Denver coach John Fox decided to turn the offense over to Tim Tebow(notes) seven weeks ago against the San Diego Chargers, and the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback nearly led the Broncos back during a frantic fourth-quarter rally.
Tebow has since perfected the fourth-quarter comeback, and his team is suddenly in the thick of the AFC West race.
The Chargers, on the other hand, haven’t won since and are in danger of falling out of contention in the division.
Tebow looks to lead Denver to a fourth straight victory Sunday when it visits a San Diego team trying to avoid losing six in a row for the first time in a decade.
The Broncos (5-5) should be well rested after not playing since an improbable 17-13 win over the New York Jets on Nov. 17. Denver’s offense had sputtered for much of the game until Tebow led the team on a 95-yard drive that culminated with his 20-yard touchdown run with 58 seconds remaining.
“It’s hard to explain,” wide receiver Eric Decker(notes) said. “I always say it’s that ‘It’ factor. You either got it or you don’t. It’s almost magical, to come in on that last drive of the game and to do the things that he’s done to win a game. It’s pretty special.”
Tebow was again far from brilliant, completing 9 of 20 passes for 104 yards, but he came up big when it counted. He ran seven times for 58 yards during the game-winning drive.
The Broncos, who went 4-12 last season, are 4-1 since Tebow supplanted Kyle Orton(notes) as the starter, with the option quarterback engineering three fourth-quarter comebacks. Denver, one game back of West-leading Oakland, waived Orton on Tuesday.
Fox decided to give Tebow his first real chance to run the team coming out of halftime against the Chargers on Oct. 9 with Denver trailing 23-10. Although the offense wasn’t yet catered to fit his skill set, Tebow still brought the Broncos within two points with 3:19 remaining, but San Diego held on for a 29-24 victory.
The Chargers (4-6) have lost their five games since and find themselves two games back in the division. San Diego hasn’t lost six straight since dropping the final nine games in 2001.
“It’s rough, but we’re going to keep fighting,” quarterback Philip Rivers(notes) said. “I probably can’t say this much longer, but as rough as it’s been, we’re still in it. It may sound crazy at 4-6 on a five-game losing streak, but that’s the truth. A lot’s going to be determined on how much we’re in it after this Sunday.”
Rivers’ poor play has had a lot to do with San Diego’s skid.
He played well for three quarters against Chicago last Sunday, but his two fourth-quarter interceptions spoiled any chance for a comeback in a 31-20 loss. The three-time Pro Bowler has 10 interceptions in the last five games and enters Week 12 with an NFL-worst and career-high 17 INTs.
“We haven’t played good enough to win these last five games and it starts with me,” Rivers said.
Rivers has led the Chargers to four straight wins over the Broncos, averaging 235.3 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions, but he will be facing a suddenly formidable Denver defense.
While Tebow is receiving all the attention for the Broncos’ success, the defense has been just as important. During the three-game winning streak, Denver is allowing an average of 15.7 points and has intercepted four passes.
“We just put our heads down and kept on trucking. That’s what we’ve been doing,” linebacker Von Miller(notes) said. “That’s what’s been working and I don’t expect that to change. We’re just going to keep pushing to be the team we want to be.”
Miller leads all NFL rookies with 9 1/2 sacks and the Broncos enter the week tied for eighth in the league with 27. They recorded a season-high five sacks against the Chargers last month.
Although Denver was able to frustrated Rivers a bit, it had no answer for San Diego’s ground game. The Chargers rushed for a season-high 206 yards, with Ryan Mathews(notes) running for a career-best 125. Mathews only has two 100-yard performances in his 21-game career, with both coming against the Broncos.
The Chargers, who are allowing an average of 139.7 rushing yards in their last six games, can expect another heavy dose of running plays from Denver’s option offense, which is averaging an NFL-best 200.3 rushing yards since Week 5.