PRO FOOTBALL | NFL PLAYOFFS

Tebow, Broncos beat Steelers in overtime

2012-01-08T22:00:00Z Tebow, Broncos beat Steelers in overtimeThe Associated Press The Associated Press
January 08, 2012 10:00 pm  • 

One of the most storied NFL playoff teams ran into a rejuvenated Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos.

Sorry, Pittsburgh Steelers. The magic is back.

Tebow connected with Demaryius Thomas on an electrifying 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime and the Broncos defeated the stunned Steelers 29-23 in the AFC wild-card game on Sunday. Wild doesn't begin to describe it. The play took 11 seconds and was the quickest ending to an overtime in NFL history.

Thomas hauled in a high play-action pass at the Denver 38, stiff-armed Ike Taylor and then outraced Ryan Mundy to the end zone. Tebow, who looked as startled as everyone else, headed for his own end zone and knelt on one knee - a gesture known far and wide these days as Tebowing. Then he pounded a fist in triumph and took a victory lap.

Behind Tebow's 316 yards passing, the Broncos (9-8) are heading to New England for a second-round game against the top-seeded Patriots on Saturday night.

The Steelers (12-5) lost despite Ben Roethlisberger rallying injury-depleted Pittsburgh from a two-touchdown halftime deficit with 10 points in the final 10 minutes.

Pittsburgh called tails for the overtime coin toss, and it came up heads. Tebow, who engineered five fourth-quarter comebacks and three OT wins in the regular season, wasted no time in finding Thomas to end the game. Mundy was playing in place of Ryan Clark, the Steelers' leading tackler who sat this one out because of a blood condition that's exacerbated at altitude.

Clark was one of several Steelers sidelined or injured. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey was out, replaced by Doug Legursky, who had a bad snap right before halftime that moved Pittsburgh out of field goal range.

After Thomas raced down the Broncos sideline, sending the crowd, including Broncos executive vice president John Elway, into a frenzy at Sports Authority Field, which was rocking like the old Mile High Stadium back in the 1990s.

And Elway, the architect of so many those magical moments at the old place, jumped for joy in his suite.

The Patriots walloped the Broncos 41-23 last month, sending Tebow into a funk that included seven turnovers and a 40 percent completion clip -- and prompting Elway to implore him to "pull the trigger" in the playoffs.

Tebow completed 10-of-21 passes but Thomas hauled in four of them for 204 yards after his top target, Eric Decker, was lost to a left knee injury on the first play of the second quarter when he was hit by linebacker James Harrison.

Tebow also ran 10 times for 50 yards and capped his best day as a pro with the toss to Thomas.

These two teams had played the first-ever regular-season overtime game on Sept. 22, 1974, in Denver. Now, they played the first non-sudden death playoff game in history. The new rules called for both teams to get the ball in the extra period providing there wasn't a touchdown by either the offense or defense.

Giants 24, Falcons 2: Eli Manning doesn't have to do everything himself. The Giants have found their running game and defense just in time.

After routing the Atlanta Falcons Sunday in the NFC wild-card game, New York heads to Green Bay next weekend, a place where it will need all the help it can muster.

Manning carried the Giants (10-7) for much of the season, hoping the defense would get stingy, the pass rush would materialize and the running game would get on track. Now, all of that is happening.

"A great mix of run and pass and these guys have a great understanding of what our offense is," Manning said of the help he's receiving. "If we can get that run game going like we did in the second half, that opens up a lot of windows."

And if the defense remains impenetrable, watch out.

"If we can play defense like that, we will continue to make ourselves heard in this tournament," coach Tom Coughlin said.

Manning punctuated his best pro season by throwing for three touchdowns and scrambling for a 14-yard gain that woke up New York's offense in its first postseason victory since its Super Bowl upset of undefeated New England four years ago. Next up is as big a challenge: the defending champion Packers (15-1), who won here 38-35 in December.

"We know they are a good team," Manning said. "We played them tough here, did some good things here, we scored some points. We know offensively we are going to have to play strong, score some points."

The team that couldn't run the ball will be sprinting there, bringing along a defense the Packers actually might fear. Not to mention the passing offense led by Manning, who hooked up on a 72-yard catch and run by Hakeem Nicks in the third quarter that put away the inept Falcons (10-7). Manning also connected on a 4-yard TD with Nicks in the second period, and a 27-yard TD throw to Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter that finished it off.

The Giants' last postseason trip to frigid Lambeau Field was a 23-20 overtime victory for the NFC championship two weeks before they upset the Patriots.

"Cold, I remember that. I remember coach Coughlin's face. I remember (tackle) David Diehl sweating and it froze on his hair and he had icicles on his hair," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "And I remember us winning.

"Hopefully, we can go back there and do it again."

The tempo in the first playoff game at MetLife Stadium was set by New York's defense, which never allowed Atlanta to get going, and by the league's lowest-ranked rushing game, which ran for a season-high 172 yards, 92 by Brandon Jacobs and 63 by Ahmad Bradshaw. The Giants averaged 5.5 yards a carry, 2 yards more than in the regular season.

For all of Jacobs' and Bradshaw's success, it was Manning's escape and 14-yard dash on third down in the second period that got the Giants rolling. Jacobs soon broke a 34-yard run, and Manning hit Nicks on a post pattern to put the Giants up 7-2.

"I don't think anyone is game-planning for me to run the ball," Manning said, "but obviously there were a couple of situations where you have to do it. I am not scared of running to get a few yards."

The Giants never really had to look back as the Falcons bumbled their way to their third straight playoff loss under coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan.

"They did a great job of defending us, especially in the second half," veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "That shouldn't happen to a team like we have. We're a lot better than this."

New York was aided greatly by Atlanta's penchant for gambling on fourth downs - and failing. Twice the Giants stymied the Falcons on fourth-and-1 as Ryan's sneaks went nowhere. The defense also stopped Michael Turner, supposedly the most effective runner on the field, on a third-and-inches late in the third period.

"That really inspired everybody, to be honest with you," Coughlin said. "Those plays that our defense made really inspired everybody.

Atlanta missed on a fourth-down try in overtime that cost the Falcons a game against New Orleans during the season. While they negated New York's recently revitalized pass rush for much of the day, the Falcons couldn't gain any traction on the ground, being held to 64 yards rushing.

"Our defense played great, kept us in the lead," Manning said.

Other than some sporadic movement, Atlanta's offense was incompetent - particularly in short yardage.

"It's less than a yard, less than half of a yard. It's a play we go through all the time," Smith said. "I felt it was the right play both times, but we didn't execute. We should be able to move the ball there."

Both offenses sputtered in the first half with an assortment of penalties, drops and poor throws.

When the Falcons wheeled out the no-huddle offense, though, they marched from their 10 to a fourth-and 1 at the New York 24. On the first play of the second quarter, Ryan was stacked up on his sneak.

But it turned out positively for the Falcons anyway.

Giants guard Chris Snee was called for holding, and, from his 13, Manning was pressured back into the end zone by James Sanders. He threw the ball away to avoid the sack, resulting in a safety.

New York had its own fourth-and-inches run on its first touchdown drive. Jacobs ran over safety Thomas DeCoud on the play from the Atlanta 6.

Nicks caught his post pattern over Dominique Franks, the fill-in for injured cornerback Brent Grimes, to make it 7-2.

 

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