Stars align on key sequence as Broncos get sixth straight win
The Broncos' sixth straight win was perhaps the weirdest of the Tim Tebow era
Eli Manning proved again that he's elite, and the most clutch QB currently playing
Coach of the Year Watch, Fine Fifteen, Ten Things I Think I Think; more
The real world intercedes on the fun and games this morning: Atlanta coach Mike Smith got a clean bill of health Sunday night at a Charlotte hospital after being taken off the Falcons' charter back to Atlanta with chest pains. Paramedics examined him, then sent him to the hospital for tests. No heart attack. "Everything came out negative with the tests,'' GM Thomas Dimitroff told me from the hospital last night. "Mike is in good spirits." In fact, when the doctor came in to examine Smith, the coach told him: "Listen: I will be at my 4 o'clock coaches' meeting [in Georgia] tomorrow."
And, from all indications, he will be. Dimitroff told me he will coach Thursday night when the Falcons play Jacksonville at the Georgia Dome.
That's about all I know, other than this: Smith's 52, has always seemed healthy to me, and is one intense guy on the sidelines. Did he just have bad heartburn? Is the pressure of the job getting to him? Don't know any of that. We'll see in the coming days. But he's one of those occasionally volcanic coaches; once or twice a game you say, "Settle down, now." It's a stressful job. A fun job, but stressful, and full of the kind of pressure that most jobs don't have.
Glad to hear the scare was just that -- only a scare. I'm sure Smith won't mind if we get on with the news of the day. A playoff coach having a significant health scare. That's news ... but it pales in comparison to the force of nature of all Tebow, all the time.
Mike Tomlin, after victories, can be a funny and feisty sort. Not at his press conference, but in his locker room. And Thursday night, 50 minutes after the Steelers beat the Browns with the John Wayne performance of Ben Roethlisberger, he called out to Roethlisberger from his coaches' locker room as his quarterback limped past.
"Hey Ben!'' cackled Tomlin. "You Tebowed 'em!''
If Merriam-Webster could add the definition of "Tebow,'' I predict it would go something like this:
Tebow. TEE-bow. Verb. To defeat an opponent while overcoming a major impediment. Ex.: Despite having a 102-degree fever, Lucy managed to Tebow her competition for the Miss America pageant through her great determination.
Now on with week 14, in which, of course, the Denver quarterback Tebowed the Bears in very Tebow fashion.
He had help. An incredible sequence of events got the Broncos undisputed possession of first place in the AFC West. After Denver started the season 1-4, Tebow got the quarterback job and has gone 7-1, and this one, in so many ways, was the weirdest -- and a game Chicago will kick itself over for weeks. Years, maybe.
OK. Tebow was 3 of 18 in the first three quarters, and Chicago led 10-0 midway through the fourth. Tebow got hot, though, against a semi-prevent defense and found a wide-open Demaryius Thomas in the end zone for a touchdown to make it 10-7 with 2:08 to go. But the Broncos had no timeouts left. By the time they got the ball back with two minutes left, all the Bears had to do was make one first down to end the game ... and even if they didn't get it, all they had to do was run it three times and stay inbounds.
But Marion Barber ran out of bounds.
Instead of getting the ball with about 20 seconds left at his 20-, Tebow got it at his 20- with 56 seconds left. Plenty of time to get in position to kick a field goal, especially when the corners are giving receivers so much cushion that Tebow can chip away easily. Tebow got Denver just outside the Chicago 40 with eight seconds left. Here came kicker Matt Prater.
"Before the game,'' Prater told me afterward, "I kicked one from 70. This was really an unusual day for December in Denver. Usually it's cold and the ball is hard, and it is usually windy. But it was warm today, and the ball was really traveling. And when I went out to kick, I remember we were supposed to be having 5 to 10 mile-per-hour winds today, but we were really lucky. There was no wind.
And the wind shall be calm, and it shall be warm, and Matt Prater shall be able to kick one from 75.
His 59-yard field goal hit the net behind the goal post. Overtime.
Bears win the toss. Marion Barber, with the Bears probably a couple of yards yards from winning field-goal position, fumbles. Broncos recover. The Coen Brothers rush to LAX to get on the next flight to Denver to beg Tebow for the rights to his life story. At the gate, they discover first-class is taken up totally by Disney execs, racing to do the same thing.
Mayhem in the crowd. Tebow silences the faithful, drives the Broncos 34 yards, and Prater comes on to try his second field goal of longer than 50 yards in seven minutes.
"I try not to overthink,'' said Prater. "In fact, I don't think about anything."
Timeout, Bears. Icing.
"I don't care,'' said Prater. "Call as many timeouts as you want.''
The 51-yard winner looked like it was a Tiger Woods tee shot on a par-5 hole. It almost drilled a hole through the net behind the goalpost.
