DENVER (AP) — The Drive. The Fumble. And now, The Blink of an Eye.
With a quick flick of the wrist and a mad dash to the end zone, Tim Tebow, Demaryius Thomas and the Denver Broncos put a sudden end to their playoff game against Pittsburgh — an 11-second throw, catch and run that accounted for the quickest overtime in NFL history.
On the first play of the extra period Sunday, Tebow threw a crossing pattern to Thomas, who stiff-armed Ike Taylor and won the race to the end zone for an 80-yard score that lifted the Broncos to a 29-23 playoff victory over the stunned Steelers.
All in 11 ticks of the clock — the quickest overtime ever, regular season or playoffs.
It will be talked about for much longer, destined to earn a spot in Denver’s colorful playoff history, somewhere up there with The Drive, The Fumble and the franchise’s two Super Bowl titles.
John Elway, the quarterback who was around for those magic moments, was like every other Broncos fan for this one — he could only watch and hope. When Thomas crossed the goal line, ol’ No. 7 raised his arms and celebrated like a kid on the sideline.
“When I saw him scoring, first of all, I just thought, ‘Thank you, Lord,’” he said. “Then, I was running pretty fast, chasing him.”
A few moments later, he was Tebowing in the end zone — down on one knee, resting one hand against his forehead, while he punched his other fist in the turf. After that, he did victory laps and jumped into the stands at a stadium that has been thirsting for something special for a while now. Denver’s last turn in the playoffs was the 2006 AFC title game, a 34-17 loss to the Steelers, five seasons before Tebow arrived.
And boy has this unorthodox, often divisive but very clutch quarterback made a difference.
“Definitely a special memory. One that will always be very special,” Tebow said of his fourth overtime win of the season, against no losses.
The Tebow-to-Thomas connection denied fans a good look at the NFL’s new postseason overtime rule. Under the new format, put into play for the first time in this game, each team was guaranteed a possession in overtime — unless, that is, the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown.
“They said, ‘We’re going to run this play, all you have to do is cross the safety’s face,’” Thomas said. “I was walking to the line and saw the safety come down and I knew, at that time, the play we had called, the only person I had to beat was the corner.”
After Denver’s third straight loss last week in which Tebow threw for 60 yards and logged a quarterback rating of 20.8, Elway — now the team’s executive vice president of football operations — urged him to be more aggressive with the ball. He wanted his quarterback to step up and take more chances — run when he saw daylight, throw during that split second when he saw a receiver open.
Message received. Tebow did that all game, softening the Steelers with gains of 51, 58, 30 and 40 yards, all in the first half.
“I think it’s just a mentality, being aggressive,” Tebow said. “Whether it’s in the pocket, when I was stepping up and I start to scramble … or whether it’s when I’m stepping up and giving a receiver an opportunity on a deep ball.”
Though the Steelers rallied from a 14-point deficit in the second half, Tebow, Thomas and the rest kept their defense off-balance most of the game. They were clearly caught unaware on first-and-10 from the 20 when Tebow took the snap and safety Ryan Mundy bit on the quarterback’s play-action fake and charged toward the line. That left Thomas in the man-to-man coverage against Taylor he knew he was going to get.
After catching the ball and shedding Taylor, Thomas had only Mundy to beat to the goal line.
“We knew they were capable of big plays,” Mundy said. “They didn’t’ make the playoffs for no reason.”
They’re moving on in the playoffs, as well. Thanks to the first play of overtime. Which also turned out to be the last.