For playoff success, Tebow needs to own final quarter again

DENVER -- The chants ignited precisely on point. They swept through the stadium as the buzz began to grow and spines started to straighten.

Just as he'd proven five previous times this season, this was his moment. This was his time.

"Tebow! Tebow! Tebow!"

Forget about a brutal afternoon of offense. None of it mattered now.

Not with four minutes left in the game and 80 yards of grass separating Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow from locking up a division title.

But Tebow overthrew his first shot. He took a sack on the second play. And his next pass attempt was batted down on a nice defensive play by Chiefs cornerback Javier Arenas. No magic this time. No magic next time, either.

"It's obviously bittersweet," said Tebow, who instead relied on a San Diego Chargers' win over the Oakland Raiders to get his team a playoff game next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers despite Denver's 7-3 loss to Kansas City. "I'm grateful we have another opportunity."

This isn't the end of the world, of course. It's not even the end of a season. Nor is it the end of a career -- not even in the instance of a loss against Pittsburgh next week. But as the last three losses begin to dilute the potency of his previous seven wins, Sunday's failures against Kansas City might be particularly unnerving for Denver.

And it's simple why: In the fourth quarter, Tebow completed two of eight passes for 17 yards. He was sacked twice. An interception ended the game. Four times in the fourth quarter, Denver's defense earned the offense a new opportunity. And the Broncos never got closer than Kansas City's 43-yard line.

"We did what we had to do in the second half to give us a chance, but obviously, it wasn't enough," said cornerback Champ Bailey.

It really should have been. Tebow shouldn't be expected to pull out a comeback in every game -- even if a four-point deficit against a bad Chiefs team wouldn't have exactly been miraculous. But if Tebow's struggles through three quarters are going to be excused because of his ability in the clutch, he'll need to be judged accordingly.

In the Broncos' 7-1 run, Tebow's passer rating in the fourth quarter was 111.0, good for third best in the NFL. With five minutes left in those games, that rating ascended to 124.5. On Sunday? His passer rating in the fourth quarter was zero. Yes, zero.

This shouldn't be all about Tebow, of course. His weapons didn't provide him much help, as we saw when wide receiver Matthew Willis, for instance, dropped a nicely thrown ball with 30 seconds left. Just as Tebow needed the help of the defense during his previous success, he also needs help of his own at times.

"If we keep putting that product out there, it's not going to be pretty," Bailey said of the Broncos' overall team performance. "We've got to find a way to get better. The good thing is, we're in it. And we've got a chance."

That is the truth of the afternoon: The Broncos do, by all means, have a chance. It will be a challenging one, especially when Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is the one crafting the game plan to stop Denver's offense. But if the Broncos' season has proven anything, it has been the power of resiliency.

After Sunday's game, once the Broncos had found out their fate from six televisions mounted in every corner of the locker room that displayed the Chargers' win against the Raiders, I asked running back Willis McGahee how far this team can go.

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"I don't know," he said. "We're unpredictable, baby. That's the good thing about it. Nobody knows what we're going to do gameplan-wise.

We're going to keep people on their toes."

To do so, to keep the Steelers on their toes, it's going to take more than a few nice runs from McGahee. It will take more than a sack or two from linebacker Von Miller. It'll take more than defensive stands and field goals.

It's going to require more of the same fourth-quarter success that Tebow showed during his seven-win stint. Yes, Tebow's surreal comebacks -- all five of them -- might have seemed as improbable as the next. But that's how the Broncos have gotten to this point, and it's the only way they'll get to the next point.

There's a reason in Denver, when the game begins to wind down despite a brutal day of football on offense, that none of the fans dare to leave their seats. They stay until the end because Tebow has taught them this season that it's never over.

It's not over now, either. But if the Broncos are going to have any chance next week, he can't afford another fourth quarter like he had Sunday. It's called Tebow Time for a reason -- and it's now time for Tebow to once again show us why.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington