Three things we learned from this week’s NFL Sunday, aside from Madonna getting the Super Bowl halftime gig:
1. Tebow Can Throw We want to avoid talking about Tim Tebow every week in this space. We don’t want it to become a weekly Tebow update. But we can’t help it. Every week, the guy surprises. Against the Minnesota Vikings, Tebow engineered another fourth-quarter comeback to lead Denver past Minnesota, 35-32. Denver, winners of five straight games, is now 7-5, and with the Miami Dolphins crushing the Oakland Raiders 34-14, the Broncos are in a first-place tie with Oakland in the AFC West. Tebow is now 6-1 as Denver’s starter.
The Broncos trailed 29-21 with 9:35 left in the game. Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas for 42 yards to setup a 24-yard scoring run from Willis McGahee, and then ran in the two-point conversion run to tie the game. Minnesota kicked a field goal, but with under three minutes left Tebow connected with Thomas again, this time for a 40-yard gain up the right sideline, that set up a game-tying field goal. Minnesota’s Christian Ponder, an impressive rookie who threw for 381 yards on the day, tossed an interception while attempting the last-minute scoring drive: a 23-yard field goal from Denver’s Matt Prater sealed the victory. Tebow showed signs that he could effectively pass out of the pocket, as he completed 10 out of 15 throws, for 202 yards and a two touchdowns, with no interceptions.
Tebow-mania continues next week, when the Broncos host the Chicago Bears. We’ll try not to mention him next week. But there’s no way we can guarantee it.
2. The Niners Are Fine. It’s official: for the first time since 2002, a franchise that has won five Super Bowl titles is back in the playoffs. The San Francisco 49ers clinched the NFC West division title on Sunday, after shutting out the St. Louis Rams, 26-0. While the NFC West is the worst division in football—last year’s division winners, the Seattle Seahawks, finished with a 7-9 record —these resurgent 49ers are for real. Intense rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh, the ex-NFL quarterback who was on the Stanford sidelines last season, is early favorite for NFL coach of the year honors. Quarterback Alex Smith, who San Francisco took with the top pick in the 2005 draft, is no Joe Montanta or Steve Young. But he’s completing a career-high 63.2 percent of his passes, and has thrown 15 touchdown throws, with only five picks: in four of his five previous seasons, he tossed double-digit interceptions. San Francisco, at 10-2, is all but assured a first round bye in the playoffs.
3. Green Bay Escapes. The New York Giants had lost three straight games entering their Sunday meeting against the 11-0 Green Bay Packers. But New York’s banged up defense managed to pressure Aaron Rodgers throughout the day, keeping the Giants close. Eli Manning threw a two-yard touchdown pass with 1:02 left, and a successful two-point conversation tied it up at 35-35. One minute, however, was too much time for the game’s best player to operate. Rodgers completed passes of 24, 27 and 18 yards in a four-play, 68-yard drive to set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal from 31-yards. Green Bay’s 38-35 win was the closest game the Pack has played all season. “We haven’t had one like that at the end in a while,” said Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings. “It was very quiet in the huddle, actually. You could see everybody was focused.” Focused on keeping things perfect.
(MORE: A Tale of Two Super Bowls)