Top 20 Games of 2011

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Game 14: Bears at Broncos Week 14

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"I don’t know if they just kind of wait until they think, ‘Oh, man, we might lose this game,’ and start playing," Broncos coach John Fox said after our No. 14 game, Chicago at Denver. "It’s aging me quickly."

It aged us all quickly, coach.

How much Tebow Time could we take?

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Denver’s 13-10 overtime win over Chicago capped off an eight-week run in which the Tebow-led Broncos won seven games and hijacked the entire American sports conscious. In fact, it was probably the most ballyhooed run since the 1970 merger.

Well, age and 1970 actually have a lot in common with Tim Tebow and his magical season of 2011. You see, the last time professional football saw a winning streak with as much momentum and edge as Tebowmania was back in ‘70, with age being the key ingredient.

Nobody would ever mistake Tebow for George Blanda, but in this case, they should. The Oakland Raiders went on a five-game tear in 1970 (a 14-game season), with Blanda, a 43-year-old backup quarterback, delivering each win with his arm ... and his leg. Sound familiar? Of course, Blanda was 19 years older and his leg (singular) was kicking game-winning field goals. He graced the cover of everything, including Sports Illustrated after sending the Raiders home with another “W” in the waning moments.

Blanda passed away in 2010 at age 83, but he would have loved Bears-Broncos in Week 14. You see, Blanda once hit a clutcher-than-clutch 50-yarder to earn a tie in Denver in a famous 1973 Monday Nighter (he was 46 years old, to boot). So you can imagine what his thoughts would have been seeing Denver kicker Matt Prater tie this game up from fifty-NINE yards out … and then win it with a 51-yarder in overtime.

Of course, none of that would have been possible without Tebow.

The fullback/quarterback churned out 49 yards on 12 carries, per usual, but also made some big throws. Ironically, his best toss of the game was dropped: a 50-yard bomb right through Demaryius Thomas’ fingers that would’ve given the Broncos a 7-0 lead. But this Tebow character is one resilient cat, shaking that play off, as well as a 10-0 deficit late in the fourth.

To be honest, this game looked to be in the bag for the Bears. Tebow’s Broncos looked hopeless, but of course, they weren’t. And that pretty much sums up Denver’s 2011 season.

Tebow and the offense admittedly hadn’t done much when they huddled up with 63 yards to drive, 4:34 left, and 10 points to go. Then the second-year quarterback got going, hitting seven straight passes en route to a Demaryius Thomas touchdown.

Suddenly, it was 10-7.

Then Bears tailback Marion Barber -- playing for the injured Matt Forte -- made the first of two HUGE mistakes, running out of bounds when Chicago was trying to burn the clock. This mental miscue -- coming from a guy John Madden used to call “the best closer in pro football” -- ultimately left Tebow 56 seconds to get into field goal range.

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Too much time.

Like Blanda in ‘70, Tebow did just enough, ultimately scrambling to the Bears’ 41-yard line to set up a 59-yard attempt. It wasn’t Montana-esque, but effective enough, considering the thin air and Prater’s leg. The ball sailed though the uprights with ease.

In overtime, a Barber fumble set up Prater’s game-winning kick.

In the grand scheme of Tebowmania, this win was the whip cream on the Mocha Frappuccino -- an unexpected ending everyone expected, from a player who consistently defied expectations all season long.

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Can’t-miss play: Charles Tillman’s first-half pick of Tebow was a combination of football IQ, athleticism and pure grace. If ever an interception along the sideline was worth re-watching, this is it, man ...

Same ol’ situation: While Tebow’s heroics were well-documented throughout the run of seven wins in eight games, there were always other Broncos stepping up with big-time efforts to keep The Legend of Tebow going: Willis McGahee putting 163 on the Raiders. ... André Goodman’s pick-six versus the Jets. ... Demaryius Thomas’ two big plays in Minnesota. ... And Matt freaking Prater.

It’s one thing to hit a game-winner in overtime from 51 yards out. But to hit from 59 -- 59 -- to tie at the end of regulation? Give me a break.

(Boneheaded) Play of the game 1: After the 2:00 minute warning, with the Bears up 10-7, Barber inexplicably ran out of bounds after gaining five yards and burning only five seconds. If Barber would have stayed inbounds -- something he always did while closing games out in Dallas -- the Broncos would not have had those extra 35 seconds they surely needed to set up Prater’s game-tying kick.

(Boneheaded) Play of the game 2: Barber, Part Deux. Poor guy. He played his heart out, running 27 times for 108 yards and a score, adding another 32 yards through the air. But, alas, he was stripped of the football with Chicago driving on their opening possession of overtime. This loss put the Bears’ playoff hopes on life support (and eventually helped bury them altogether).

Best player on the field: Tim Tebow. Big surprise. Tebow’s stat line was average (21-for-40, 236 yards, TD, INT), but he made the smart plays when he had to -- like throwing the ball away with time running out to avoid a field-goal-killing sack on the last drive of regulation. Basically, a guy known for extending plays knew when to end a play. That said, he still extended plenty of plays in this game, running out of the pocket and putting the ball where he had to, like on the 10-yard touchdown to Thomas.

Why this game is No. 14: This was the penultimate Tebow game of the 2011-12 campaign, and the last win in an eight-week run that captivated the nation like Blanda and the Raiders did 41 years prior. Not only that, it got the Broncos to eight wins -- a number that ended up being jussssst enough to win the AFC West and squeak into the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Bears loss put them behind the eight-ball. The high stakes, plus the magic of a 59-yarder to tie and a 51-yarder to win -- awesome theatre.

Why not higher?: Bears-Broncos Week 14 was a fantastic game, but it just couldn’t get any higher with late-game mistakes and a 13-10 final. Some 13-10 games are smoothly played games -- this one wasn’t. But let’s not nitpick. The majority of America was either fully tuned in or at least paying attention to what was happening at Mile High that day, all because of a Christian lefty with a penchant for pulling a late-game Elway.

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