As Nick Novak lined up a 53-yard field goal late in overtime, Tim Tebow could not bear to look. He sat on the bench, helmet in his hands and tried to find comfort in a familiar place.
So he prayed.
“Obviously, I want to win,” Tebow said when asked about the intentions of his prayer. “But no matter what happens, good or bad, I want to have an opportunity to give my lord and savior credit for whatever.”
So he wasn’t praying for Novak to miss?
“I might have said that,” Tebow said with a laugh. “Or maybe a block. Maybe all of it.”
If the imperfect quarterback happens to be (gasp!) an imperfect Christian, he continued to be good enough for the Denver Broncos.
Novak did indeed miss, and Tebow directed the Broncos down the shortened field to Matt Prater’s 37-yard field goal with 29 seconds left in overtime, lifting Denver to Sunday’s 16-13 victory over the free-falling Chargers.
The victory was Denver’s fifth in six games with Tebow as starter and allowed the Broncos (6-5) to stay within a game of the first-place Raiders (7-4) in the AFC West. This was their third win that came in the final minute of regulation or overtime.
“We would love to go and blow a team out, but if not, we’re going to fight and scratch and claw to pull these so-called ugly victories off,” Broncos safety Brian Dawkins said. “I’ll tell you what, though: When you win a couple in a row, we’ll take ugly victories any day.”
Ugly turned out to be contagious on Sunday.
When referee Jeff Triplette explained the overtime rules to the team captain, he said that each team would get the ball with a chance to win. (Uh, those are the college rules.) And when Novak missed an earlier field goal, the Chargers cannon that celebrates scores was fired. (Perhaps the operator was fooled because there were so many cheers — from Broncos fans.)
The missed field goals were not Novak’s most embarrassing moments. He was caught relieving himself on the sideline, unable to make it up the tunnel to a bathroom.
“We just take a knee and teammates hold up towels,” Novak said. “It’s kind of embarrassing, but oh well.”
When you gotta go, you gotta go?
That may well be the case for embattled Chargers coach Norv Turner, whose team — an annual dark horse to reach the Super Bowl — lost its sixth in a row and appears poised to miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
The slide came amid a rare good start for the Chargers, who were 4-1 when they blew a 21-10 lead to the Jets. Then QB Philip Rivers fumbled the snap when the Chargers were trying to set up the game-winning field goal in Kansas City.
“It’s just snowballed out of control,” said Rivers, who was 19 of 36 for 188 yards and a TD while being harassed much of the afternoon by defensive end Elvis Dumervil and rookie outside linebacker Von Miller.
Turner coached right to his reputation, bungling one key decision after another.
Turner chose to run out the clock at the end of regulation, and called three straight running plays once the Chargers drove to the Denver 35 in overtime. The last two came with Ryan Mathews, who had gashed the Denver defense for a career-high 137 yards on 22 carries, mysteriously on the bench. On third down, Mike Tolbert was dropped for a loss of 4, forcing Novak to match his career long.
The offense was held to its lowest output since an 11-10 loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 16, 2008.
When asked if the team was underachieving, Turner shrugged.
“That’s for you guys to decide,” he said.
There were no such hard looks in the mirror for the Broncos. The defense was again stalwart — it allowed 13 points or fewer for the third game in a row. The special teams got three field goals from Prater and a 31-yard punt return from Eddie Royal that setup their lone touchdown.
As for the offense, it was — naturally — heavy on Tebow.
Willis McGahee carried 23 times for 117 yards, including a 24-yard burst in overtime to set up Prater’s game-winner. But Tebow carried 22 times (a record for a quarterback since the NFL-AFL merger) for 67 yards, his passing continued to improve, and for the third consecutive game he did not have a turnover.
Most importantly, though, Tebow continued to be at his best when Denver needed him to be.
He hit Eric Decker for an 18-yard touchdown pass with 55 seconds left in the first half to bring Denver to life, and connected with him again on a diving catch on third-and-11 for 36 yards to set up Prater’s tying field goal with 1:38 left in regulation.
Tebow finished 9 of 18 for 143 yards and a TD.
“This game is about confidence,” Denver coach John Fox said. “The ultimate confidence is when you win and when you win five or four or three or even two in a row, you play with more confidence.”
That was clear late Sunday afternoon in every nook of the visitor’s dressing room, where there is a feeling that the Broncos will find a way, whether it’s a missed field goal, a stout defense or an unorthodox quarterback.
So when Tebow headed down a hallway toward the team bus and passed John Elway, the once and current Bronco icons — now boss and employee — did not turn to acknowledge each other.
But perhaps they did not need to since the question between them remains the same as it will for the rest of this extended trial that has turned into a playoff chase: How good can Tebow be?
The answer on Sunday is becoming a familiar one: Good enough.