CINCINNATI – Fans booed. Flashes went off. Tim Tebow had arrived in the NFL.
With a much better haircut and a bruising touchdown, no less.
The rookie quarterback from Florida made his first preseason appearance Sunday night, and got into the end zone on the final play of a 33-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Tebow went 8 of 13 for 105 yards in the second half, with most of the completions and yards coming on dump-offs during the closing drive against a soft defense. On the game's final play, Tebow scrambled 7 yards for a touchdown, running over safety Kyries Hebert to score — a power move he used so many times in college.
Did anyone expect anything less?
"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 Ohio, they haven't forgotten.
Tebow 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," he 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.
Tebow said something emphatically in the huddle — his head bobbed as he talked. Then, he completed a 5-yard pass on a rollout.
He didn't do much until the final drive, which ended with that throwback scramble for a touchdown. He ran over Hebert, leaving an orange mouth guard lying on the field and Hebert woozy on the ground.
"I saw an opening, so I went to go get it and thankfully got in there," Tebow said.
Kyle Orton was impressive in his preseason debut, throwing two touchdown passes in three series and reminding 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.
When he took off his horse-head helmet, Tebow showed a new look. The friar haircut was gone.
Teammate Wesley Woodyard buzzed the top of his head in a rookie ritual during camp, giving him a tonsured 'do that was instantly circulated in the media. For his debut, he trimmed the sides of his head as well, a more traditional look.
Tebow is competing with former Browns quarterback Brady Quinn to be Orton's backup.
Orton has been overshadowed in camp by the newcomer, but hasn't seemed to mind. Instead, Orton has showed a lot more comfort in his second season running coach Josh McDaniels' intricate offense.
It showed 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."
Then, it was time to let Tebow and Quinn take over.
Quinn got the first chance and looked much like he did in Cleveland. Playing with backups on the field for both teams, Quinn was off-target and forced throws. He 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.
"Sometimes things just break right for you," Jones said. "It seemed like slow motion almost. It seemed like a practice play. But it was right there, and I was able to take it in."
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 his fault that there weren't more points.
Terrell Owens caught four passes for 23 yards, but had two bad moments. A third-down pass sailed past TO's hands, forcing Cincinnati to settle for a 44-yard field goal attempt that Dave Rayner missed. Owens also caught a fourth-down pass beyond the yard marker, but doubled back while trying for more yards and was tackled short of the first down.
"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.
Bengals starting center Kyle Cook hurt his left ankle late in the first quarter and didn't return. He had it examined on the sideline, then stood with an ice pack wrapped to the side of the ankle.