(Updates with record television ratings for Broncos’ game in fifth paragraph.)
Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Tim Tebow’s advice from John Elway before the National Football League playoffs was to “pull the trigger.” He did just that with a career-high 316 passing yards and the winning play in the Denver Broncos’ overtime victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now Tebow gets another shot against the New England Patriots, who ended the second-year quarterback’s six-game winning streak last month in Denver.
After the Broncos limped into the playoffs on a three-game losing run, Tebow made his postseason debut one to remember. He ran for one touchdown and threw two scoring passes yesterday, including an 80-yarder to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime to give the Broncos a 29-23 win over the record six- time Super Bowl champion Steelers in Denver.
“We just executed a little bit better,” Tebow, who jumped into the stands and ran a lap round the field slapping hands with fans after the winning score, told reporters. “We knew that it was, ‘Win or go home.’ This team wanted to fight, and we wanted to play another game.”
The game drew the best preliminary television rating for a National Football League wild-card game in 24 years, CBS said today in a statement. The contest was seen in an average of 25.9 percent of homes in the top 56 U.S. television markets, the CBS Corp. network said, the best first-round rating since a game between the Seattle Seahawks and Houston Oilers in 1988, which also went to overtime and drew a 26.7.
It was Denver’s second playoff win since Elway retired in 1999 after guiding the Broncos to a second straight Super Bowl title. Elway is now the team’s vice president of football operations and has at times been critical of Tebow’s play since he replaced Kyle Orton as the starter in Week 6. Tebow, 24, led the Broncos to seven wins in eight games, then had eight turnovers during a three-game skid to end the regular season.
Tebow’s 46.5 completion percentage was the lowest among NFL starting quarterbacks this season, almost 25 percent worse than league leader Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints. After a 7-3 loss to Kansas City in which Tebow completed 6-of-22 passes for 60 yards, Elway urged Tebow to be less tentative entering the playoffs.
“That’s human nature, especially when you’re young, to become more cautious,” Elway, a Hall of Famer who went 14-7 in the playoffs, told the Denver Post last week. “The key thing for him is to go out, put everything behind him, go through his progressions and just pull the trigger.”
Facing a Steelers’ defense that allowed a league-low 227 points and 172 passing yards a game, Tebow connected on four passes of 30 or more yards during the second quarter, helping the Broncos open a 20-6 lead. Pittsburgh had been the only team in the NFL that hadn’t allowed a 100-yard receiver this season and Thomas topped that in a four-minute span, hauling in passes of 51 and 58 yards from Tebow.
Tebow’s biggest play came to open the overtime, when he caught the Steelers’ safeties blitzing with a pass over the middle to Thomas, who stiff-armed a defender and broke free for the winning score. The touchdown came 11 seconds into the extra period, the quickest overtime touchdown in NFL history.
“He pulled that trigger and put it on the money,” Elway said after the game.
Tebow became the third player to pass for more than 300 yards and two touchdowns in a NFL playoff game while rushing for at least 50 yards and a touchdown, joining former San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks Joe Montana and Jeff Garcia.
“The guy is a winner,” said Steelers running back Isaac Redman. “He played real well out there.”
Tebow led five fourth-quarter Denver comebacks earlier this season, including an 18-15 overtime win in his first start against Miami on Oct. 23. The Broncos had trailed 15-0 with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos also won overtime games against San Diego and Chicago during a six-game winning streak that moved them atop the American Football Conference West division and into playoff contention. The run ended against the AFC East-leading Patriots on Dec. 18, when Tebow rushed for two touchdowns in the 41-23 loss and had one of Denver’s three turnovers in the final 8 1/2 minutes of the second quarter.
Denver is a 13 1/2-point underdog against the Patriots, who were off during the first round after winning an AFC-best 13 games, including eight straight to end the regular season.
Tebow and the Broncos are the biggest playoff underdogs since the 2007 season, when the then-undefeated Patriots were favored by 14 1/2 points over the San Diego Chargers, according to Pregame.com, a Las Vegas-based handicapping information website. The Patriots won that game 21-12.
“They are a very good team,” said Tebow. “They’ve got one of the best players in football in Tom Brady and one of the best coaches in coach Bill Belichick, so you know they’ll have a great game plan, and you’ll know they’ll be well-rested.”
--With assistance from Mason Levinson in New York. Editors: Dan Baynes, Larry Siddons.
To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org
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