Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow eludes the rush of Vikings linebacker Erin… (Charlie Neibergall / Associated…)
The Denver Broncos sent a clear message Sunday to the Minnesota Vikings:
Ponder this Christian.
That's right, Tim Tebow pulled off another stirring win, guiding the Broncos to a 35-32 victory at the Metrodome to grab a share of first place in the AFC West.
It was the fifth consecutive road win for Denver, a streak the franchise hasn't known since John Elway was quarterback in 1998. The team is 6-1 with Tebow starting at quarterback, although those have been far from virtuoso performances, as the defense has played a huge role in the success.
"There were a lot of questions on the outside. Sometimes it gets built up like they were on the inside, but the one thing I will say is the guy wins," Broncos Coach John Fox said of Tebow, who notched his fifth game-winning rally in the fourth quarter or overtime in 10 career NFL starts. "He does it with his feet. He does it with his arm. He's young. He's just going to get better."
Tebow threw for two touchdowns in the third quarter and a season-best 202 yards, showing he can hang in a shootout as well as low-scoring slugfests even though his raw numbers were overshadowed by those of Vikings counterpart Christian Ponder. The Minnesota rookie threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns but had two interceptions.
The second of those Ponder picks came with 1 minute 33 seconds to play and set the stage for the winning 23-yard field goal by Matt Prater as the clock expired.
Minnesota's Percy Harvin, like Tebow a standout from the University of Florida, said he was concerned when Tebow had the ball in the waning moments.
"I was sure enough hoping we were going to get him, but I've been on his teams," Harvin said. "He's a winner. He's a leader. All of the things you hear about, you may think it's too much, but that's what he is."
The victory, coupled with Oakland's loss at Miami, sets up a four-game race to the finish. The Broncos play host to Chicago on Sunday, and the Raiders play at Green Bay.
Against the Dolphins, the Raiders abandoned their running game. They also abandoned their passing game and defense.
"We couldn't run. We couldn't stop the run. We didn't pass very well," Coach Hue Jackson said. "Just a bad day at the office."
Other playoff contenders could say the same. Chicago, with Caleb Hanie making his second start at quarterback, could muster only a field goal in a 10-3 home loss to Kansas City. For the second consecutive Sunday, Hanie had three interceptions. The Bears might want to take another look at Donovan McNabb, who was recently cut by Minnesota and has cleared waivers.
Chicago also lost running back Matt Forte to a knee injury.
"We'll just keep our fingers crossed, and hopefully it's not that serious," Chicago Coach Lovie Smith said.
That means the Bears' crossed fingers will match their crossed signals. They collected only 181 yards of offense in a game in which the only touchdown came on a Hail Mary by Kansas City's Tyler Palko on the last play of the first half.
Chicago got some help in the wild-card race with Atlanta's losing at Houston, a game in which two defensive touchdowns by the Falcons were wiped out by penalties.
The Texans, who have won a franchise-record six in a row and are on track for the first playoff appearance in club history, showed it's entirely possible to win a big game with an inexperienced quarterback. Rookie T.J. Yates started for the Texans, who are down to their third-stringer because of season-ending injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart.
"I test my guys the night before every game," Houston Coach Gary Kubiak said, "and when I tested him, I was so impressed. I went in there and told the whole team, 'I wish you could have been in there. He is ready to play.' "
Coach! What are you doing?
The Dallas Cowboys made a huge mistake at the end of regulation in their 19-13 overtime loss at Arizona.
With seven seconds left, Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey lined up for a 49-yard field goal to break a 13-13 tie. He drilled it down the middle — good!
But . . .
Dallas Coach Jason Garrett had called a timeout just before the snap, so the Cowboys had to kick again. This time, Bailey's kick was short.
The Cardinals won in overtime when LaRod Stephens-Howling caught a dump-off pass and weaved his way through the defense for a spectacular 52-yard touchdown.
Kyle Orton, a new acquisition by Kansas City, didn't last too long against his former team.
One play, to be exact.
Orton handed off to Thomas Jones, another former Chicago Bear, who pitched back to him for a flea-flicker. As the quarterback unleashed a deep throw, he was knocked to the ground by Chicago's Major Wright. Orton's right index finger was injured in the collision and he motioned to the sideline. Just like that, he was replaced by Palko.
With his second touchdown against Tampa Bay on Sunday, Carolina rookie Cam Newton set the NFL's single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 13.