The Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers needed the first overtime under the new playoff rules to decide the last game of Wild Card Weekend, but when it was over, Tim Tebow had rewritten the script that most people had plotted for this game. His Broncos beat the defending AFC Champions 29-23.
The game featured several big plays, most authored by Tebow, and was alternatively exciting, strange and heartbreaking.
Here's a look at some of the biggest plays in a game that was chocked full of can't miss action and heart-stopping play.
The madness in this game began with the very first play: the opening kickoff. After winning the coin toss and deferring to the second half, Denver's Matt Prater took advantage of the light mountain air and his strong leg to deliver some early theatrics.
With the kickoff distance moved up, touchbacks have been more prevalent all season; but this one was bizarre.
Prater kicked the ball and it traveled directly into the crossbar in the far end zone before rebounding to stop right on the hash mark of the 20-yard line (where the ball would eventually be spotted for play to begin on the Pittsburgh opening drive).
The exactitude of that kick may never be recreated again and has been the source of conversation both during the game and on Twitter. It's definitely worth another viewing.
On the second play of the second quarter, Denver quarterback Tim Tebow dropped to throw on 3rd down and 12, held the ball, moved well in the pocket and then fired deep down the field to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who reeled in the ball and advanced to Pittsburgh's 31-yard line.
The pass, which went for 51 yards, was the result of great blocking up front by the Broncos' offensive line, and gave Tebow plenty of time to throw the ball (as well as Thomas, who initially was covered but was able to break free from Ike Taylor just enough to make a huge play).
The play was a momentum-changer for the game because Denver had previously been unable to move the ball on Pittsburgh's defense. Afterwards, the Steelers were on their heels.
After the big play to Thomas, Tim Tebow connected two plays later with Eddie Royal for his first career playoff touchdown pass.
As Tebow held onto the ball in the pocket, Royal sprinted down the sideline step for step with Pittsburgh corner William Gay. Gay, however, never looked back for the ball so he could adjust or make a play. Royal caught the ball over his outside shoulder and managed to keep both of his feet squeezed in bounds and he controlled the ball.
The score completely reversed the results of the first quarter, with Denver going from having eight yards of offense and trailing by a 6-0 score to being ahead 7-6 after two huge pass plays. The play certainly helped shoot some holes in the game plan that Pittsburgh had for playing up and forcing Tebow to beat them with his arm instead of his legs.
With 10:41 remaining in the first half, the game announcers on CBS reminded everyone that Tim Tebow had a penchant for taking off inside the ten. On 2nd and 6 from the Pittsburgh eight-yard line, he did just that.
Tebow dropped for a moment and then stepped up and took off, picking his way through his line and then the tacklers on the second level. He ended up falling into the end zone at the end of the play to give the Broncos a stunning 14-6 lead in the game.
The eight-yard dash ended a short four play, 73-yard drive that took only 2:18 off the clock and also featured a huge pass play from Tebow to DeMaryius Thomas for 58 yards.
With 5:02 left in the third, the Steelers were driving but needed a conversion on third down to keep the drive alive.
On 3rd and 2, Ben Roethlisberger turned and handed off to Isaac Redman, who rumbled through the line and didn't stop until a shoestring tackle had him down inside the one yard line. The play was initially ruled a touchdown, but during the required review, it was found that Redman had his knee down before the ball crossed the plane of the goal line.
Redman lost the ball, but he was obviously down on replays. The play set up Mike Wallace's run around right end for a touchdown on the next play, which brought the Steelers their first touchdown of the day and within 20-13 on the scoreboard. It also capped a masterful 11-play, 87-yard drive.
Denver and Pittsburgh are certainly no strangers to strange officiating calls. Denver famously got lucky when the whistle blew before Jay Cutler could be called for a turnover in a game that made Ed Hochuli a household name again for all the wrong reasons.
In this game, on this play, a backward pass by Ben Roethlisberger wasn't caught by Mike Wallace. Before the ball was recovered by Denver, the play was blown dead as an incomplete pass.
