Every week, we’ll take a look at a player or team whose bad performance did the most to raise the stress level of their coach.
For a long stretch of the 2011 season, the fourth quarter was Tebow Time in Denver. In Week 16 that mojo was replaced by Turnover Time.
The Buffalo Bills picked off Tim Tebow four times on Saturday, with three coming in the fourth quarter and two -- on back-to-back snaps, no less -- resulting in defensive touchdowns. Denver entered the fourth quarter in Buffalo down 23-14 and left it on the wrong end of a 40-14 blowout loss.
Gone was the Broncos' first chance at clinching the AFC West. Now, heading into a win-and-you're-in situation in Week 17, it's worth wondering if the Tebow magic is wearing off as well.
"My confidence is just fine," Tebow said. "I have to do a better job of not giving them opportunities. I tried to make something happen, and I tried to force it."
Tebow was turnover-free for the first 44 minutes of Saturday's game. But the wheels started to come off in the closing seconds of the third quarter. On a 3rd-and-11 from his own 18, Tebow rolled to his right -- his non-throwing side -- in the face of pressure. After several seconds spent looking for a receiver, he fired an off-balance pass over the head of Demaryius Thomas and into the waiting hands of Buffalo's Justin Rogers.
That mistake led to a Bills field goal, which upped their lead to 26-14. Tebow's misery, though, was just beginning.
Two possessions later, Tebow tried to hit Eric Decker on a deep route up the left sideline. Instead, he hit Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd, who stepped in front of Tebow's deep pass, then returned it to the house for a back-breaking touchdown.
On the Broncos' next play, Tebow's arm was hit as he attempted another pass, resulting in a floating ball that found Buffalo's Spencer Johnson. He hauled it in -- Tebow's third interception in four possessions and second in two plays -- and followed Byrd's footsteps to the end zone for another pick-six.
Tebow then tossed his fourth and final interception on Denver's ensuing possession. The Broncos, down 33-14, drove from their 16 to the Buffalo 18. But after Tebow ran for a first down on 4th-and-3, he turned the ball over again, this time as he tried to hit Eddie Royal for a touchdown. Aaron Williams made the defensive play on that one.
Tebow entered Saturday's game having thrown just two interceptions over his first nine starts, a stretch that included 210 passes. He made what coach John Fox called "a couple of misreads" Saturday, leading to a long and painful afternoon.
For Tebow's critics, this was a gold mine. Prior to a Week 15 loss to New England, the Broncos had run off six straight wins under Tebow, thanks to a combination of stellar defense and Tebow's late-game heroics.
The latter, however, seemed a bit too good to be true, a little smoke-and-mirrors show that captured the attention of every football fan out there. Not all of that is Tebow's fault -- his receivers continue to struggle at times (they turned in several more drops Saturday), and there aren't many game-breakers on the roster. What that means for Tebow is that he's often throwing into tight coverage, a recipe for disaster when teams are expecting the pass.
So, is there anything left in Tebow's tank now that he's crashed back to earth? That's the question Denver faces heading into Week 17. For everything that went wrong in Buffalo, not to mention the game prior against the Patriots, one more Broncos win (or an Oakland loss) gets them a division title and a playoff berth. Whether Denver can get the job done might depend on how quickly Tebow can put Week 16 behind him.