The New York Jets lost containment just once, and Tim Tebow made them pay dearly.
Tebow’s 20-yard touchdown run with under a minute left capped a 95-yard drive and sent the surging Denver Broncos to a 17-13 victory over the stunned Jets on Thursday night.
“It’s hard to explain,” wide receiver Eric Decker said. “I always say it’s that ‘It’ factor. You either got it or you don’t. It’s almost magical, to come in on that last drive of the game and to do the things that he’s done to win a game. It’s pretty special.”
The Broncos had punted on their eight previous possessions when they got the ball with less than 6 minutes and so far to go. Tebow had just 11 yards on two carries to that point but would tuck it six times for 58 and hit three passes on the dramatic drive.
“We played them well, through the whole game, until that last play,” Darrelle Revis said.
On third-and-4 from their own 20 and under a minute left, the Jets dialed up their first all-out blitz of the night. Tebow took the snap from the shotgun, read the blitz and outflanked safety Eric Smith around the left edge, then raced 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.”
Both teams are 5-5, but the Jets are reeling from two losses in four nights, dimming their playoff hopes, and the Broncos are rejoicing after climbing within a-half game of the AFC West-leading Oakland Raiders.
Denver is 4-1 since Tebow replaced Kyle Orton, who was 1-4.
“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.”
If not a great passer. By completing 9 of 20, he still hasn’t topped 50 percent in any of his starts and his completion percentage is a paltry 44.8.
Not that it matters much — Tebow has four second-half comebacks in his eight NFL starts, including three in the last month, and he’s starting to earn a reputation like his boss, John Elway, Denver’s original Comeback Kid.
“That’s why I wanted to be a quarterback since I was 6 years old, watching guys like John Elway and Steve Young have game-winning drives,” Tebow said.
Mark Sanchez has built his own reputation for comebacks — seven in the fourth quarter or overtime since Week 6 of last season, tops in the NFL. But he couldn’t engineer another on this night.
“I let the defense down, however you want to phrase it. It’s just an embarrassing day for me,” said Sanchez, who was sacked three times, watched a snap sail over his head for a 24-yard loss and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Still, the Broncos had fallen behind 13-10 on Nick Folk’s 45-yard field goal with about nine minutes left, and they faced a daunting task when they got the ball back for the last time with 5:54 remaining in the shadow of their own goal line.
They’d been stopped on downs once, kicked a field goal, lost a fumble and punted eight straight times.
Jim Leonhard nearly 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 from the safety.
Tebow ran the two-minute, spread offense to perfection, 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 hope he shut up a whole bunch of critics today,” said teammate Von Miller.
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.
After a debacle against Detroit, three weeks ago, the Broncos decided to mold their offense to Tebow’s unique skill set, reintroducing the option into the NFL, the system that Tebow perfected at Florida.
“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.
Lost in the Tebowmania is Denver’s defensive dominance over the last month. Healthy again, the Broncos are giving their quirky quarterback a chance for these thrilling comebacks by keeping games within reach.
“Yeah, one thing about that quarterback: he’s going to keep grinding,” Champ Bailey said. “And as a defense, we’ve just got to keep the team in the game, because in the fourth quarter, you never know what you’re going to get.
“We’re never out of it. It’s a good feeling, because I know if we’re close, we’ve got a chance.”
Before Tebow pulled this one out, it appeared the Jets were going to win thanks to left guard Matt Slauson’s touchdown. He 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.
“I didn’t know what to think. At that time, you just feel like a big dumb animal. You’re just like, ‘Oh, ball.’ And you just grab it and roll in,” Slauson said. “It was great. But 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 pass and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.
NOTES: Joe McKnight and Powell shared snaps after starting running back Shonn Greene took a knee to the ribs and didn’t return. Green said X-rays were negative. The Jets were already without LaDainian Tomlinson (knee). … Miller had his best game: 10 tackles, nine of them solo, including 1½ sacks and three tackles for loss along with a forced fumble and a pass breakup. His 9½ sacks are two shy of the Broncos rookie record set by Rulon Jones in 1980.
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed to this report.
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.