard line. After the third pass stopped the clock when Matthew Willis got out of bounds after a 19-yard gain, there were 23 seconds left. Three plays later, Prater tied the game with a 59-yard field goal.
The stadium shook when Prater made the kick. Who cares if Tebow can throw a spiral? Fans will remember this season for the rest of their lives. Players will too.
"It is awesome," Prater said. "I don't think any of us can explain it."
"I think we are rewriting the book on 'keep fighting,'" Denver coach John Fox said. "Our guys never blink. They remain positive."
It sounds trite to say the Bears got Tebowed, because you can pin this game on a lot of other factors, but who cares about the details when the legend is so good.
Yes, the Bears got Tebowed.
"We didn't want it to happen to us," defensive tackle Amobi Okoye said. "But it did."
As the post-field-goal scene unfolded, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo stared at the field through binoculars. I don't know what he was looking at, but he was frozen like Bernie Lomax. Before the game, Angelo rejected the rumors that he's definitely retiring after the season. After that game, he might want to rethink things.
That's three straight losses for the post-Cutler Bears under Caleb Hanie, and their playoff hopes are slipping away. Chicago (7-6) is currently in seventh place in the NFC, and it's not looking good with three games left, including one at undefeated Green Bay.
The season will almost certainly end in Minnesota on New Year's Day and players will go into the offseason rueing their bad fortune. When Cutler went down with his thumb injury, the Bears had just won their fifth in a row and everything was possible.
The Bears should be favored in two of their three games, but they need help to make the playoffs. They don't deserve it. While we can rail on Lovie Smith calling for a prevent-us-from-winning defense in the fourth quarter or Angelo for scratch-your-head personnel decisions, losses like these are on the players, first and foremost.
"It just comes down to making plays," Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said.
The Broncos made them, the Bears did not. Simple as that. While the offense is just short of hopeless, the defense holds itself to a high standard. They had two takeaways, a Peanut Tillman interception in the first quarter and Craig Steltz forced fumble on Tebow early in the fourth. The Bears offense could do nothing with either opportunity.
Tebow was 3-for-16 for 45 yards passing during the first three quarters and then 15-20 for 163 yards in the fourth. On their first scoring drive, Tebow went 7-for-7 for 63 yards, including a scrambling 10-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas for a wide-open touchdown, exploiting the Cover 2 coverage. Cornerback Zach Bowman jammed Thomas at the line and held his ground for the running back. Safety Chris Conte never picked up Thomas. Thomas then made big catches on the game-tying and game-winning drives.
Okoye said the altitude definitely had an effect all game as guys struggled to catch their breath. For whatever reason, the defense just hasn't come up with game-changing plays.
"They came up with a critical turnover and we couldn't match that," he said. "Our defense is supposed to match that, we feel like we're the best defense on the field whenever we play anybody and we just couldn't get it done."
After the game was over, the cavernous visiting locker room was hospital quiet. Henry Melton sat in his grass-stained uniform. Next to him, Okoye, a prime of example of living a virtuous life, was staring at the ceiling, as if to ask a higher power what more he needs to do. There was a sense of barely controlled anger in the air. Not at any one person, but just the events that unfolded.
"We gave it away," Devin Hester said. "We were up 10 points."
Of course, the one guy everyone wanted to talk to was gone, his locker cleaned out. Barber made a spectacular, diving catch in overtime, but three plays later, he fumbled, stripped by Wesley Woodyard as he fought for more yards on third-and-7 in Denver territory. Nine plays later, the Broncos won it.
Barber has made it known since he arrived in training camp that he doesn't speak to the media, which is bizarre to a degree, but no one has much cared, since he's the backup running back.
"You have to ask him," he said.
Bell, and the rest of Barber's teammates, gamely stuck up for the silent veteran.
"That was tough," Hanie said. "You always want to stay inbounds in those situations. That didn't lose the game for us. We lost it by not scoring more points."
"Marion Barber is a heck of a football player. And Marion Barber is going to help us get into the playoffs," Briggs said. "He made two [bad] plays today. Things happen. They happen to all of us."
That's the rub. Barber ran hard all game, finishing with 108 yards on 27 carries for a team that needed a big performance from the running game. He scored the team's first touchdown since the Oakland loss on a 9-yard run in the third quarter, breaking a 0-0 stalemate that had bored us into submission.
The first three quarters were rendered meaningless by the wild end of the game and as it turned out, Tebow was the hero and Barber was the goat.
"If you believe, unbelievable things can sometimes be possible," Tebow said.
I believe in Tebow and the Broncos now. As for the Bears, I don't believe they have a prayer.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
Tebow's legend grew thanks to Barber's miscues and Bears' incompetence.