Denver quarterback Tim Tebow connected on an electrifying 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime to give the Broncos a stunning 29-23 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC wild-card game on Sunday.
Demaryius Thomas hauled in the pass at the Denver 38, stiff-armed one defender and then outraced another to the end zone. The whole play took just 11 seconds of overtime, making it the quickest ending to an extra period in NFL history.
Tebow, who looked as startled as everyone else, headed for his own end zone and knelt on one knee to give thanks to God — a gesture known far and wide these days as Tebowing. Then he pounded a fist in triumph and took a victory lap.
Tebow’s 316 yards passing for the game was the key to moving the Broncos (9-8) into the second round of the playoffs next Saturday, when they will travel to play the top-seeded New England Patriots.
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’s rally was lost in the frenzy at Sports Authority Field as Thomas raced down the sideline for the winning score.
The delirium extended to the box of Broncos executive vice president John Elway, who was the quarterback architect of so many of the great moments at the old Mile High Stadium back in the 1990s, and was literally jumping for joy Sunday.
Tebow completed only 10 of 21 passes but Thomas hauled in four of them for 204 yards after his prime receiver Eric Decker was lost to a left knee injury on the first play of the second quarter.
The Broncos snapped a three-game losing streak that had many wondering if they were even worthy of their first playoff in six seasons, and it kept the Steelers from their 34th playoff win, which would have broken a tie with the Cowboys for the most ever.
Tebow led Denver to 20 second-quarter points but a 20-6 halftime lead didn’t last long.
Steelers receiver Mike Wallace had a 1-yard TD run, Shaun Suisham kicked a short field goal and Jerricho Cotchery grabbed a 31-yard TD pass with 3:48 left in regulation to tie it and send the game to overtime.
GIANTS 24, FALCONS 2
In East Rutherford, New Jersey, quarterback Eli Manning punctuated his best pro season Sunday by throwing for three touchdowns in New York’s rout of misfiring Atlanta in the NFC wild-card game.
Manning 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.
He also scrambled for a 14-yard gain and sparked the team to their first playoff victory since the Super Bowl victory over undefeated New England four years ago.
Next up is just as big a challenge for the Giants (10-7): on the road at the defending champion Green Bay Packers next Sunday. New York lost 38-35 to Green Bay in December.
The tempo in Sunday’s game, 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.
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 to put the Giants up 7-2.
They never had to look back as the Falcons bumbled their way to their third straight playoff loss under coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan.
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.
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.
Their only points came from a safety, when Manning was forced back in the endzone and threw the ball away to avoid a sack.