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While Broncos players say they supported Tebow from the moment he was named the starter, Bailey and others admit that unproven players have to "earn respect." Tebow has gotten their attention by spending an extra 30 minutes before and after practice working on fundamentals, particularly his footwork. Quarterbacks coach Adam Gase couldn't devote much time to Tebow last season because Orton was the starter. And this year, because of the lockout, coaches had no off-season contact with players.
The Broncos are now trying to accelerate the learning process without overwhelming Tebow. They started with the small package of plays they had for him as a backup and have added to it each week while getting a better feel for what works. The key, though, is not to stymie his playmaking. "The good thing with Tim is that he doesn't care about stats," says Gase. "He just wants to win. That's the great thing about this team—everybody just wants to win. When it's close, it's weird on the sideline. Everybody is like, Here we go! Time to make a play."
In the Dolphins game, Virgil Green recovered an onside kick with 2:44 left to set up the tying touchdown. At Oakland, Royal's return broke a 24--24 tie and McGahee gained 163 yards on 20 carries. At Kansas City, receiver Eric Decker had a 56-yard touchdown catch with 6:44 to play to provide breathing room in a 17--10 win. At San Diego, Decker and tight end Dante Rosario made tough catches to set up the fourth-quarter field goal that tied the game at 13--all, and McGahee busted a 24-yard run up the gut to put Prater in position for his 37-yarder with 33 seconds left in OT. At Minnesota, cornerback Andre Goodman's late interception of Christian Ponder set up Prater's game-winner.
Not to be forgotten—nor could he be—is Tebow. There have been scrambles for first downs and touchdowns and two-point conversions, clutch passes and in general a sense that anything is possible.
Last Thursday, three days before facing the Bears, Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was discussing the quarterback's effect on him. One lesson the 24-year-old has affirmed to his coach is to never give up, to always battle.
On Sunday, after the Broncos' latest improbable comeback, McCoy, Tebow and Gase came together near the sideline. They hugged individually, then as a group. Within the circle McCoy looked at his young star and thanked him. "You kept believing! You kept believing!" he told Tebow. "I love you. I love you."