December 13, 2011

ON FOOTBALL: Tebow pushes NFL around his own way

BY JIM LITKE AP Sports Columnist

Tim Tebow is doing what decades of conventional NFL wisdom said couldn't be done. He's winning game after game playing the most important position on the field less like a quarterback than an irresistible force of nature.

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MILE-HIGH MESSIAH: The Denver Broncos have gone 7-1 since Tim Tebow as named their starting quarterback.

AP photo

Seven times in their last eight games with Tebow in charge, the Broncos have somehow won when they shouldn't have -- six times coming back in the second half, five times in the fourth quarter and three of those in overtime.

Along the way, he's befuddled critics, delighted his growing flock of fans and flummoxed opposing coaches, not to mention his own on occasion. He's dazzled analysts and left it to teammates to explain the chain-reaction of events -- freak turnovers by opponents, sparkling catches by young receivers, Tebow's own pinball runs through defenders -- that have made the closing minutes of Denver games must-see TV. The latest one might have been the most improbable.

Trailing the Chicago Bears 10-0 with 4:34 left Sunday, the Broncos faced the possibility of their first home shutout in team history. In short order, Tebow cobbled together a 63-yard touchdown drive, Denver failed to recover the ensuing onside kick attempt, but got the ball back after a punt with more time left than anyone expected. That's because Chicago's Marion Barber inexplicably ran out of bounds on a carry -- stopping the clock -- instead of simply falling to the ground.

"That's usually something that never happens with a veteran running back," Denver linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "It's just like things go our way."

But as Woodyard and the rest of the Broncos have come to believe, things weren't done going their way.

From his 20-yard line, Tebow again marched the Broncos back to the Bears 41, where Matt Prater coolly connected on a 59-yard field goal to tie the game at 10. In the extra period, Chicago was methodically grinding up a wearying Broncos defense when Barber bashed through a hole for another first down -- only to have the ball stripped at the last second by Woodyard and recovered by teammate Elvis Dumervil at the Broncos 34.

From there, Tebow put together one more helter-skelter drive to reach the Bears 33, where Prater converted a slightly less eye-popping 51-yard field goal for the win.

That's three straight Broncos' scoring drives -- after they failed in a dozen straight series in regulation -- and two uncharacteristic Chicago miscues in less than five minutes.

"If you believe," he said after the Chicago win, "then unbelievable things can sometimes be possible."

Mixing his football and his faith drew attention to Tebow long before he arrived in the NFL.

The son of missionaries, he was born in the Philippines and has returned there numerous times on missions of his own. Like his four siblings, Tebow was home-schooled in Jacksonville, Fla. But because of a state law requiring home-schooled students to play high school football in the district where they lived, he found himself at the center of a controversy when he moved into an apartment in nearby St. Johns County with his mother so he could play prep football at powerhouse Nease High.

Recruited by Florida, he won two national titles and the Heisman Trophy, but was also scorned for frequently praising or thanking God in postgame interviews. He often chalked biblical verses, such as John 3:16, on the eye-black strips players apply to their cheekbones to cut glare, prompting the NCAA to ban such messages the season after he finished his college career.

"His great strength," said Chap Clark, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., "is that even people who don't agree with his faith at all play their best around him."

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