Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Tim Tebow’s 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime gave the Denver Broncos a 29-23 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the final spot in the second round of the National Football League playoffs.
The New York Giants defeated the Atlanta Falcons earlier yesterday 24-2, collecting their first postseason home victory in 11 years as Eli Manning threw three touchdown passes.
Tebow, who had one touchdown pass and eight turnovers as the Broncos lost their final three regular-season games, threw two scoring passes and ran for another against a Pittsburgh defense that had allowed the fewest points and passing yards in the NFL. It was the first playoff win since the 2005 season for Denver, which next faces the New England Patriots on Jan. 14.
“He really answered the bell,” Broncos Vice President of Football Operations John Elway said of Tebow’s playoff debut in a televised interview. “He came out and played great.”
Tebow finished with a season-high 316 passing yards and completed five throws of 30 yards or more, including four during the Broncos’ 20-point second quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. The Broncos scored a total of 33 second-quarter points in 16 regular-season games.
“This team wanted to fight and we wanted to play another game,” Tebow said at a news conference. “I just tried to go out there and play hard, play fast and trust my teammates. They make me look a lot better than I actually am.”
After the Steelers erased a 20-6 halftime deficit to tie the game, Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas with a pass over the middle and Thomas outraced the Steelers’ secondary to the end zone 11 seconds into the overtime. It was the longest overtime scoring play in NFL history.
“Big, big play,” Elway said. “He put it right on the money and Demaryius took it to the house.”
Denver (9-8) entered the game as 8 1/2-point underdogs against the Steelers, who went 12-4 during the regular season and three years ago won their record sixth Super Bowl title. The Broncos are 13 1/2-point underdogs against the Patriots, the top seed in the American Football Conference.
The Giants’ win yesterday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, sets up a Jan. 15 road game against the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, who are 9-point favorites. Also on Jan. 15, the Baltimore Ravens are 8-point favorites at home against the Houston Texans, who beat the Cincinnati Bengals 31-10 two days ago.
In the other second-round game on Jan. 14, the New Orleans Saints are 3 1/2-point road favorites against the San Francisco 49ers after defeating the Detroit Lions 45-28 on Jan. 7.
The Giants got their first playoff win at MetLife Stadium behind a defense that stopped the Falcons twice on fourth down and an offense that generated 442 yards, their third-most in a postseason game. The Giants’ 172 rushing yards was a season high and boosted their record to 8-1 this season when they rush for more than 100 yards.
“We played outstanding defense and that set the tone for everything else that happened,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “If we can continue to play defense like that, we can make ourselves heard in this tournament. The second half we got going on offense and started rushing the ball.”
The Giants scored the game’s final 24 points after the Falcons got a second-quarter safety when Manning was called for intentional grounding in his end zone.
Hakeem Nicks caught two touchdown passes from Manning and got the Giants on the scoreboard with a 4-yard scoring reception with 2:47 left in the first half. Nicks also had a 72-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, catching a crossing pass from Manning and racing through the Falcons’ defense to tie the longest postseason play in Giants history.
The score boosted the Giants’ lead to 17-2 and came three plays after their defense stopped Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on a 4th-and-1 run from the New York 21-yard line.
Manning, who led the NFL during the regular season with 18 passes of 40 yards or more, completed 23 of 32 pass attempts for 277 yards. Brandon Jacobs rushed for 92 yards on 14 carries, while Ahmad Bradshaw added 63 on 14 runs.
The Giants allowed their fewest postseason points since a 41-0 victory over Minnesota in the National Football Conference championship game following the 2000 season.
The Giants advance to play the Packers, who went 15-1 during the regular season and won 38-35 at MetLife Stadium in Week 13 on a 30-yard field goal as time expired.
In their run to a Super Bowl title after the 2007 season, the Giants had three road wins against division champions, including an overtime win at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field.
“Our defense is playing great football right now, so hopefully they can continue to do that,” Manning said at his postgame news conference. “We are going to have to go score some points, we can’t make mistakes and hopefully get off to a faster start than we did today.”
The Broncos’ one-play winning drive came in the first playoff game under the NFL’s new overtime rules.
While both teams would get the ball once if there was a field goal on the opening possession, Tebow and Thomas ensured the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger wouldn’t get another chance. Thomas hauled in the pass, stiff-armed a defender and broke free for the winning score.
“He made a nice catch and was able to break free,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told reporters. “The run after was significant, not only on that play, but several instances.”
Roethlisberger had 289 passing yards and two touchdowns, including a 31-yarder to Jerricho Cotchery with 3:56 remaining that tied the score 23-23. Pittsburgh got to the Denver’s 45-yard line with 29 seconds left before Roethlisberger was sacked and the Steelers failed to get into position for a fourth field goal attempt by Shaun Suisham.
“It’s shocking,” Steelers receiver Hines Ward said of the Broncos’ overtime score. “We look up and the guy is running down the field for a touchdown. It was a great comeback for us to even take them to overtime. We just missed out on some opportunities and plays.”
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