Denver -- Despite the Steelers defense coming into the game as the league's No. 1-ranked unit, the Broncos defense knew it had just as much a chance to affect the game's outcome.
"Coaches said at the beginning of the week whoever had the best defense was going to win," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "Today we outplayed the Steelers. ... We came out and outplayed them today to get the win."
The Denver defense held Pittsburgh out of the end zone during the first half, allowing the offense time to stake the team a 20-6 lead at the intermission.
"Those guys, the offensive line did a great job," defensive end Elvis Dumervil said. "We had a lot of explosive plays on offense, so that was huge for us. They kept us off the field a lot and moved the chains. That was huge."
Given the lead, the unit was able to pin its ears back and get after the quarterback in the second half. The defense took advantage of forcing Pittsburgh to be a one-dimensional, pass-first team with four sacks in the fourth quarter.
Defensive end Robert Ayers led the way with two quarterback takedowns. Dumervil, linebacker Von Miller and defensive tackle Broderick Bunkley each added one sack a piece.
"We were just going to go out there and play Bronco defense," Miller said. "We were able to have a very productive day on defense and able to get it done."
Solid coverage downfield gave the pass rush the time they needed to get pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throughout the second half when Pittsburgh was forced to play catch-up through the air.
"The guys in the back end covered pretty well to give us some time to get there," Dumervil said. "It was a good rush-and-coverage combination."
Earlier in the game, Quinton Carter took advantage of the pass rush in coming up with his first career interception. Linebacker D.J. Williams pressured Roethlisberger, and the rookie safety capitalized on the pass thrown under duress to turn it into the lone Steelers turnover of the day.
"I think it was a combination of rush and coverage and it went hand-in-hand," Carter said of his interception. "We played great coverage and they played great up front. We made some great plays down the stretch."
Still, the Steelers were able to put points on the board late in the game to force overtime, and Bailey said the Steelers are "too good" to expect that they wouldn't. But the Broncos' unit made sure to put any mistakes they made behind them, and played well enough for Denver to come away with the win.
"You can't really dwell on it," Bailey said. "One thing I've learned about this league is that if you* *make a mistake, you put it behind you and keep moving."
MILE HIGH MAGIC
Back in the postseason for the first time since the 2005 season, the Broncos didn't disappoint the 75,970 fans in attendance at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
It was Denver's first postseason game since they fell to the Steelers 34-17 in the AFC Championship game on Jan. 22, 2006, and Broncos fans showed up in force to help cheer their team on to victory.
"It's really about the guys in the locker room and these fans," wide receiver Eddie Royal said. "These fans have been here cheering us on and fighting for us and believing in us. Today was a big win for them."
Bailey was on that 2005 team that last played after Week 17.
"It feels good. It's been a long time coming," Bailey said. "We haven't won a game (in Denver) in the playoffs in five or six years. It's a good feeling. We know this is just a step in the right direction."
Tackle Ryan Clady said the crowd was so loud after the game-winning catch that he couldn't even hear his teammates on the field next to him.
"It was loud," he said of the stadium atmosphere after the game-winning catch. "You couldn't really hear anything…I was just so happy and running down trying to celebrate with my teammates and party in the end zone."
Winning the game in front of the home crowd made the victory even more special.
"It's unbelievable," Dumervil said. "The crowd was great, the atmosphere was there, and to come out to my first postseason game and win the first one as a team – it's an amazing feeling."
TRUST IN TIM
Quarterback Tim Tebow made a big splash in his first career postseason game, finishing with a career-high 316 passing yards and two touchdowns. He also ran in the team's second score of game, marking the eighth time in his career that he has both run and thrown for touchdowns in the same game.
"We had a great week of practice—we practiced hard—and I felt like we had a great game plan," Tebow said. "They came out and they played hard, and we played hard, and it was a great game. I'm very thankful we were able to get the win."
Despite a three-game losing streak entering the postseason, Broncos players remained confident in their second-year signal caller.
"He's a great football player," guard Zane Beadles said. "He makes the plays when they need to be made. He did a great job today."
"I told you. Didn't I tell you? I'm not worried about him," running back Willis McGahee smiled. "I'm riding with (No. 15). We're riding with one-five."
Tebow and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, both selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, connected on the game-winning play against the Steelers.
"He was the same Tim; calm and collected," Thomas said of his fellow second-year player. "He took it one play at a time and was in the huddle and said, 'It's either we win or we go home.'"
Bailey said he's seen Tebow's confidence grow with each game he plays.
"It's all about being comfortable with your role, the reads and stuff. You grow into that. He's getting better and he's getting more confident. You could see that tonight."