Chicago’s top three defensive players showed scant respect for the opposing quarterback who had just beaten them.
So it goes when you’ve gotten Tebowed.
Tim Tebow worked his late-game magic again, leading Denver to another improbable victory Sunday that dealt a major blow to Chicago’s fading playoff hopes. The visiting Bears had stymied Tebow and Denver’s offense for almost the entire afternoon, only to squander a 10-point lead in the final 2:15 en route to a 13-10 overtime loss.
Chicago defensive end Julius Peppers and linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs were asked afterward what they thought of Tebow’s performance. The sour grapes were evident even though the team’s postgame food spread was outside the locker room.
Urlacher slighted Tebow’s passing skill by saying, “He’s a good running back.” That was still more praise than given by Peppers, who proclaimed, “It wasn’t anything special that he did.” A later Peppers statement that Denver was a “great team” came across with less sincerity than an Ndamukong Suh apology.
As for Briggs, he refused to differentiate between Tebow’s effort and that given by Denver’s other offensive players.
“He played hard,” Briggs said. “I respect a guy that plays hard, him and all the other 10 guys on that field for the Broncos.”
Sore losers? Absolutely. But that’s how frustration sometimes manifests itself when a team beats itself.
“We felt like we should have won,” Peppers said. “At the end of the game, we didn’t finish. There’s not a lot more explanation than that.”
The Bears (7-6) had no business losing this game. Tebow completed just three of his first 16 attempts with an interception through three quarters. Six passes were dropped by his receiving targets, including a certain 55-yard touchdown toss that went through Demaryius Thomas’ hands. Tebow and running back Willis McGahee (17 carries for 34 yards) also weren’t causing much damage on the ground through a myriad of formations, read-option plays and other offensive gimmicks.
“Our guys were gap-sound,” said Urlacher, who led the Bears with 11 tackles. “We knew what they were going to do with their options and running game. It’s fairly simple once you know what the formation is and what runs they can do out of the formations.”
Not that Chicago’s offense was any great shakes with Caleb Hanie at quarterback. But the Bears did muster 10 points, which is Packers-like compared to the club’s recent outings.
“Bottom line — our offense gave us enough points to win,” Briggs said.
Here’s why Chicago didn’t. Start with a shift in defensive philosophy. Urlacher said Chicago played “cover-one” — i.e. press coverage — for most of the game. But when trying to hold onto the lead with 4:34 remaining, the Bears switched to soft zone coverage to prevent surrendering a deep pass.
With the Bears unable to muster enough pressure or limit his scrambles from the pocket, Tebow systematically found holes to complete seven straight throws. A 10-yarder to Thomas in the back of the end zone cut Chicago’s lead to 10-7 with 2:08 remaining.
The Bears then should have run out the clock after recovering an onside-kick attempt. But Marion Barber ran out of bounds on a second-down carry that stopped the clock after the two-minute warning when Denver was out of timeouts. The Bears went three-and-out for the fourth consecutive series and punted, giving Tebow enough time to drive Denver into position for Matt Prater’s 59-yard field goal as the fourth quarter expired.
“I might have thanked the Lord when (Barber) did that,” Tebow said with a wink/nod toward his well-known religious beliefs. “He obviously, probably shouldn’t do that and that kept us in it.”
Barber’s chance for redemption — a diving 16-yard grab on a wheel route that put Chicago on the cusp of field-goal range in overtime — was then squandered by another huge mistake. Motoring through Denver’s defense toward a first down, Barber fumbled when stripped by Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil recovered at the Broncos 34-yard line, sending Tebow back onto the field.
Having led five fourth-quarter or overtime comebacks in the previous seven games, Tebow knows the drill. Completions of 10 and 16 yards to Thomas set up Prater’s 51-yard game-winning field goal.
Tebow was on one knee watching — a pose known as “Tebowing” — as the kick sailed through the uprights. He stood, pointed to the sky, hugged some of Denver’s assistant coaches and then screamed wildly in celebration while walking to midfield for postgame handshakes. The mood became even more festive when the Broncos (8-5) learned they were alone atop the AFC West after Oakland (7-6) was routed in Green Bay.
“It’s like, ‘Here we go again,’ ” Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. “We find a way.”
Tebow showed far more grace in his postgame comments than Urlacher, Briggs and Peppers combined. He specifically praised all three players by name. Tebow also didn’t fire back when told of Urlacher’s “running back” comment.
“Coming from a really good player, that means a lot,” Tebow said without a hint of sarcasm.
Following his media responsibilities, Tebow left to spend time with Zac Taylor, a 9-year-old with a life-threatening illness who was a guest at Sunday’s game through the Tim Tebow Foundation and Dreams Come True. The Bears flew home knowing that even winning the rest of their games won’t guarantee a playoff spot after becoming the latest foe to wilt during what is being called “Tebow Time.”
Asked about that late-game label, Tebow smiled and said, “I don’t think it’s Tebow Time. I just think it’s Bronco Time.”
Whatever it’s called, the Bears are running out of time — and Urlacher knows it.
“It’s frustrating,” Urlacher said. “There’s no excuse to lose that game. I feel like we made enough plays to win. We just didn’t make them when they counted.”