Broncos players are learning to tune in, turn on to Tebowmania

SAN DIEGO -- On Saturday, Denver quarterback Tim Tebow stood in front of his teammates, both offense and defense, to deliver a message that resonated deep into Sunday evening, long after the Broncos battled it out with the Chargers in overtime for a fifth consecutive win.

It was another quote from the Bible, another expression of his religion that many of his critics seem to believe borders on overly pious devotion.

"As iron sharpens iron, men sharpen men," Tebow told the group, loosely quoting Proverbs 27:17.

Do Tebow's constant references to his Christianity still bother you? Maybe they do. And that's your prerogative. For what it's worth, linebacker Von Miller, the havoc-wreaking rookie with 10.5 sacks who is among the biggest reasons for Tebow's recent success, was inspired by that quote.

"What he said really stuck with me," said Miller as he walked toward the team bus. "Just having that guy around, it makes us better men. I think he plays for us, and he makes us want to play for him."

But this ongoing debate isn't just about the things Tebow says. It is about the way Tebow plays. On Sunday, as has been the case more often than not during his five wins, Tebow started slow. He was 0-for-3 passing after the first quarter, and by the end of regulation in a 16-13 overtime win, he'd completed just over 50 percent of his passes.

It wasn't until Denver's defense forced San Diego to punt in overtime, not until a wide-right kick by Nick Novak then provided renewed life, that Tebow took advantage of his third overtime possession to get his kicker into range for the game-winning boot.

Tebow, of course, got loads of credit.

Does that bother you, too? Is it irritating to hear those cheers still directed at No. 15 after all of that help? For what it's worth, safety Brian Dawkins, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection who started his NFL career when Tebow was nine years old, prefers it that way. After the game, when a reporter said, "It's time to start giving the defense credit," Dawkins politely but bluntly cut him off.

"No, you can continue to talk about the offense; continue to talk about those guys," Dawkins said. "To be honest with you, we don't care. We're going to do our part, and as long as they continue to pull out victories and lead game-winning drives, I don't really care who gets the credit."

Tebow's teammates are relentlessly supporting his cause, and if they're inspired by his leadership, then who else matters? If they don't mind the credit he gets, then why should anyone else?

In the locker room after Sunday's win, players were jubilant. Running back Willis McGahee, quoting Jay-Z for everyone to hear, was yelling, "I guess I got my swagger back." Offensive players were conversing with defensive players. The energy was high. It was palpable. It was fun.

Outside the team, everyone has a strong opinion about Tebow. Some want the Broncos defense to get the credit it deserves. Some want John Elway to stop scouting other quarterbacks out of respect for the one currently under center. Some can't wait until Denver's offense is exposed as a wildcat-like fad. Some just want Tebow to stop talking about religion.

Nearly every opinion makes for a fascinating discussion, the type that will be debated from church pews to barstools. There's no shame in admitting it: Even among friends or family, when talking about Tebow, your voice escalates to a level usually reserved for things like politics. Tebow is polarizing, and that's OK. He is entertaining, and that's what sports are all about. It would only be unfortunate if, in the depth of these arguments, we've lost the ability to appreciate the moments on the field because we're too obsessed with where it will lead. This sentiment extends as much to the pro-Tebow crowd as the anti-Tebow crowd.

What's the big deal if Elway checks out the potential options at quarterback in next year's draft? He's doing his research. I wouldn't be willing to bet that Tebow and Co. will sustain this type of success for years to come. It doesn't make me a hater to want to see a more developed body of work before projecting the future.

On NFL Network
"NFL Replay" will re-air the Broncos' 16-13 overtime win over the Chargers on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at 9:30 p.m. ET.

Then again, what's the big deal if Tebow looks suspect as a passer for a few quarters, only to find a way to rely on his defense until his heroics become necessary? The scoreboard is the greatest indicator of athletic achievement, and right now, without any legitimate time to develop his skills, Tebow is 5-1 as a starter. It doesn't make me an apologist for believing, against everything conventional about the current state of football, that success can come in forms we haven't yet seen.

"Whatever it takes," McGahee said Sunday. "That's our motto right now."

In Denver's locker room, where the loyalty to Tebow is growing stronger with each win, you don't hear the questions. You don't hear debates. Or the long-term wonders. You only hear the celebrations, which these days seem to be drowning out the doubts more audibly by the day. Nobody can say with certainty where this road will lead. But the Broncos, each one helping to sharpen the other in his own productive way, seem very clear about their desire to keep enjoying the ride.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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