Tim Tebow just keeps winning games for the Broncos

The Denver Broncos sent a clear message Sunday to the Minnesota Vikings:

Ponder this Christian.

That’s right, Tim Tebow pulled off another stirring win, guiding the Broncos to a 35-32 victory at the Metrodome to grab a share of first place in the AFC West.

It was the fifth consecutive road win for Denver, a streak the franchise hasn’t known since John Elway was quarterback in 1998. The team is 6-1 with Tebow starting at quarterback, although those have been far from virtuoso performances, as the defense has played a huge role in the success.

“There were a lot of questions on the outside. Sometimes it gets built up like they were on the inside, but the one thing I will say is the guy wins,” Broncos Coach John Fox said of Tebow, who notched his fifth game-winning rally in the fourth quarter or overtime in 10 career NFL starts. “He does it with his feet. He does it with his arm. He’s young. He’s just going to get better.”

Tebow threw for two touchdowns in the third quarter and a season-best 202 yards, showing he can hang in a shootout as well as low-scoring slugfests even though his raw numbers were overshadowed by those of Vikings counterpart Christian Ponder. The Minnesota rookie threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns but had two interceptions.


The second of those Ponder picks came with 1 minute 33 seconds to play and set the stage for the winning 23-yard field goal by Matt Prater as the clock expired.

Minnesota’s Percy Harvin, like Tebow a standout from the University of Florida, said he was concerned when Tebow had the ball in the waning moments.

“I was sure enough hoping we were going to get him, but I’ve been on his teams,” Harvin said. “He’s a winner. He’s a leader. All of the things you hear about, you may think it’s too much, but that’s what he is.”

The victory, coupled with Oakland’s loss at Miami, sets up a four-game race to the finish. The Broncos play host to Chicago on Sunday, and the Raiders play at Green Bay.

Against the Dolphins, the Raiders abandoned their running game. They also abandoned their passing game and defense.

“We couldn’t run. We couldn’t stop the run. We didn’t pass very well,” Coach Hue Jackson said. “Just a bad day at the office.”

Other playoff contenders could say the same. Chicago, with Caleb Hanie making his second start at quarterback, could muster only a field goal in a 10-3 home loss to Kansas City. For the second consecutive Sunday, Hanie had three interceptions. The Bears might want to take another look at Donovan McNabb, who was recently cut by Minnesota and has cleared waivers.

Chicago also lost running back Matt Forte to a knee injury.

“We’ll just keep our fingers crossed, and hopefully it’s not that serious,” Chicago Coach Lovie Smith said.

That means the Bears’ crossed fingers will match their crossed signals. They collected only 181 yards of offense in a game in which the only touchdown came on a Hail Mary by Kansas City’s Tyler Palko on the last play of the first half.

Chicago got some help in the wild-card race with Atlanta’s losing at Houston, a game in which two defensive touchdowns by the Falcons were wiped out by penalties.

The Texans, who have won a franchise-record six in a row and are on track for the first playoff appearance in club history, showed it’s entirely possible to win a big game with an inexperienced quarterback. Rookie T.J. Yates started for the Texans, who are down to their third-stringer because of season-ending injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart.

“I test my guys the night before every game,” Houston Coach Gary Kubiak said, “and when I tested him, I was so impressed. I went in there and told the whole team, ‘I wish you could have been in there. He is ready to play.’ ”

Coach! What are you doing?

The Dallas Cowboys made a huge mistake at the end of regulation in their 19-13 overtime loss at Arizona.

With seven seconds left, Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey lined up for a 49-yard field goal to break a 13-13 tie. He drilled it down the middle — good!

But . . .

Dallas Coach Jason Garrett had called a timeout just before the snap, so the Cowboys had to kick again. This time, Bailey’s kick was short.

The Cardinals won in overtime when LaRod Stephens-Howling caught a dump-off pass and weaved his way through the defense for a spectacular 52-yard touchdown.

Up-and-down day

Kyle Orton, a new acquisition by Kansas City, didn’t last too long against his former team.

One play, to be exact.

Orton handed off to Thomas Jones, another former Chicago Bear, who pitched back to him for a flea-flicker. As the quarterback unleashed a deep throw, he was knocked to the ground by Chicago’s Major Wright. Orton’s right index finger was injured in the collision and he motioned to the sideline. Just like that, he was replaced by Palko.

Newton’s law

With his second touchdown against Tampa Bay on Sunday, Carolina rookie Cam Newton set the NFL’s single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 13.

That wasn’t surprising. What was surprising, though, was that the previous record of 12 was set in 1976 by New England’s Steve Grogan, not the first name that springs to mind when it comes to rushing quarterbacks.

“It does mean something to me. I’m not going to sit up here and say it doesn’t mean something,” Newton said of the record. “I’m not focusing on individualism in this game. It’s still 11 on 11.”

Hit the bricks

Tampa Bay’s Brian Price was excused early from Sunday’s game when, after the defensive tackle was flagged for a personal foul in the third quarter, Coach Raheem Morris told him to go home.

The unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty came on third down and wiped out a sack of Newton, giving Carolina a first down on what would be a touchdown drive.

Still seething after the 38-19 loss, Morris swore in frustration when talking to reporters about Price, a former UCLA standout, drawing the flag. He called the penalty “selfish to your teammates, to everybody in your organization, to your fans.”

First impressions

The Washington Redskins opened their game against the New York Jets with a touchdown drive. That was nothing new for New York, which has allowed opponents to score first in an NFL-high 10 games.

The Jets got the last laugh, though, keeping their playoff hopes alive with a 34-19 victory.

How West was won

San Francisco clinched the NFC West with a 26-0 home blanking of St. Louis, winning the division for the first time since 2002.

Quarterback Alex Smith was sharp, and Frank Gore’s 73 yards on the ground allowed him to set the club’s career rushing record with 7,396 yards. And, of course, it was another terrific outing for a defense that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 34 games.

Coach Jim Harbaugh stressed that a division title is only one item checked off a long to-do list.

“Guys are excited about it, they’re happy about it,” he said. “They realize that there’s more out there for us. They’re already in there talking about that. They want to get everything that’s out there, everything that’s available.”

Suspensions coming?

The Associated Press is reporting that Washington left tackle Trent Williams and tight end Fred Davis are expected to be suspended by the NFL for the rest of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. first reported Sunday that Davis and Williams would be punished and said the players hadn’t received written notice from the league about their suspensions, so they were able to play this week.

Spread out

For a while, it appeared the Patriots were going to cover the 20-point spread against the Indianapolis Colts, leading by four touchdowns early in the fourth quarter before the Colts rallied but lost, 31-24. In 10 games with such a spread in the league’s modern era, the favored teams have gone 2-8 against the line.