Denver (AP) — There's a new Comeback Kid in Denver, and John Elway's proudly looking on as this plucky quarterback wins with his legs, not his arm.
Tim Tebow's 20-yard touchdown run with 58 seconds left capped a 95-yard drive and sent the Broncos to a 17-13 victory over the stunned New York Jets on Thursday night.
"I like winning," Tebow said after his third comeback in a month, "but I wish it wasn't this stressful."
The Broncos had punted on their eight previous possessions when they got the ball with less than 6 minutes and 95 yards to go. Tebow calmly drove Denver down the field, thwarting a Jets defense that had throttled him all night.
"We played them well, through the whole game, until that last play," Jets star cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "We played them well. Tim Tebow's legs took them to victory, ran them to victory."
On third-and-4 from the Jets 20 and under a minute left, the Broncos got an extra minute to think about things when a fan ran onto the field and was corralled by security.
During the break, the Jets dialed up their first all-out blitz of the night.
Tebow took the snap from the shotgun with 1:06 left, read the blitz and outflanked safety Eric Smith around the left edge, then cut back and bulled his way past other Jets into the end zone.
"He shocked me," Revis said, "probably shocked a lot of people."
Not Jets coach Rex Ryan.
"You know he's going to keep it in that situation. That's what he does. You keep the ball in your playmaker's hand," Ryan said. "We thought he was going to carry the ball and he didn't disappoint us. But he ran for a touchdown. The kid's a competitor and makes big plays with the game on the line."
The Jets (5-5) lost for the second time in four nights.
The Broncos (5-5) are 4-1 since Tebow replaced Kyle Orton, and at .500, they're a-half game behind Oakland in the AFC West race.
"He's a competitive dude," Broncos coach John Fox said. "He's super competitive. He never lays his sword down. He'll fight you to the death. That's just his nature. He's a great young man."
Mark Sanchez's desperation pass toward the end zone was batted down as time expired and the Jets trudged off the field with their playoff hopes dimmed just a week after they were brimming with optimism.
Nick Folk's 45-yard field goal had broken a 10-10 tie with 9:14 remaining, and the Broncos found themselves facing a daunting task when they got the ball back with 5:54 left at their own 5.
New York safety Jim Leonhard could have quashed Denver's winning drive on the first play when he wrapped up Eddie Royal in the end zone on a throw to the right flat, but Royal wiggled free for 8 yards.
Tebow ran just twice for 11 yards until the final drive, when he carried seven times for 58 yards in a performance reminiscent of his miracle in Miami, when he was ineffective for 55 minutes, then led the Broncos to two TDs in the final 5 minutes of a game Denver won in overtime.
"I think it was just a bunch of guys that kept fighting, that had been knocked down a bunch of times and got back up," Tebow said. "I'm proud of these guys for their resiliency and determination."
After completing just two passes in a win at Kansas City four days earlier, Tebow completed 9 of 20 passes for 104 yards Thursday night.
"I said before, I trust him. I trust him with everything," teammate Von Miller said. "No matter how many interceptions he throws, no matter how many touchdowns he scores, that's Tim Tebow and I'm going to ride with him to the end. I hope he shut up a whole bunch of critics today."
The debate across the NFL is whether the option is sustainable? After all, when Elway joined the team's front office this year, he said Tebow had to become a pocket passer to make it in this league.
"I want to run whatever's going to work," Tebow said, disputing the notion advanced by Hall of Famer and TV broadcaster Steve Young that he must be mad that Fox isn't letting him throw the ball more like a conventional quarterback.
Before Denver's unorthodox option offense prevailed again, it appeared the Jets were going to win this one thanks to an oddball touchdown.
Left guard Matt Slauson recovered rookie running back Bilal Powell's fumble at the 1 and dived across the goal line early in the third quarter to give New York a 10-3 lead.
"It was awesome at the time," Slauson said. "Unfortunately, it doesn't mean anything now."
Denver tied it at 10 when Andre' Goodman stepped in front of Plaxico Burress and picked off Sanchez's ill-advised pass and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.
"I shouldn't have thrown it," Sanchez lamented. "It's an embarrassing play on my part."
It was the third pick-six Sanchez and thrown this year, and the Jets followed that with their fourth lost fumble on special teams when Joe McKnight coughed it up on the kickoff return at his 41. Cassius Vaughn recovered for Denver, but the Broncos couldn't capitalize this time, going three and out.
McKnight and Powell shared snaps after New York's backfield took another hit when starting running back Shonn Greene took a knee to the ribs and didn't return. They were already without LaDainian Tomlinson (knee), so Powell was activated for the first time all season.
With each game, the Broncos mold their offense more and more to fit Tebow's unique skill set that made him the most successful combination college quarterback in NCAA history, just as former Florida coach Urban Meyer once suggested an NFL team would have to do.
And they keep watching him run roughshod over defenders who are bigger, faster and stronger than they were in the SEC.
"He did it to us in college and he's doing it here," said teammate Robert Ayers, who went to Tennessee. "It doesn't have to be pretty, it doesn't have to be Aaron Rodgers-like. As long as we get it done, that's all that matters."
Notes: Broncos WR Eric Decker's girlfriend, country singer Jessie James, performed at halftime. ... Greene said X-rays were negative. ... No Jets offensive lineman had scored on a fumble recovery since guard Randy Rasmussen smothered running back Cliff McClain's fumble in the end zone against Miami in 1972.
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