Quarterback Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos’ route to the NFL playoffs has been an unlikely and fascinating journey and it will require another unexpected twist if they are to overcome perennial post-season performers Pittsburgh in today’s wild-card game.
No team have won more playoff games than the Steelers, who are tied for the best record of 33 victories with the Dallas Cowboys and are looking for a record seventh Super Bowl win this season after being beaten in last year’s decider by Green Bay.
Pittsburgh also have form on their side. They head to Colorado having won 10 of their past 12 games and so often their defense has been key. They lead the NFL in total defense (271.8 yards per game) and passing defense (171.9).
“It’s going to be tough sledding for sure,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “They are the No. 1 defense over the regular season in many critical areas, so there won’t be anything easy against the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense.”
In contrast, Denver, who had the next to worst passing offense in the league, finished the regular season with three defeats and with Tebow struggling to reproduce the late bursts of yardage that pushed the Broncos into top spot in the AFC West.
In the great debate over Tebow, the skeptics have felt justified of late as the quarterback threw three interceptions and gave up a fumble in the 40-14 hammering by Buffalo and then had his limitations exposed again last Sunday while completing only six of 22 passes for 60 yards in a 7-3 loss to Kansas City.
However, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin believes Tebow has the ability and character to rise to the occasion.
“When I look at Tim Tebow, I see a guy that just wins,” Tomlin said. “He is at his best in the significant moments. He makes those around him better. They buy into what he is selling.”
The key to the game will be whether Denver can establish their running game, which was ranked first in the league, with running back Willis McGahee (1,199 yards) the main threat.
“Their running game is very formidable,” Tomlin said. “If we want to play good defense, we have to slow down McGahee, Tebow and others. They put the ball under their arm and they do it for their team by running.”
The Steelers own running game has been weakened by injury. Running back Rashard Mendenhall (928 yards) is out for the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, while starting, is still a little short of full power because of the lingering affects of an ankle injury.
Tomlin has opted not to risk safety Ryan Clark, who has struggled with a blood disorder at altitude in the past and will be replaced by Ryan Mundy.
Denver’s own safety Brian Dawkins is also at risk of missing the game with his neck injury.