"You know what's fun about this?'' said Prater. "Everyone keeps saying what Tim can't do. And he goes out every week and we win. We love the guy. He's so real. Now we just feel like anything's possible.''
To put it mildly.
Tebow, in the fourth quarter and overtime: 18 of 24, 191 yards, one touchdown, no picks. His late-game heroics -- there's really no logical explanation. Other than this one: I've noticed Tebow likes the frenzied style of game, when he can play hurry-up, and defenses get back on their heels a bit, making sure they contain him. The Bears changed late in Sunday's game. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will be sick when he looks at how lax his corners played Bronco receivers late.
That'll be a great and compelling game Sunday, New England at Denver. The Patriots' secondary is in terrible shape. But Bill Belichick had a thing for Tebow before the 2010 draft. I'm told he was fascinated by him. They went out to a long dinner in Boston's North End, and that's not something Bill Belichick does with prospects very often. Fun to see Belichick match wits with Tebow in Denver -- I hope for the first of many meetings.
A few words about Eli Manning
In the Giants' last two victories, New York has come back late to win at New England and, on Sunday night, at Dallas. In New England, Manning led the Giants on drives of 88 and 80 yards in the final seven minutes; both ended in touchdown passes. In Dallas, Manning led the Giants on touchdown drives of 80 and 58 yards to erase a 12-point deficit in the final six minutes.
If Tebow is the manic fourth-quarter rally machine, Eli Manning's the buttoned-up one, following the scripts, making all the right decisions, throwing every pass on target. The difference between Tony Romo and Manning was pretty clear in the final minutes. Romo needed a completion to a wide-open Miles Austin inside of three minutes to play to ice the game -- and overthrew it. Manning lofted what should have been the winning touchdown pass right into the arms of a well-covered Mario Manningham in the final seconds -- a perfect throw that Manningham dropped. No matter. Manning got the final 24 yards passing and running, and the Giants won.
I said this after the Patriots game: In terms of clutch, I'll take Eli over Peyton -- and that's no knock on Peyton. It's the simple recognition that right now, today, I think Eli Manning's the most clutch quarterback playing. How much more do you need to see? Winning three on the road and then dethroning the 18-0 Pats in the Super Bowl four years ago was the start. This season's the continuation. There's no more debate about whether Eli's elite. He's put that to rest in Foxboro and Arlington this season.
There's a long line of people to credit for the Texans' first playoff appearance ever
Credit owner Bob McNair for not firing Gary Kubiak last January, and for running the kind of organization people want to work for. Credit GM Rick Smith for picking Johnathan Joseph over Nnamdi Asomugha, and making over the defense in the draft with J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed in the first two rounds. Credit the scouts and Smith and Kubiak for taking a shot on an underwhelming quarterback, T.J. Yates, in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, because there were a few things about him -- a good-enough arm, moxie, maturity -- that told Kubiak he'd be a good developmental prospect. Credit the players for not tanking when so many good players were lost -- Mario Williams, Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart.
Today, Houston (10-3) is the first seed in the AFC playoff race, and 25 percent of those wins (two plus the second half of the Jacksonville game) were won by Yates. Amazing story. The Texans were down 19-10 midway through the fourth quarter to a desperate Cincinnati team. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said before the game this was the biggest game he'd coached, and though they hadn't played great, Cincinnati was in position to win against the rookie by just making a couple more stops. The Bengals couldn't.
"I have to give a lot of credit to coach Knapp,'' Yates told me afterward, referring to quarterback coach Gregg Knapp. "Back in camp, I never had a relaxing practice. He grilled me nonstop mentally. He tested me on plays, on defenses, everything.''
"Give me an example,'' I said.
"I'd be there watching practice, and Matt [Schaub] would be about to take a snap, and coach Knapp would say to me, 'All right: What blitz here makes you go to your hot receiver?' By the time I got to play, I felt like I'd had millions of mental reps. I can guarantee you that's why I've been able to come in and play.''
On the winning touchdown pass to Kevin Walter, Owen Daniels and Derrick Mason went into the end zone on twin routes to take coverage with them -- and if one was open, Yates would find him. But scraping underneath was Walter, and his primary cover guy fell as Walter crossed over the middle. Easy pickings. "All I had to do was get the ball to him.''
Said Yates: "It's pretty wild. Pretty unbelievable. Today, I made a few mistakes early, and coach Kubiak got in my ear pretty good. Like, 'You can't make mistakes like that!' Then as the game went on, he'd say, 'Short-term memory.' Which is what you have to have as a quarterback.''
Said right tackle Eric Winston: "It's one thing to get a third-string rookie ready to run a few packages. T.J. can basically run everything.'' And that is why the Texans, with a third-string quarterback, aren't going to be so easy to beat in January.
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