First, the Chicago Bears backup tailback ran out of bounds late in regulation when Denver had no timeouts, stopping the clock and eventually giving Tebow enough time to lead the Broncos to a game-tying field goal.
And later, in overtime, Barber fumbled the ball with Chicago in field-goal range, allowing Tebow to add another chapter to his ever-growing mystique. Tebow led Denver down the field before turning things over to Matt Prater, who connected on a 51-yard kick to lift the Broncos to a 13-10 win over the reeling Bears on Sunday.
Another improbable win for Tebow, who’s making a habit out of these late-game rallies. Another demoralizing loss for the faltering Bears (7-6), who are 0-3 since Caleb Hanie replaced an injured Jay Cutler, the former Broncos QB who has a broken thumb on his throwing hand and is out indefinitely.
“All losses are tough, but this one was especially tough,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “This one hurts. There’s not a lot more I can say.”
It’s a game the Bears thought they had in the bag.
Leading by 3 with just over 2 minutes remaining, all they had to do was run down the clock with a couple of running plays and punt with little time left.
On second down after the two-minute warning, Barber took a handoff and skated around the left side of the line. He broke one tackle and, in the process of trying to gain a few extra yards, was shoved out of bounds.
It saved the Broncos (8-5) at least 35 seconds, valuable time that Tebow would use to engineer his fifth final-quarter comeback this season.
This was a surprising mistake from a veteran such as Barber, who was filling in for star Matt Forte (knee).
Barber, who hasn’t talked to reporters since training camp, avoided the media after the game.
“We all know what type of player Marion is,” Smith said. “All running backs are trying to get a couple more yards here and there. But we have to know the situation. In that situation, we have to be able to keep the ball inbounds.”
Instead, it gave Tebow the ball back with 53 seconds remaining. More than enough time.
Tebow found his rhythm as he guided the Broncos into field-goal range. Prater hit a career-best 59-yard kick with 3 seconds left to send it into overtime.
The Bears received the ball first in OT and Hanie had them on the move, surprising the Broncos defense with a passing attack. With the ball at the Denver 38, and well within Robbie Gould’s range, Barber found an opening through the middle and appeared to be off to the races. Just then, linebacker Wesley Woodyard reached out and jarred the ball from Barber’s hands.
Elvis Dumervil pounced on the football. Just like that, it was Tebow’s time to work his magic again.
He picked apart the Bears defense and then watched from the sideline as Prater nailed the winner.
The Bears were up 10-0 late after a 9-yard TD run by Barber and a team-record 57-yard field goal from Gould. It appeared more than enough, especially given the way the defense was clamping down on Tebow and the Broncos’ unorthodox offense.
Only, it wasn’t.
“We gave it away,” Devin Hester said. “We were up 10 points.”
Hanie couldn’t agree more.
“I hate to say it, but we gave this one to them,” he said.
Then again, the Bears weren’t facing just any team. Tebow has made a habit out of late comebacks.
“We missed some opportunities in the game. That’s pretty much it. It wasn’t anything special that he did,” Julius Peppers said. “I didn’t see anything that he changed. Pretty much the same offense they ran all game — he just started checking the ball down.
“We didn’t play well enough to win. That’s what changed at the end of the game.”