OAKLAND, Calif. -- Denver rookie quarterback Tim Tebow, just as you'd expect, couldn't tell a lie.
Hours earlier in his first NFL start, Tebow had burned the Raiders on an electrifying 40-yard quarterback draw for a touchdown. He showed off his exceptional speed, bolting up the middle, and power, carrying a Raider or two into the end zone.
"To be honest, that was a mistake on my part," Tebow said, sheepishly, after the Broncos' 39-23 loss.
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How so? Well, Tebow thought the play was a quarterback draw when, in fact, it was a draw designed for running back Correll Buckhalter.
"I just ran it and Buck went in and led for me and made a good block," Tebow said. "I cut off his block and we scored."
Welcome to Tebow's world on Sunday. After a crash course and his first full week working with the first-team offense, Tebow overcame rookie mistakes with his raw physical skill, his energy and his effort.
To those critics who thought the Broncos were crazy to trade up and draft him in the first round and believed his game would never translate to the NFL, Tebow answered with a more-than respectable starting debut.
Tebow led the Broncos in passing and rushing. He completed eight of 16 passes for 138 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. He would have had two touchdown passes if running back Lance Ball hadn't dropped a pass in the end zone. Tebow ran eight times for 78 yards. His passer rating wasn't a Blutarsky –- 0.00 –- as some expected. It was 100.5.
|A safe game plan does not deter Tebow from taking chances downfield with his arm. (Getty Images)|
What that plan is, isn't exactly clear. He started in place of the injured Kyle Orton, whose sore ribs limited him to the No. 3 role. Interim coach Eric Studesville said he wanted to study game tape before he decides whether Tebow will start this coming week at home against Houston.
Considering that the Broncos are 3-11, the home fans might walk out next week -- after they finish booing -- if Tebow is not on the field.
Studesville obviously protected his rookie quarterback Sunday. He had a run-heavy game plan and had him throw only 16 times. But when Tebow did drop back, he showed no fear. He took shots downfield and gave his wide receivers, particularly Brandon Lloyd, plenty of opportunities to make plays.
With 7:22 left in the first quarter, Tebow hit Lloyd in the back right corner of the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown. The pass was initially ruled incomplete, but Studesville challenged the call, and it was reversed.
"The corner [Stanford Routt] just sat a little bit so I was like, 'I'm going to give B. Lloyd a chance with this,'" Tebow said. "He's a great player, and I'm going to give him a chance. He came up with a great catch."
The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, where it's Halloween on steroids for every Raiders game, isn't the easiest venue for a rookie to make his first start, but Tebow didn't flinch. Not even when Raiders fans starting chanting, "Tebow sucks! Tebow sucks!" after his third straight incomplete pass to open the game.
"That's no problem," Tebow said. "That's just them getting excited and rooting for their team. If anything, it gets my blood pumping, too. ... It was fun. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fans and atmosphere and the [rainy] weather and everything."
Studesville praised Tebow for his "energy and effort" and for the way he "handled the entire environment" at the Coliseum.
"He managed the offense. He called everything, he got us in and out of checks," Studesville said. "He ran our offense, which is what a quarterback has to do."
Tebow's touchdown pass to Lloyd put the Broncos ahead 14-7 against a Raiders team that beat them 59-14 earlier this season in Denver. At halftime, the game was tied 17-17, and in the third quarter, Tebow marched the Broncos 37 yards for a field goal that tied the game 20-20.
On that drive, Tebow threw a deep out to Lloyd for 19 yards, showing more than adequate NFL arm strength. Two plays later from the Raiders' 24 he hit Ball in the end zone, but he dropped the pass.
"He did what we expect of him," Lloyd said. "He kept his poise, he kept his composure. Even when it was tough out there. He kept us in the game."
Entering Sunday's game, Tebow had thrown exactly one NFL pass –- a 3-yard touchdown out of the Wildcat formation. This was his first chance to prove to himself and others than he can be a real NFL quarterback, not just a one-trick change-up.
"It was nice to be able to get out there and play football again," Tebow said. "I love that. I definitely have the confidence in myself to be able to play at this level, and I'm just thankful that the Denver organization had enough confidence in me to bring me in and give me this opportunity."
Tebow was just 1-for-4 for one yard before he busted loose on his 40-yard run. The next pass he threw was for 33 yards and a touchdown.
"I think it definitely gave me and the team a lot of momentum," Tebow said. "That was one of the biggest things from it, just the juice factor off of it and getting everybody excited. We had some good momentum after that."