Final Score: Denver 29, Pittsburgh 23 (OT)
Denver, CO (Sports Network) - And on the second day of the NFL playoffs, the
Denver Broncos rose again.
Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas connected for an 80-yard touchdown on the first
play of overtime, giving the Broncos a 29-23 victory over the Steelers and
providing a stunning ending to their AFC Wild Card contest.
Now Denver, which won its division despite losing its final three regular-
season games and finishing the year 8-8, is onto the second round of the
playoffs. The Broncos will face top-seeded New England on Saturday.
Denver, of course, installed Tebow as its starting quarterback in Week 7 after
starting the season 1-4. He then led the Broncos to wins in seven of their
next eight games, a stretch that included three overtime victories and a
string of improbable late-game comebacks.
The Broncos' magic seemed to run out with their season-ending losing streak,
but Sunday, they re-discovered it, building a 20-6 lead at halftime behind an
extremely productive second quarter.
Pittsburgh came back to tie the game and force overtime, but then the Broncos
won the coin toss and started a drive after a touchback...
"I was walking to the line, and I saw the safety come down, and I knew
at that time (with) the play we had called, the only person I had to beat was
the corner," Thomas said.
...Tebow dropped back in a play-action fake and spotted Thomas about 20 yards
downfield, delivering a strike the receiver caught in stride...
"Just waited until past the second window from the backer and just tried to
fit it in there," Tebow said.
...Thomas streaked across midfield and delivered a stiff-arm to Steelers
cornerback Ike Taylor, then out-raced two defenders to the end zone...
"The catch is less of an issue than his ability, of course, to break free in
the run after," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "The run after was
...and 11 seconds into overtime, the Broncos were celebrating wildly and
Tebow was on one knee, having authored the best victory of his young NFL
"We had struggled over the last couple weeks, and I think a lot of that
progress was because of our quarterback," Denver head coach John Fox said. "A
lot was said, a lot was written, there's been a lot of critique on him, and I
thought he stepped up in a huge way tonight."
The second-year quarterback finished with a career-high 316 passing yards and
two touchdowns, and ran for another score in Denver's first playoff appearance
Tebow completed only 10 passes, but made the most of them as the
Broncos repeatedly beat the Steelers' secondary. Thomas caught four passes
for 204 yards, while Eddie Royal had a 30-yard touchdown reception in the
Part of that was due to Tebow having and creating a lot of time to throw, but
Pittsburgh also played without safety Ryan Clark because he has a sickle cell
trait, and high altitude can lead to health problems.
Clark was one of several key Steelers to sit out of the contest. Running backs
Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore, and center Maurkice Pouncey also missed
the game, while defensive tackle Casey Hampton and defensive end Brett Keisel
suffered injuries during the game.
"We've been battling through injuries the whole year and won 12 games,"
Hampton said. "So, can't cry about that. They made plays and we didn't, and at
the end of the day, that's all that matters."
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was battling a high ankle sprain, and threw for
289 yards and a touchdown, with one interception. Isaac Redman totaled a
career-high 121 rushing yards, but they couldn't lead the Steelers to a
decisive score late in the fourth quarter. Roethlisberger was sacked three
times and fumbled during the unsuccessful drive.
For how the game ended, the defending AFC champions nearly won Sunday's
contest. Shaun Suisham connected on a 37-yard field goal to bring the Steelers
within 23-16 with 10 minutes to play, and Broncos running back Willis McGahee
fumbled near midfield on Denver's ensuing drive.
After Pittsburgh reached the Denver 31, Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey nearly
picked off Roethlisberger's end-zone try to Mike Wallace, but couldn't hold
on. Roethlisberger tried another touchdown pass on the next play and
succeeded, thanks to a remarkable catch by Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone.
The receiver got his hands on the ball, then held on as Denver defensive back
Rafael Bush hit him, tying the contest with 3:48 to go.
Just more than two minutes later, Pittsburgh had forced Denver to punt and
began another drive at its own 24. Roethlisberger -- himself no stranger to
big plays -- completed passes of 17 and 18 yards to bring the ball into Denver
With half a minute to play, Suisham was warming up on the sideline, and all
signs pointed to Pittsburgh having a chance to at least kick the game-winning
But the Steelers lost that chance after Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil
got into the backfield and forced the ball from Roethlisberger's hands.
Pittsburgh lost 11 yards on the play and the Steelers couldn't get into field
Pittsburgh, which finished the regular season 12-4 and didn't win the AFC
North because it lost both games against Baltimore, never got a chance in
New playoff overtime rules state that both teams get a possession unless the
team with the ball first scores a touchdown. Had the Broncos kicked a field
goal, the Steelers would have gotten the ball. But Roethlisberger never
touched the ball in overtime. Tebow and Thomas, in one swift play, made sure
The Steelers certainly had their chances to build a big lead, advancing deep
into Denver territory twice in the first quarter. But they settled for field
goals from Suisham both times, and carried a 6-0 lead into the second quarter.
The Broncos went in front thanks to one quick drive. Tebow didn't complete a
pass in the opening quarter, but on the second play of the next quarter he
found Thomas for a 51-yard gain. Two plays later, Tebow threaded a pass to the
end zone to Royal, who made the catch despite tight coverage from William Gay.
Tebow delivered more big plays on Denver's next drive, including a 58-yard
pass down the middle to Thomas, who shed coverage by Taylor with a sharp open-
That connection brought the ball to the Steelers' 12-yard line, and Tebow
reached the end zone on an eight-yard keeper by plowing through a hole in the
middle of the line. Matt Prater hit field goals of 20 and 28 yards to complete
the 20-point quarter.
Pittsburgh's offense struggled in the first half. Aside from the two field
goals, the Steelers punted four times and Roethlisberger was intercepted by
They had only one possession in the third quarter, but made the most of it
with an 87-yard touchdown drive. Redman initially appeared to score on a long
run through the middle. But the touchdown ruling was overturned with a review
that found the ball fell short of the goal line by inches. Still, the 33-yard
run brought Pittsburgh to the one, and Wallace ran it in from there, pulling
the Steelers within 20-13 with 4:29 left in the frame.
Prater kicked a 35-yarder nearly two minutes into the fourth.
Broncos receiver Eric Decker was injured while attempting to catch the ball in
the second quarter. He was hit in the knee by Steelers linebacker James
Harrison...The Broncos' last postseason contest was a 34-17 loss to the
Steelers in the AFC Championship Game following the 2005 season...The Steelers
had given up the fewest points (227) in the NFL during the regular season.
01/08 22:38:32 ET
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