DENVER -- Tim Tebow, the worst quarterback statistically in the league, topped the best game of his short NFL career by throwing an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime as the Denver Broncos shocked the Steelers 29-23 in their playoff game tonight.
The Steelers came from 14 points down to forge a 23-23 tie and send the playoff game into overtime, but the Broncos won the coin flip and elected to receive.
Tebow dropped back from his 20 and fired over the middle to Demaryius Thomas. He caught the ball at the Denver 38, stiff-armed cornerback Ike Taylor at the 45 and ran the rest of the way to the end zone, beating the beleagured Taylor all the way.
Denver, an 8-point underdog, advances to a Saturday night playoff at the New England Patriots.
The Steelers mounted a final drive in regulation to try to win it from their 24 with 1:37 left. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked on the first play, but then completed consecutive passes of 17 to Antonio Brown and 18 to Emmanuel Sanders, both outstanding catches.
However, Roethlisberger was sacked again, losing 11 on a stripped ball by end Elvis Dumervil back to the Steelers 44, essentially ended that threat and sending the game into overtime.
The Steelers tied the game with 3:48 to go, 23-23, when Ben Roethlisberger scrambled away from pressure and threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery, who leaped over a linebacker to catch it in the middle of the end zone.
It wiped out a Denver lead that had reached 20-6 at the half, thanks to a second-quarter explosion of points by the unlikliest of quarterbacks, Tim Tebow.
Tebow, told by Hall of Famer John Elway the past week to just "pull the trigger" on his passes, did so on the Steelers in the second quarter. He completed 5 of 9 passes in the second quarter for 185 yards as the Broncos wiped out a 6-0 Steelers first-quarter lead.
Tebow, the worst passing quarterback in the league statistically, completed passes of 51, 58, 40 and 30 yards in the second quarter against not only the No. 1 defense in the NFL but the league's top pass defense.
Teboow threw for one touchdown of 30 yards to Eddie Royal and ran for another of 8 yards as the Broncos took a 14-6 lead and never relinquished it.
Matt Prater kicked three field goals for Denver.
Trailing by seven with 7:35 left in the game, the Steelers Cam Heyward and Ryan Mundy stripped Denver's Willis McGahee of the ball and LaMarr Woodley recovered at the Steelers 45.
The Steelers fought their way back into the game by driving 87 yards in the third quarter to score their first touchdown, a 1-yard run on an end-around by Mike Wallace.
Isaac Redman's 32-yard run to the one set that up. He broke one tackle and then fought off cornerback Andre Goodman for the final 15 yards. Officials called it a touchdown but reversed it because Redman's knee was down at the one.
That cut Denver's lead to 20-13 but the Broncos extended that advantage to 10 on Prater's third field goal.
After a rough first quarter, Tebow's left arm came alive early in the second.
His first pass completion, of 21 yards, was overturned on a Mike Tomlin challenge. Receiver Eric Decker had it until he was hit hard, low -- and legally -- by James Harrison. Ultimately, it was ruled a drop and Decker left the game with a knee injury.
Undaunted, Tebow threw deep on the next play and, although Ike Taylor had him perfectly covered, the cornerback did not seem to see the ball and Demaryius Thomas came down with it for a 51-yard gain. Two plays later, Tebow threw another perfect pass to Eddie Royal in the right corner of the end zone that cornerback William Taylor never saw for a 30-yard touchdown.
That gave Denver, an 8-point underdog, a 7-6 lead. It wouldn't last long.
Mike Wallace dropped what would have been a 52-yard reception that was overturned on replay by Denver coach John Fox. A Steelers punt soon ensued and Tebow went back to work.
On second down he threw deep again, again to Demaryius Thomas, who again beat Taylor, who seemed to have no idea where the ball was. That gained 58 yards to the 12 and two plays later, Tebow ran a quarterback draw up the gut for an 8-yard touchdown pass.
With 10:36 to go in the second quarter, the Broncos held a stunning 14-6 lead.
Things began to fall apart all over for the Steelers. They lost nose tackle Casey Hampton on the first series to a knee injury, then lost defensive end Brett Keisel to a groin injury in the second quarter. That left them with only three healthy defensive linemen, all in the game.
The offense could get little going either and offered up another opportunity to the Broncos when safety Quinton Carter intercepted Ben Roethlisberger to give Denver the ball on the Steelers 18.
They cashed that in with a 20-yard field goal by Prater to extend their lead to 17-6.
Tebow wasn't done.
He uncorked another long pass, this one carried 40 yards to tight end Daniel Fells to the Steelers 25. That led to another field goal by Prater, of 28 yards, to give Denver a 20-6 lead.
The Steelers put an exclamation point to the whole matter of their second-quarter meltdown when, on third down and in field goal range at Denver's 32, backup center Doug Legursky's high snap went over Roethlisberger's head for a loss of 23.
Suisham kicked two field goals to give the Steelers a 6-0 lead after the first quarter of play and there was no hint that Tebow and the Broncos were about to turn into the New England Patriots.
The Steelers scored on the game's first drive when Suisham kicked a 45-yard field goal to end an 8-play, 53-yard series. Roethlisberger's 33-yard pass to Heath Miller to Denver's 32 put them in position for the score.
Their third drive also ended with a Suisham field goal, from 38 yards, with 23 seconds left in the first quarter.
Denver had no first downs in the first quarter and just 8 yards, all on the ground, on seven plays. Tebow was 0-for-2 in the first quarter.
First Published January 8, 2012 10:15 PM