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Tim Tebow, Broncos Move On After Stunning The Steelers

Johnie Freatman |
January 9, 2012 | 6:48 p.m. PST

Associate Sports Editor

Tim Tebow overcame his poor play in the late regular season to beat Pittsburgh. (Jeffrey Beall/Creative Commons)
Tim Tebow overcame his poor play in the late regular season to beat Pittsburgh. (Jeffrey Beall/Creative Commons)
The magic carpet ride for quarterback Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos continued Sunday night with an electrifying 29-23 overtime victory over the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Here is a summary of the game and its implications for those who missed it:

When Denver had the ball: The Broncos got off to a terrible start, amassing only eight total yards in the first quarter, no doubt leading many onlookers to wonder if this would be the same anemic offense of the prior two weeks.

However, with a 51-yard completion from Tebow to Demaryius Thomas early in the second quarter, Tebow set the tone for the way the rest of the game would be played. He would answer John Elway's call to "Pull the trigger" again just two plays later on a 30-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Royal that gave the Broncos a 7-6 lead, a harbinger of things to come.

As usual, the Broncos set up the pass with their vexing run game. Though Willis McGahee had an average game at best, Tebow was a difference-maker on the ground and Denver found some success with the option.

The difference compared to past weeks is that head coach John Fox opened up the playbook more, opting to be more aggressive in the passing game. Though Tebow only threw 21 passes, Fox's play-calling was more unpredictable than in the past, throwing more on second down, especially. With the Steelers at times overcommitted to stopping the run, it left the secondary susceptible to big plays.

When Pittsburgh had the ball: With center Maurkice Pouncey and running back Rashard Mendenhall out due to injury and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hobbling around on a sprained ankle, the Steelers were decidedly undermanned.

Nevertheless, they got a surprise performance from backup running back Isaac Redman, whose shifty style of running proved difficult for Denver to contain. Redman only got better as the game went along and finished with 121 yards on 17 carries.

Roethlisberger showed considerable guts, rallying his team back from a 14-point second-half deficit with sustained drives and big plays, including a 31-yard TD strike to Jerricho Cotchery that tied the game. The biggest blemish on Roethlisberger's night was a second quarter interception that led to three Denver points.

Though the entire receiving corps was healthy, it was arguably the Achilles heel of the Steelers on this night. Too many times they struggled to get separation from the Broncos defensive backs and were unable to make the extra play or two that may have resulted in a different outcome.

Play of the Game: For this, there can be no doubt. On the first play of overtime, The Broncos caught Pittsburgh by surprise, throwing on first down for only the second time all game. Tebow hit Thomas on a crossing pattern, Thomas delivered a stiff arm to Ike Taylor just short of midfield, and won a sprint to the end zone for a game-winning, 80-yard touchdown.

Tebow's Redemption: In a season that has had more plot twists than an Academy Award-winning movie, Tebow delivered another shocking one Sunday after many thought his magic was gone. After all, in his last two games, he had thrown four interceptions against Buffalo and delivered an ugly performance against Kansas City. There were reports that he may have been a series, or even a play, away from being benched.

Facing the NFL's number one defense, Tebow produced his best performance of the year, throwing for 316 yards and two touchdowns. With another touchdown and 50 yards on the ground, Tebow compiled nearly 100 yards more than the 271 yards that opposing offenses had averaged against Pittsburgh in the regular season.

Demaryius Thomas (Ed Clemente/Creative Commons)
Demaryius Thomas (Ed Clemente/Creative Commons)
New Rules, No Problem: The NFL's new overtime rules were on display for the first time, leaving many viewers confused. However, the Broncos ended that confusion quickly. The 11-second overtime period was the shortest in NFL history.

Déjà vu: If this felt eerily similar to another playoff game, it did for good reason. Even in the week leading up to the game, Broncos-Steelers was getting a lot of comparison to last year's Seahawks-Saints Wild Card game. Like the Seahawks, the Broncos had limped into the playoffs without a winning record. They were heavy underdogs at home game against a team many thought was a viable Super Bowl contender. Both teams clinched their win on stiff-arm plays that will be spoken about for decades.

Thomas Time: As much as Tebow has experienced ebbs and flows this year, his receiver Thomas has as well. Finally emerging in his second NFL season to average nearly 100 receiving yards over the regular season's final five games, Thomas nonetheless struggled with drops. Against Chicago, after Thomas dropped multiple passes, Tebow told him, "You’re about to catch the game-winner." Though it didn’t exactly happen that week, Thomas helped the Broncos get in field-goal range to beat the Bears in overtime.

Thomas had another pivotal drop Sunday on a play that likely would have been a touchdown. Nevertheless, he caught four passes for 204 yards, a stunning 51.0 average. As for Tebow’s "game-winner" prediction? Turns out it was just four weeks premature.

McDaniels' Role Reversal: The man who drafted Tebow and Thomas four picks apart in the 2010 NFL Draft, and planned on building the Broncos franchise around the duo, will indeed be coaching at the Broncos game next Saturday... on the opposing sideline of the New England Patriots.

After falling out of favor in Denver, McDaniels was fired before the end of last season and served as the St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator this past year. Following the news that current Pats coordinator Bill O'Brien would accept the Penn State head coaching job, McDaniels was re-hired by his old team. Highly reviled by the Broncos fan base during his time there, it's safe to assume feelings have softened a bit with the success of Tebow and Thomas.

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