Overtime Is Tebow Time
This time, it really was Tebow time.
Tim Tebow was the reason the Denver Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-23 in overtime Sunday in the NFL playoffs.
The numbers (10 of 21, 316 yards) aren't impressive in a Brees-Rodgers world. But unlike his overhyped efforts during Denver's 7-1 stretch in the regular season, Tebow demonstrated the star NFL quarterback he may someday be.
He ran effectively. He hit receivers in stride. He threw the ball away when it was wise to do so. He escaped the pass rush and made big plays on the move.
In short, he did everything Ben Roethlisberger usually does - but couldn't on this day.
Roethlisberger was only one of the banged-up Steelers, still suffering from a bad ankle injured four weeks ago against Cleveland. The Broncos took advantage of his immobility, sacking him five times and intercepting him once.
Pittsburgh's defense, already diminished by injuries and the blood disorder that kept safety Ryan Clark from playing in the Denver altitude, lost two-thirds of its defensive line in the first half, with end Brett Keisel and nose tackle Casey Hampton forced to the sidelines.
The absence of Clark would be vital on the game's final play.
The Steelers dominated the first quarter, holding the ball for more than 10 minutes but getting just two field goals from their first three possessions. Denver, meanwhile, had two three-and-outs and gained just 8 total yards.
But everything changed in the second quarter, when Tebow had the finest 15 minutes of his pro career.
The book on the Broncos - executed against them to perfection in their season-ending three-game losing streak - was to play to stop the running game and make Tebow beat you through the air.
That's exactly what he did in turning a 6-0 deficit into a 20-6 halftime lead. He hit Demaryius Thomas for 51 yards and followed it with a 30-yard touchdown strike to Eddie Royal. On the next possession, he went deep to Thomas again, this time for 58, setting up two Tebow runs for the second score. A Quinton Carter interception led to a Denver field goal, and a 40-yard strike to tight end Daniel Fells set up another three-pointer.
For the quarter, Tebow was just 5-for-9, but his receivers dropped two passes and he threw one away. The five completions went for 185 yards - more in one quarter than Pittsburgh's league-leading pass defense had allowed per game this season.
It was also a total Tebow had topped in just three of his 11 starts.
Denver kept the ball on the ground in the second half, trying to keep the clock moving. Roethlisberger brought the Steelers back, aided by a Willis McGahee fumble that put Pittsburgh in position for the tying touchdown, a 31-yard strike to Jerricho Cotchery.
Both teams had a chance to win in the fourth quarter. Tebow's first really bad pass missed an open Thomas over the middle. Two sacks of Roethlisberger pushed Pittsburgh from the fringes of mile-high field-goal range back to its own 36.
Pittsburgh lost the coin toss for overtime, the first to be played under the new not-quite-sudden-death rules. The kickoff went through the end zone, giving Denver first-and-10 on its own 20. A Broncos field goal would give Pittsburgh a possession with a chance to tie or win.
It was moot. Denver lined up in a power shotgun, with only Thomas split wide. Safety Ryan Mundy came up to defend against the run. Tebow faked a handoff to McGahee and spotted Thomas breaking free of Ike Taylor on a quick post. Mundy had already realized his mistake and was sprinting back when Thomas caught the ball in stride at his 38 with nothing but open field ahead of him. He stiff-armed Taylor at the 45 and outran the two Steelers to the end zone for the win.
It was the Broncos' fourth overtime game of the season - and their fourth overtime win.
Tebow took off his helmet and went down to one knee in the opposite end zone.
Stardom may have come early to him, but that doesn't mean he won't live up to it. In his first professional playoff game, he did exactly that.