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Stifling the Steel Defense

Posted Jan 8, 2012

In a matchup against the NFL's No.1 defense, Tim Tebow and the Denver offense came through with a balanced attack and produced numerous explosive plays through the air to upend Pittsburgh.


DENVER -- During a three-game losing streak to close out the regular season, the Denver offense admittedly struggled.

In those three defeats, the Broncos turned the ball over seven times. The total points scored dropped in each successive outing, with just three points mustered in a 7-3 loss to Chiefs in the regular-season finale.

Then came Sunday's Wild Card matchup with the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers.

If the Broncos were going to turn things around and advance, they were going to have to do it against the league's top-ranked defense.

"We kind of came into the playoffs limping a little bit and hadn't scored a lot of points," offensive tackle Ryan Clady said. "That's the best defense in the league and knew we had to score something to win the game."

They scored 29 points and amassed 447 total yards to edge Pittsburgh 29-23 in overtime. Only once had the Steelers given up more than that point total all season.

"They said we weren't going to be able to move the ball on them," running back Willis McGahee said. "We did."

Next week the Broncos will travel to Foxborough, Mass., to take on the New England Patriots in the divisional round. They'll make that trip thanks to an explosive performance from an offense that was tasked with battling the NFL's best.

Tim Tebow's 80-yard touchdown toss to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime was the jaw-dropping knockout punch that ended the Steelers' season and sent Sports Authority Field at Mile High into a frenzy.

But the Broncos offense didn't have much to celebrate at the start.

Denver entered the game featuring the league's most productive rushing offense, but by first quarter's end the Broncos had just eight yards rushing. That represented the team's total yards as well.

"The plays we were running in the beginning - we really weren't doing anything but getting a yard here or there or a 2-yard loss," McGahee said. "We had to find a way and the coaches came up with a great plan during the game and we executed it."

In the next three quarters and one play, that offense delivered.

And it did so through the air.

"They came out and made way more plays than we thought they were capable of making," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said.

In his playoff debut, Tebow completed 10 passes for a career-high 316 yards and two touchdowns against a pass defense that had allowed just 171.9 yards per game during the regular season.

"He stepped up at the biggest moment," wide receiver Eddie Royal, who caught a second quarter touchdown, said of Tebow.

The Steelers hadn't allowed a single receiver to record a 100-yard game all year, but wideout Demaryius Thomas racked up 204 yards receiving on just four catches and capped off the night with his game-winning, 80-yard score.

Denver gained 131 yards on the ground, averaging just 3.9 yards per rush. And with Steelers crowding the line of scrimmage to shut down the run, Tebow and the Broncos exploited them over the top, averaging over 30 yards per completion.

"We used (Pittsburgh's) aggression against them a little bit," Tebow said. "A lot of different guys stepped up and I'm so proud of them."

"We threw the ball more efficiently, and one thing I said a long time ago was for us to make any noise or have an opportunity when you start getting against the best in the world, we were going to have to have more balance," Head Coach John Fox said. "That helped us tonight for sure."

Clady and the rest of the Denver offensive line pride themselves on controlling the line of scrimmage and producing on the ground, but with Pittsburgh regularly stacking the box, Clady knew the passing game would need to produce for the Broncos to emerge victorious.

"They're the number one defense in the league. We knew we weren't going to get 200, 300 yards rushing, so we would have to pass the ball at some point and be effective," Clady said.

"We just tried to step up," Tebow said. "This team wanted to fight and we wanted to play another game."

After eliminating the Steelers and their top-ranked defense, the Broncos have earned the right to do just that.