DENVER -- I'd ask if you were watching, but that would be stupid. Of course you were watching. It was the NFL, and it was the playoffs, but it was more than that.
It was Tebow.
And you were watching, because that's what you do -- that's what we do -- when Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos are playing. We watch. He isn't in the same class as an athlete, but as a spectacle Tebow is Tiger Woods leading the Masters on Sunday afternoon. He's Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals. He's the Yankees in the World Series.
|More on Steelers-Broncos|
What's the NFL comparison to Tebow?
There isn't one.
We're watching a new reality unfold, right before our eyes, and what we saw Sunday strained credibility. It was incredible. It was fantastical. It was damn near a Bible story.
With the country watching, because that's what we do, Tebow threw for 316 yards Sunday against the Steelers -- this game will go down in NFL lore as Tebow: 316 -- including an 80-yard score to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime, leading the Broncos to a 29-23 victory and a spot against the New England Patriots next week.
When it was over, Tebow bounded into the interview room -- the audience included preteen girls in Tebow jerseys and with Tebow's No. 15 painted on their face -- and stood behind the podium in jeans, sneakers and a button-down sweater-vest. Beaming, Tebow opened the floor by asking, "What's going on?"
People laughed, even media people, because people were charmed. Tebow has that ability. When he isn't making people uncomfortable with his religious talk -- like it or not, there are people who do get uncomfortable -- Tebow is charming them with his guilelessness. He talks like an earnest 20-year-old, and he refuses to be goaded into self-absorption. When he is asked about teammates, he praises them. When he is asked about coaches, he praises them. When he is asked about himself, he praises God. Some people love that. Some don't. Either way, it has contributed to the larger-than-sports, almost larger-than-life, mystique of Tebow.
As Tebow stood there in his jeans and sweater-vest, I asked him if he had any idea how big his phenomenon had become.
"I'm just thankful for the platform God has given me," Tebow said.
|Sure, the Steelers were banged up. Yes, they were on the road. But the league's stingiest pass defense alllowed a struggling Tim Tebow to heave the ball downfield for completions of 58, 51, 30 and 40 yards. The No. 1 overall defense allowed Denver to put up nearly 400 yards overall. QB Ben Roethlisberger showed why he's one of the gutsiest players in the postseason, leading two TD drives and a FG march after falling behind 20-6 at halftime. But this is a game that will haunt Pittsburgh all offseason.|
|Denver entered the game as a prohibitive underdog and until midway through the fourth quarter appeared as if it would pull off the upset. But, up by seven, Willis McGahee fumbled. Champ Bailey dropped an interception, preceding a tying TD and then, when Pittsburgh stopped Tim Tebow and Co., it looked dire for Denver. But overtime has been the Broncos time all season -- and was again. The team improved to 4-0 in such contests in 2011.|
|By Lee Rasizer|
Someone else asked Tebow if he felt like stating a public I-told-you-so to his legion of critics -- and they won't be quieted by the Tebow: 316 game -- but he declined.
"I'm just so blessed to have this opportunity," he said.
That was a storyline going into the game: He'd have the opportunity, but for how long? Tebow had been awful, just awful, in the last two games. Last week against the Chiefs he was 6 for 22 for 60 yards. The week before against the Bills, he was 13 for 29 for 185 yards and three interceptions. There were reports leading up to Sunday that the Broncos were getting a package ready for Tebow's backup, Brady Quinn. Maybe those reports were true, maybe they were false -- but whatever the case, they were believable. Because Tebow had been that bad the previous two weeks.
But still, you tuned in Sunday. Good or bad, Tebow is a story. For two months, when he was replacing Kyle Orton and leading the 1-4 Broncos to seven wins in eight starts, he was the story of this NFL season. He's still there after this game in which he broke one franchise record held by Hall of Famer John Elway and tied another. He had three passes of at least 50 yards, bettering Elway's postseason-game mark of two, and he matched Elway by becoming the only Broncos quarterback to run and pass for scores in the same playoff game.
The numbers are nonsensical, but they usually are when Tebow plays. Nonsensically good, nonsensically bad, all of it. Tebow completed less than 50 percent of his passes Sunday -- he was 10 for 21 -- but he averaged 31.6 yards per completion. He also ran 10 times for 50 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown run through the teeth of the Steelers defense.
And you were talking about it. Tebow was a trending Twitter topic on Sunday evening, and not just in the United States. He was trending all over the world -- in Canada, in Colombia, in France. He's a sports story and then some, overshadowing all else, including his teammates, who seem to love him nonetheless.
So let's give some attention to those teammates. Thomas had four catches for 204 yards, including gains of 51, 58 and 88 yards. The first two huge plays led to touchdowns. The third one, of course, scored the game-winner.
The defense sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times, including two from defensive end Robert Ayers. The Broncos' other defensive end, Elvis Dumervil, forced a game-saving fumble in the final seconds of regulation, with the Steelers perilously close to field-goal range. Pittsburgh took a 23-yard loss on the play, regulation ended, and the Broncos won the coin flip to get the ball first in overtime.
With the TV announcers still explaining the new overtime rules, Tebow hit Thomas over the middle and then watched as Thomas outran the Steelers secondary to the end zone. Broncos coach John Fox was in tow. So was Tebow. Fox eventually stopped sprinting -- "I'm fortunate I didn't get hurt," he said -- and found Tebow on the field. After that, Tebow ran off the field and toward the stands, finally jumping into the crowd.
"First time I've ever done that," Tebow said.
As for being a story -- the story -- of the NFL season, Tebow has been here before. And he'll be there again. Just a guess here, but Tebow will be the biggest story of next week's slate of playoff games as well. And next week's games are awesome: Saints-49ers, Giants-Packers, Texans-Ravens, and then the big one: Broncos-Patriots.
It's a rematch of their game a month ago, when the Patriots snapped Denver's six-game winning streak with a 41-23 rout. Afterward, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady found Tebow on the field for a private chat. A reporter asked Tebow on Sunday what Brady had said back on Dec. 18. Tebow tried to deflect it, noting that Brady had "said some nice things," but the reporter -- from Boston -- asked Tebow if it was true that Brady had told Tebow something along the lines of, "We'll see you again."
Busted, Tebow smiled.
"He might have said something like that," Tebow said. "I guess he's a prophet."
Could be, but there's only one Tebow: 316. And we're all witnesses.