CINCINNATI – The clock hit zero. The middle of the field opened up. Tim Tebow took off. Everyone knew he wouldn't be stopped short of the end zone.
The rookie quarterback from Florida made his NFL debut on Sunday, scoring on the final play of Denver's 33-24 preseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Could it have ended any other way?
"It was one of those things where you knew he was going to score on the last play of the game, either run it in or throw it in there," Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said. "He's such a competitor. I've been a big fan of his ever since he started at Florida. He's one of the greatest college football players."
In the only other NFL preseason game on Sunday, San Francisco topped Indianapolis 37-17.
In Ohio, they haven't forgotten Tebow.
He got onto the field late in the third quarter. Receiver Jabar Gaffney gave his fellow Gator a funky handshake on the sideline, and Tebow jogged onto the field to loud boos — those Ohio State and University of Cincinnati fans remember how he demolished their teams in bowl games.
"Yeah, I heard it," Tebow said, chuckling. "It got me more excited to go out there and play."
A lot of those booing fans also snapped some photos of the moment, too.
He didn't do much until the final drive, completing open dumpoffs against a soft defense full of backups. Three seconds remained when Tebow took a snap in the shotgun formation from the 7-yard line, looked around and reverted to a favorite college move.
He ran 'em over.
"I saw an opening, so I went to go get it and thankfully got in there," Tebow said.
He bowled over Kyries Hebert to score, leaving the safety woozy with a mouth guard lying on the ground at his feet. Tebow was 8 of 13 for 105 yards overall, most of them on that final drive.
Tebow and former Browns quarterback Brady Quinn are competing to back up Kyle Orton, who was impressive in his preseason debut. Orton threw two touchdown passes in three series and reminded Broncos fans that he's the one running the offense if not selling the most jerseys.
The Broncos have set several attendance records at training camp — a measure of how quickly Tebowmania has caught on. His No. 15 jersey was already one of the NFL's top sellers before he appeared in his first game on Sunday. Eight fans clustered around the Broncos' entrance to the field before his debut, decked out in his No. 15.
Orton hasn't seemed to mind. Instead, Orton has showed a lot more comfort in his second season running coach Josh McDaniels' intricate offense.
It was evident in an opening touchdown drive — 4 of 5 for 55 yards, leading the Broncos 72 yards in only six plays. Orton played three series and threw a pair of touchdown passes, finishing 8 of 13 for 84 yards.
"We wanted to start strong," Orton said. "This is big for us. We hope we can be a versatile team and turn it into a passing team when we want to."
Then, it was time to let Tebow and Quinn take over.
Quinn got the first chance and had some bad moments. The worst: Quinn locked onto receiver Britt Davis, allowing cornerback David Jones to read the play, pick off the sideline pass and return it 24 yards for a touchdown.
"I'm sure I'll hear about it tomorrow," Quinn said.
Cincinnati wanted to see more out of its starting offense, which went nowhere during a 16-7 loss to Dallas in the Hall of Fame game a week earlier. The second time around, it was much better.
Palmer got plenty of time to throw and went 12 of 15 for 105 yards in three series, leading the Bengals to one touchdown.
"It wasn't perfect, but it was better than last week and that's what we're looking to do — improve every week," Palmer said.
In Indianapolis, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning made things look easy. Sixteen plays, 10 points, take a breather.
Everyone else found out how tough the NFL really can be when you're not the four-time league MVP — even if it is only the preseason.
Running back Michael Robinson fumbled on the 49ers' first play, David Carr was sacked three times and the San Francisco receivers struggled to hold onto Alex Smith's passes.
Manning's backup, Curtis Painter, played even worse. The 49ers took advantage of Painter's three interceptions and a botched handoff late in the first half, scoring 34 straight points to rally for a win.
Carr, a No. 1 pick in the draft like Manning and Smith, finished 9 of 11 for 98 yards with one TD, but was sacked three times and nearly a couple of more — reminiscent of his early NFL days with Houston.
Colts coach Jim Caldwell yanked most of his other starters, along with Manning, after just two series. And the running game Indy wants to improve produced only 8 yards in the first 25 minutes.