Denver coach John Fox attempted to challenge the ruling, but was unable to challenge for possession since the whistle had blown. Instead of having another turnover on the day, Fox was left wanting by Ron Winter's crew.
This is a great example of just how badly broken the officiating in the NFL has been this season, and it isn't the only example from this game.
With Denver nearing midfield and with the final frame half over, the Steelers needed a big play to get back into position to tie the game.
Trailing 23-16 with 7:43 remaining, safety Ryan Mundy, subbing in for Ryan Clark this week, forced Willis McGahee to fumble after an eight-yard gain to the Steelers' 44. Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley, playing despite a balky hamstring, fell on the ball and gave the Steelers their only turnover of the day.
Denver challenged the ruling on the field, but replays showed that McGahee lost control of the ball just a moment before his knees hit the turf. The call was upheld and it set up the Steelers to drive down and tie the game with a big touchdown of their own.
With the Steelers trailing 23-16 as the fourth quarter continued to run down, Ben Roethlisberger finally came through for the Steelers, who desperately needed a big play to get themselves on track to hopefully claim victory in this game.
Roethlisberger took a snap on 2nd and 10 with 3:46 remaining in regulation and rolled out on his bad ankle. He threw a strike into the end zone to Jerricho Cotchery, who caught the ball over the outstretched arm of Denver linebacker D.J. Williams and then held on while he was hit by another Bronco defender.
With the extra point, the Steelers moved into a tie with Denver and simply had to find a way to get back on top before the Broncos were able to ignite that old Tebow magic and win the game.
After Shaun Suisham put the ball through the end zone for a touchback, Denver opened the first-ever overtime under the new playoff rules with a pass. This may indicate what we'll see in future playoff overtime games as teams can still enforce a sudden death finish by scoring a touchdown.
Tebow decided to go for it all one last time, this time picking Demaryius Thomas, who had already caught two of Tebow's previous huge passes. Thomas had gotten behind Pittsburgh corner Ike Taylor and safety Ryan Mundy.
After catching the ball, Thomas took off up the sideline and didn't stop until he had won Denver their first playoff game since 2005 and given Tim Tebow a reason to kneel in his now-trademark stance. Thomas was nearly caught from behind by Mundy, but managed to stay steady and continue his sprint.
With that play, Denver sent the defending AFC Champion Steelers home for 2011 and will now move on to face New England at Gillette Stadium next week.
If you're looking for a quick look at how Tim Tebow dismantled the Pittsburgh secondary and put Denver into the next round of the 2011 NFL playoffs, here's a nice highlight reel for you to take a peak at.
Here's a look at what's inside this Tebowmania-pleasing video:
A 3rd and 12 completion to DeMaryius Thomas that set up the Bronco's first touchdown of the day by moving them from deep in their own territory and mired in an inability to move the ball all the way into Pittsburgh territory and ready to score.
A pass down the sideline to Eddie Royal for a 30-yard touchdown that put the Broncos up 7-6 (they wouldn't trail again in the game). Check out Royal's ability to stay in bounds while evading the tight coverage of corner William Gay of Pittsburgh.
A 58-yard bomb from Tebow to Thomas again, this time on 2nd and 7. This set up another score by Denver and is a great example of just how Tebow and Thomas managed to elude one of the NFL's best cover men in Ike Taylor.
A designed quarterback draw where the always-tough Tebow bulldozes through the middle of his line and the Pittsburgh defense and scores on an 8-yard touchdown run. Tebow's most important run of the day put the Broncos up 14-6 and had the Steelers completely flabbergasted.
In his post-game press conference, Tim Tebow reflects on his first career playoff game, the victory, his coming out party as a passer and the fact that he'll be facing Tom Brady and the New England Patriots next weekend in the frosty Gillette Field.
Give it a look for some insights from the guy who just sent home the defending and heavily favored AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.