DENVER – Tim Tebow showed off a big left arm that few knew he had and then resorted to his legs to secure his first win as a pro.
Tebow rallied the Denver Broncos past the Houston Texans 24-23 when he scored on a 6-yard scramble with three minutes left in his first home start Sunday, capping a comeback from a 17-point halftime deficit.
Matt Schaub was driving the Texans for a go-ahead score when rookie cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson picked off a pass deflected by Justin Bannan at the Broncos 27 with just over a minute remaining. The pass was intended for a wide-open Owen Daniels, who had already caught eight passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.
The Texans were probably already in field goal range — Neil Rackers had converted a 54-yarder that tied his career longest field goal and then nailed a 57-yarder that tied the franchise mark.
The Broncos (4-11) won for the first time since Nov. 14 and avoided a franchise record 12th loss in handing the Texans (5-10) their eighth loss in nine games.
Tebow threw for 308 yards but when it mattered most, he used his legs to give the Broncos their first win since Nov. 14.
On second-and-goal from the 6 following a false start by right guard Chris Kuper and a bad overthrow of Eddie Royal on a fade into the left corner, Tebow faked the quarterback draw, raised up to throw it but found everyone covered.
He tucked the ball and sprinted toward the left pylon, beating defensive tackle Earl Mitchell into the end zone to give Denver its first lead at 24-23 with 3:02 remaining.
Then, the defense came up with its first takeaway of the day.
Earlier in the quarter, tailback Correll Buckhalter's 23-yard catch and run on a screen pass from Tebow pulled Denver within striking distance at 23-17 with 10:55 left.
While much of the country was shivering in cold, snowy conditions, the temperature at kickoff was 50 degrees at Invesco Field, where Tebow's first home start drew such loud applause that he had to motion for the crowd to quiet down as he trotted onto the field for his first series.
Tebow's first two throws went for 22 yards each, but his third throw was a terrible one to Brandon Lloyd that was easily picked off by cornerback Jason Allen in the end zone.
There were thousands of empty seats despite Tebow being named the starter over Kyle Orton (ribs) — and the Broncos hardly gave their fans anything to cheer the rest of the first half, which ended with them trailing 17-0.
The announced crowd of 67,974 was the smallest in the decade that Invesco Field has been open. There were 5,717 no-shows.
Tebow came out at halftime fired up and promptly hit Jabar Gaffney for 50 yards on a deep post that set up Buckhalter's 6-yard TD run just four plays into the third quarter.
Rackers made it 20-7 with a 54-yard field goal two plays after Broncos perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey limped off the field with a right ankle injury after slamming into Daniels.
Rackers' career-long 57-yarder easily cleared the crossbar and gave Houston a 23-10 lead late in the third quarter.
Arian Foster, the league's leading rusher, scored from 3 yards out one play after his 35-yard run up the middle, and Schaub connected with Daniels from 3 yards out for a 14-0 lead.
Rackers' 34-yard field goal with 22 seconds left in the first half came after Broncos interim coach Eric Studesville chose not to use one of his three remaining timeouts to preserve precious seconds for his offense, and the crowd booed the Broncos' hand-off to Lance Ball on the final snap before the break.
Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno injured his ribs late in the first half when corralled by three defenders and didn't return.
Jacoby Jones caught five passes for 115 yards in place of Houston star receiver Andre Johnson, who was held out with an ankle injury.