ARLINGTON, Texas -- Tim Tebow scrambled far to his left, inches from the sideline, saw some resistance and headed back the other way. He was around the middle of the field when he decided to pass, lobbing the ball over a defender to a waiting teammate, who took off toward the end zone.
It could've been the latest addition to Tebow's legacy -- if only he hadn't gone a full stride over the line of scrimmage, a lineman hadn't illegally moved down the field and another teammate hadn't clobbered someone in the back.
Instead, by the end of it, even one of the officials was chuckling.
Tebow's schoolyard play came just before halftime and stood as the play of the game, until Dallas' Stephen McGee threw a 13-yard touchdown pass and a two-point conversion with 15 seconds left, giving the Cowboys a 24-23 victory over the Broncos on Thursday night.
McGee, an option quarterback in college just like Tebow, showed the moxie he displayed in two quality outings at the end of last season. He finished 14-of-24 for 208 yards, with three touchdowns, plus ran four times for 25 yards.
"It's always fun to win no matter how it comes," McGee said. "For me, this is my regular season."
Tebow's numbers were good. He completed 6 of 7 passes for 91 yards. He also ran twice for 15 yards, producing a pair of field goals in four drives.
His first scoring series started at Denver's 10 and included a 43-yard pass perfectly lofted into double coverage. The other drive, however, started 7 yards from the end zone and wound up moving backward, with a holding penalty wiping out his touchdown run on first down, then the bizarre play coming on third down.
"I tried to scramble and one thing turned into another," Tebow said.
Dallas declined all three penalties to force the Broncos to kick a field goal. When Tebow went to the sideline, new Denver coach John Fox spoke to him gently, patting him on the head at the end of the chat.
"Tim is a work in progress," Fox said. "He made some things happen and he is learning. ... The M.O. on him when I got here is that he does ad-lib some. You don't ever want to take that away from a player. He is a young player that I think is going to get better in time."
In other words, he didn't likely do much to unseat veteran Kyle Orton as the starter, not with Fox saying, "I though Kyle was sharp," even though he completed only 2 of 6 passes for 37 yards, with three straight incompletions after reaching the Dallas 6.
Tebow felt good about his performance. His only lament was not getting into the end zone.
"I feel a lot more confident in my decision-making, my fundamentals and going out there and running the offense," he said. "It's picking and choosing your battles and being smart about it."
One other play that stood out was Tebow bobbling a snap, ducking to avoid a blow by Dallas linebacker Victor Butler, then being pulled down by the next defender to arrive, Clifton Geathers. Tebow got to know Butler and defensive lineman Jason Hatcher, as they seemed to be in his face almost every play.
Hatcher and Butler both came away impressed by Tebow's strength.
"He messed up my sack," Butler said. "I'll have to hit him on Twitter and tell him about it. ... Some of his throws were on and some of his throws were off. Sometimes you have to equate that to pressure. When you have somebody hitting you in the back or coming straight at your face, your throws are going to be off."
Brady Quinn -- who is probably Tebow's real competition, for the main backup slot -- was 8-of-14 for 120 yards and an 8-yard touchdown to Eron Riley. Denver also got a 13-yard TD run from Jeremiah Johnson with Quinn going against Dallas' reserves.
Tony Romo played in his first game for Dallas since breaking his collarbone in the sixth game last season. He completed his first three passes -- the first to Chris Gronkowski, the fullback whose missed block led to Romo's injury -- and finished 3-of-5 for 33 yards. The Cowboys scored a field goal on his only series.
"It got my juices flowing a little bit," Romo said. "It was good, and I'm looking forward to my next opportunity."
After Jon Kitna got in for a series, Dallas coach Jason Garrett -- who was in charge of a preseason game for the first time -- turned things over to McGee, the third-stringer who won the finale last season.
McGee hit Raymond Radway for a 6-yard TD, threw a short pass that Dwayne Harris turned into a 76-yarder and found Harris again for the score that made it 23-22. Instead of kicking an extra point and possibly facing overtime, Dallas went for the win and McGee came through by hitting Martin Rucker on the conversion.
"We weren't exactly moving the ball up and down the field on offense, but Stephen hung in there," Garrett said. "He is able to keep plays alive because he moves so well. At the end of the game to string some positive plays together was pretty darn good by him."
The best news for both teams was no serious injuries, and none to starters.
For Denver, receiver Mark Dell sprained a knee, and offensive lineman Stanley Daniels sprained an ankle. Dallas safeties Danny McCray (shoulder) and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (wind knocked out) are day-to-day.