Tim Tebow prepared for the Steelers' game with an unusual commitment to throwing the ball. It was clear the Steelers weren’t expecting that approach, and they certainly weren’t expecting him to nail those throws.
But late in the second quarter, he started developing an awful habit of handing it off on first down for garbage gains, then launching long balls on second and third down.
This was destined to be the hole in his radical plan, because it was so easy to detect his method.
It felt like only a matter of time until the Steelers figured out his pattern and made the Broncos pay for it. That, coupled with a key Denver fumble late in the game, is why the Steelers roared back.
When Tebow caught the first snap in overtime, I assumed he would simply revert back to his pattern and hand it off for minimal gain. The Steelers expected that too. But instead, Tebow did the opposite. He launched it for a strike on first down, and that’s what won the game.
Don't let his good guy image fool you; this was psychological warfare in its most sadistic form.
Tebow has two kinds of fans: the ones who love Tim Tebow, and the ones who love how Tim Tebow plays football.
On Sunday, finally, his true football fans saw what they knew was there all along. They'd seen him do it in college. This, at long last, was the vicious competitor they had been waiting for.
Tim Tebow made terrific decisions in this game. He dictated the flow of the offense and kept his team on attack mode. The Steelers never had control of the game.
Tebow rose to the challenge. During the regular season, he threw an average of 123.5 yards per game. Against the Steelers on Sunday, he threw 316 yards. He doubled his average against the top defense in the NFL, and he did it in the playoffs when it counted most.
The most intriguing aspect of Tebow’s performance was that he didn’t win the game on emotion. For the first time in his professional career, he won the game by outsmarting his opponent and using real football skills. It was a gigantic leap forward for a quarterback who has endured the highest levels of scrutiny in the history of the sport.
Tebow’s performance on Sunday didn’t quite establish him as a reliable leader for the ages, but it did put him on the road towards being Denver’s franchise quarterback. In a way, that in itself was a huge victory. At the very least, he earned another season of starting for the Broncos.
It’s disingenuous to use Ben Roethlisberger’s ankle as an explanation for Pittsburgh’s defeat. Big Ben earned his nickname by making big plays, many of which occurred while he was struggling through some kind of nagging injury. His ability to play hurt is the very thing that made his reputation as a tough steel-town guy.
The basic fact is that the Broncos wanted this game more than the Steelers.
The body language on Pittsburgh’s bench in the second quarter reeked of defeat. Troy Polamalu looked ready to pack his bags and spend the offseason with his family. Even Roethlisberger looked deflated during the second quarter. The team looked broken.
While it isn’t totally appropriate to give Tebow all the credit for an incredible team win, it seems fair to let the guy enjoy a positive spotlight for once. After all, he shouldered the bulk of the blame all year. The least I can do is take my hat off to him now.