DENVER -- Few people around the country -- the Steelers included -- expected Tim Tebow to win a playoff game with his arm.
Yet, nobody in the Steelers locker room was surprised the Denver Broncos quarterback had the goods to beat them.
"We knew he was a competitor and he was out there competing all day," linebacker James Farrior said after a 29-23 overtime loss Sunday at Sports Authority Field. "We knew he was going to do that. We knew if we let him stay in there and kept him alive then this could happen."
Tebow threw for a career-high 316 yards and two touchdowns, including the winning touchdown of 80 yards to Demaryius Thomas in overtime. He also ran 10 times for 50 yards and another score. The Steelers didn't get a sack or even a legal hit on him behind the line of scrimmage.
"He's a good player," Steelers safety Ryan Mundy said. "He bought time with his legs and his receivers worked hard for him to get open."
After a 1-4 start, Tebow replaced Kyle Orton -- who was later released -- and went 7-4 to become a national phenomenon with the way he routinely led the Broncos to heroic finishes.
On Sunday, he did it again.
"You've got to finish with him," Mundy said. "He's always going to finish the game."
It was the way Tebow finished that surprised the Steelers. Since wrapping up his college career at Florida in 2009, Tebow has been criticized for his poor throwing. As thrilling as his wins were this season, he was so bad the last two games of the regular season that some in Denver suggested the Broncos start backup Brady Quinn, who hasn't thrown a pass in the regular season since 2009.
Against the Steelers top-ranked pass defense, Tebow completed five passes of 30 yards or more.
"He threw the ball very well today," Farrior said. "We hadn't really seen that out of him on the tapes we watched in preparing for him. He did a great job today. Give him a lot of credit. The guy's a competitor."
Tebow still completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes (10 for 21), but he was much more effective than usual when he did complete throws. The difference, according to safety Troy Polamalu, wasn't so much Tebow as his receivers.
Thomas caught four passes for 204 yards, three of them for at least 51 yards.
"They just made some plays," Polamalu said. "Guys got open. We've seen many times on film where guys would actually drop balls when they were wide open, and they made some good catches today. [Tebow] put the ball in tight places."
In Denver's three-game losing streak to close the season, the Patriots, Bills and Chiefs bottled up Tebow on the ground, forcing him into bad throws. That was the Steelers' plan as well.
As far as linebacker James Harrison was concerned, it wasn't Tebow that did the unusual. It was the Steelers.
"I'm surprised by the way we played today," said Harrison, whose only hit on Tebow drew a roughing the passer penalty. "We played poorly. We didn't get pressure there at times. We let him scramble at times. We didn't cover well at times. It's a combination of everything. It's no one thing."
Asked his impression of Tebow's play, Harrison, as always, was blunt. "He played well enough to win, and we played sorry enough to lose," he said.
First Published January 9, 2012 5:00 AM