For 15 minutes, it looked like the Tim Tebow of the past three games. The offense was going nowhere, and Denver fans were getting restless after seeing just eight total yards of offense in the first quarter.
Within minutes, laptops were shaking in the press box of Mile High Stadium and a deafening roar took the place of the whispers of discontent.
Tebow had been let loose.
This wasn’t the Tim Tebow of the 2011 regular season, either. This was a vintage version of Tim Tebow, the kind Florida fans had the pleasure of watching for four years in Gainesville.
This was red-paint soaked, fists-clenched Tim Tebow in 2008. It was Tim Tebow in the locker room at halftime of the 2008 BCS National Championship Game. It was the Tim Tebow that simply can’t be stopped.
With a 30-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Royal, Denver took a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter. Three minutes later, Tebow bulldozed his way back into the end zone from eight yards out to put the Broncos up 14-6.
Suddenly, what had seemed so inconceivable the entire week leading up to the game looked entirely possible. Denver went into the locker room with a 20-6 halftime lead, and all of Mile High could feel something special building.
The Denver offense that had been the worst in the league in the second quarter had outscored the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-0.
If only for a moment, it seemed as if Denver would run away with things as it took the opening kick of the second half. But only for a moment.
The Steelers’ defense buckled down and shut the Broncos out in the third quarter as Ben Roethlisberger began to heat up.
Denver managed only a Matt Prater field goal early in the fourth quarter, while Roethlisberger led his team all the way back, connecting on a 31-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery for the game-tying score.
After Tebow failed with a chance to lead a late, game-winning drive and Roethlisberger was stopped on the game’s last play, the two teams headed to overtime. Denver got the ball first, and Tebow went to work.
The entire nation held its breath as he lined up at the 20-yard line and barked out the cadence. Taking the snap, Tebow dropped off and made a quick play-action fake before scanning downfield and finding Demaryius Thomas on a deep slant over the middle.
He fired to Thomas, and the big receiver stiff-armed Ike Taylor and outran the Pittsburgh defense 80 yards to the end zone for the game-winning score.
Tebow raced to the end zone and jumped into the stands, swept away by the pure emotion of the moment.
As he collected himself, he got back down and ran to the end zone, kneeling down on one knee, saying a quick prayer and then pounding his fist into the turf. Then, he jogged a quick lap around the field, slapping hands with hundreds of adoring fans leaned over the banisters to congratulate their hero.
Tebow has put the nation on notice. He’s back.
After a three-game skid that featured increasingly bad offensive performances, culminating in a three-point outing in a loss to Kansas City, Tebow roared back to life with 316 yards passing against one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses.
Next week, he’ll get to go up against one of the worst defenses in the league. The first time Denver met New England, Tebow was on point in the early going, helping the Broncos get out to a 16-7 lead before the Patriots stormed back to win 41-23.
The stakes are raised for this showing in what will undoubtedly be one of the most anticipated pre-Super Bowl matchups in NFL history. Tebow will have to be at his best to pull out a win.
The Broncos open up as a 13.5-point underdog, and all week fans will likely hear about how tough it’ll be for Denver to extend its season.
Undoubtedly, Tebow will have his hands full going toe-to-toe with Tom Brady.
But if there’s one thing Florida fans know well, it’s not to doubt Tim Tebow. When he gets that look on his face, you know you’re about to watch something special.
If he brings that vintage version of himself to Foxboro next weekend, watch out.
It’s Tebow Time.