DENVER, CO - JANUARY 08: Demaryius Thomas #88 of the Denver Broncos stiff arms Ike Taylor #24 of the Pittsburgh Steelers to score an 80 yard touchdown in overtime during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 8, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Denver Broncos defeated the the Pittsburgh Steelers in over time 23 - 29. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The Denver Broncos pulled off an inexplicable victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Demaryius Thomas was the reason, not Tim Tebow.
After the Steelers forced overtime against the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh linebacker James Farrior called "tails" and you could almost see angels blowing on the coin midair, forcing the metallic disc toward "heads" as it struck the Mile High soil. Or at least I'm sure that's how it seemed to those sipping the Kool-Aid on Tim Tebow, Denver's unconventional, usually-inaccurate, always-entertaining quarterback. When you're dealing with the NFL, a universe governed by chaos, you've got to make sense of it somehow. And Tebow hysteria this week will be in full throat like never before.
A group of seasoned, cynical Hollywood screenwriters would make few changes to Sunday's script. The Broncos were huge underdogs—basically the Mighty Ducks to Pittsburgh's snarling, more pubescent Russian (or whatever) youth hockey thugs. Everything was set up for a Tebow Comeback: He Just Knows How To Win™, and sure enough, Demaryius Thomas caught a slant on the first play from scrimmage in overtime, and the second-year wide receiver took it 80 yards from there for the go-ahead score.
Look, give the Broncos some credit, but give most of it to Thomas, who was the real star of the game—not Tebow. Thomas has been inconsistent (and often injured) in his brief NFL career, but he kept getting separation from cornerback Ike Taylor, hauling in four catches for an absurd 204 yards. Taylor, who probably had the best year of his career in 2011, had one of the worst games ever. Whenever you looked at the screen, Thomas was behind him, torching press coverage, and Taylor also recorded nearly 50 penalty yards on two penalties to boot.
There's a number of other factors that led to Denver's first postseason win in the Tebow era and Pittsburgh's premature departure from the playoffs...
- Pittsburgh's laundry list of injuries to key players like LaMarr Woodley, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Rashard Mendenhall (although this is not as big a deal as people make it out to be; Isaac Redman is no slouch), Maurkice Pouncey, and Ryan Clark
- Backup center Doug Legursky snapping the ball over Ben Roethlisberger's head at the end of the second half, knocking the Steelers out of field goal range
- Pittsburgh's complete lack of a pass rush (defensive backs can't be expected to cover forever) contrasted with Denver's ability to get pressure (five sacks) while only rushing just three or four guys
- Pittsburgh receivers dropping three Roethlisberger passes, including one by Jerricho Cotchery with no one in front of him, a potential scoring play, a long-gainer at the very least
- The Steelers' inability to account for Tebow on the ground when Denver lined up goal-to-go in shotgun when everyone on the planet knew the call was a quarterback draw
- Roethlisberger's interception, despite safety Quinton Carter lurking in bracket coverage (He nearly threw a second pick to cornerback Champ Bailey in the end zone, who took a knee and held his head, inadvertently Tebowing, after the ball bounced off his hands.)
... But the real story here is Thomas, who completely took the game over. It sure as hell ain't Tebow, a quarterback who completed less than 50 percent of his passes on Sunday for the eleventh time this season and typically boasts the accuracy of a Florida general election for President.
I was extremely confident that Pittsburgh would rout Tebow this week, and I was (extremely) wrong. Give credit to Thomas and the Broncos, but know that the real winner on Sunday was the New England Patriots and the real loser was John Elway, Denver's vice president of football operations, whose hands are now bound by the public and media hysteria surrounding Tebow, despite a fairly obvious desire to move in a different direction at the quarterback position.