By Lance Pugmire, Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Someone asked Denver Broncos coach John Fox this week how this storybook run of dramatic victories by quarterback Tim Tebow will end.
“I have no idea,” Fox said, jolly again after the latest Tebow-directed improbable victory — 13-10 in overtime against the Chicago Bears. “When you find out, let me know.”
Well, we know now that Tebow and the 8-5 Broncos appear to be headed to the playoffs as AFC West champions. They have a one-game lead over the Oakland Raiders and a one-game cushion in the first tiebreaker, which is division record. Denver only has one division game left, in the season finale against a Kansas City team that just fired its coach. So it’s really a two-game lead with three to go.
“Super Bowl?” a reporter pressed Fox. He shrugged.
The coach — and everyone else — first needs to see how Tebow fares Sunday afternoon when three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady brings his AFC East-leading New England Patriots to the Rockies.
On his radio show Monday, Brady praised Tebow and wondered why anyone was criticizing the way the southpaw from Florida throws after he tossed a late touchdown pass and moved the Broncos into position for field goals of 59 and 51 yards by kicker Matt Prater in Sunday’s remarkable rally.
Now 7-1 as a starter, Tebow has 11 touchdowns to two interceptions with 1,290 yards passing, along with 517 rushing yards.
Tebow’s promise and offensive production pales to the body of work from Brady (4,273 passing yards, 33 touchdowns). The Patriots (10-3) have won five straight games, and aspire to move past Houston and Baltimore or Pittsburgh for the top seeding in the AFC.
“He’s a great player, no question, and has the rings to back it up,” Fox said of Brady, who defeated the coach’s Carolina Panthers in the 2004 Super Bowl. “We have our work cut out for us.”
Yet, the Broncos have constructed a how-to-win formula with the poised, confident, religious Tebow under center.
Fox explained his offense is “an extension of the run game,” noting, “ball is ball.”
“The players have done a tremendous job adjusting at halftime — adjusting on the sideline — to what we’re seeing. Whether (Tebow’s) scrambling, dropping back, it can be frustrating for opponents. It causes your conditioning to be taxed.”
With all but one of Denver’s six consecutive victories requiring a second-half rally, Fox said opportune defensive stands, Prater’s powerful leg and the Tebow-led faith in victory has produced the best story of the NFL season.
“We seem to start slow,” Fox said. “You don’t know how people are going to attack you. Some of it is adjustment mode, figuring out how to attack. Those guys believe … so much of this game is confidence.”
DETROIT (8-5) AT OAKLAND (7-6)
The Raiders have dropped back-to-back games on the road by lopsided margins. They need Brady to beat the Broncos and find a way to defeat the Lions, who get nasty defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh back from suspension and currently are positioned in an NFC wild-card spot.
BALTIMORE (10-3) AT SAN DIEGO (6-7)
The Ravens will know before this Sunday night tilt how AFC top-seeded leader Houston fared at home against Carolina. Baltimore has created nearly two turnovers a game and boasts the league’s No. 2 run defense, a true hazard for a Chargers’ offense trying desperately to stay relevant with a third straight victory.
PITTSBURGH (10-3) AT SAN FRANCISCO (10-3)
The NFL’s top run defense (49ers) faces the top pass defense (Steelers) in a Monday night meeting soaked with playoff implications. Don’t expect more than 35 points.
©2011 the Los Angeles Times