Tim Tebow did the unbelievable again.
The Denver Broncos quarterback threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime to lead his team to a stunning 29-23 wild-card upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tebow finished the day with 316 yards passing, two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.
The victory was a slight departure for the second-year quarterback, who became known this season for his fourth-quarter comebacks. In his first NFL playoff game, he started his heroics a little earlier. Tebow led Denver to a 20-point second quarter, forcing a depleted Pittsburgh team to stage a second-half rally. Ben Roethlisberger did just that, as he brought his team back from a 14-point deficit to force the game to overtime.
It was to be the first NFL playoff game in history not to be decided by sudden death. A 2010 rule change dictated that both teams would have a chance to possess the ball in overtime. Unlike in the regular season, a field goal on the first possession wouldn't win the game for the team that received the kick. The only way to end the game on the opening possession was to score a touchdown.
Tebow and Thomas got that out of the way quickly. They connected on a 15-yard slant on the first offensive play of overtime and Thomas took it to the end zone, applying a stiff arm to cornerback Ike Taylor at midfield and outrunning Ryan Mundy to the goal line.
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The 11-second overtime was the shortest in NFL history.
After beginning his 2011 season with seven wins in his first eight games, Tebow limped to the finish line. The Broncos lost three straight games to close the year and backed into the playoffs thanks to losses from AFC West rivals. Teams had apparently figured out the answer to Tebow -- stack the line with defenders and make him beat corners in tight coverage with his arm. Dick LeBeau's tenacious Pittsburgh defense figured to utilize that blueprint with ease, sending Tebow and the Broncos to an early playoff exit.
But Tebow's receivers got behind Pittsburgh coverages, Denver's offensive line protected him well and the quarterback was able to set a career high in passing yardage. That final pass play was the longest Pittsburgh gave up all season. The absence of the Steelers' leading tackler, Ryan Clark, undoubtedly hurt the secondary, yet even without him, the breakdown was unexpected.
Denver will face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots next Saturday night in an AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium. The two teams played in Week 15, with New England winning 41-23.
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