ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- To understand just how far Tim Tebow has come this season, winning his last six starts and seven of eight overall, it helps to go back to the beginning, to that Oct. 23, sun-soaked day in Sun Life Stadium in Davie, Fla., when he made his first start of 2011.
Tebow was fantastic down the stretch, overcoming a 15-0 deficit by throwing two touchdowns and running in a two-point conversion in the final 2:44 of regulation before Denver won 18-15 in overtime. Yet not to be forgotten is that he was as awful in the first three-plus quarters as he was brilliant down the stretch.
The Broncos appeared to have training wheels on the game plan and Tebow was doing all he could to keep from falling off the bike. He appeared to have no clue or concept of what Denver was trying to do in the passing game. He missed wideopen receivers or didn't see them at all. His first "completion" should have been a pick-6, but Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby dropped a pass that hit him chest-high in the hands.
Now fast forward two months. Tim Tebow Now in no way resembles Tim Tebow Then -- other than being able to make plays at the end of games for improbable wins. He looks so comfortable, so confident. Instead of talking about his shortcomings as a passer, we're starting to talk about passes his receivers are dropping.
For much of the game against Miami, he appeared more concerned with calling the play correctly than he did with making a play. No more.
"His greatest improvement is his ability to process information, in terms of coming to the sideline and telling us where everybody was, what the defense was doing, and what plays we should run," quarterbacks coach Adam Gase says. "Before, he would be a little hesitant and maybe not see it as well. Now he's like, 'In this coverage this guy did this, this guy did this, this guy did that, and if we do this, this will be there.' "
Broncos coaches have done an outstanding job of not overwhelming Tebow while still bringing him along at an accelerated rate. He spends 30 minutes before and after each practice working on fundamentals, particularly his footwork. And he has regular sessions with Gase to discuss plays he's most comfortable running against that week's opponent.
Tebow's foundation is the handful of plays the coaches packaged for him while he was backing up Kyle Orton. They've built on that base each week, fitting plays to Tebow's skill set, which revolves around his scrambling abilities and comfort with directing a read-option attack. But along the way, Tebow has become a much more confident passer, even if it isn't completely showing up in the statistics, primarily because he's not a polished thrower and his receivers have struggled to hold onto the ball. Last Sunday, the Broncos had at least five drops, including one by wideout Demaryius Thomas that should have been a 55-yard score.
"He's improving every week," Gase says. "There was a lot of conversation outside about, Is he improving? But those of us in here, we're just saying, Keep getting better every week -- and that's what he's doing.
"People are too quick to say, 'How come he doesn't get this, this and this?' At the end of the day, how many total games has he played in? He played in a couple of games last season, he had however many snaps he took in the preseason, and then he didn't play the first four and half games this year. So it's like, where is he really at in his development?"
Says offensive coordinator Mike McCoy: "The more reps he gets, the better he's going to be. He's still a young quarterback. The thing that Tim and I and Adam talk about is, let's get better every week, every day in practice. That's what the kid has done. There have been plenty of times where he has had an opportunity to make a play and he misses the throw, but the great thing about him is that it doesn't bother him. I mean, it does -- it burns inside of him. But he never shows that. He moves to the next play and keeps going."
It's reflected, in part, in his completion percentage by quarters this season: 48.3 in the first, 33.3 in the second, 37.5 in the third and 61.3 in the fourth. His yards and touchdowns increase similarly, from 171 and one in the first, to 107 and one, to 242 and three, to 732 and six in the fourth quarter. He has rallied the Broncos from fourth-quarter deficits in five of their wins, with three games being decided in overtime.
"Tim is a guy who never gives up, and that's become the character of our football team," McCoy says. "The guys have kind of followed his lead. They have a belief in this kid that he's going to get it done, and that's the most important thing. It's all about winning.
"I don't care how you get it done, the objective is to win. We've thrown here plenty of times for 400 yards and lost games. What does that do? He might not be putting up big passing numbers, but he's the guy pulling the trigger and leading us to victories. That's the No. 1 thing that matters."