By The Associated Press
Tim Tebow is taking his magic to Foxborough. Next up: Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
To get there, Tebow connected with Demaryius Thomas on an electrifying 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime and the Denver Broncos defeated the stunned Pittsburgh Steelers 29-23 in the AFC wild-card game Sunday.
“We’re just a fighting team. A lot of resilience,” Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. “In any adverse situation, we’ll find a way to get out of it.
Meanwhile, Eli Manning and the New York Giants are heading to Green Bay with their running game rejuvenated and their defense as stifling as ever.
Manning threw three touchdown passes, Brandon Jacobs had 92 of the Giants’ 172 yards rushing and the defense shut down Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons in a 24-2 victory.
“If we can play defense like that,” coach Tom Coughlin said, “we will continue to make ourselves heard in this tournament.”
All four home teams won on the NFL’s first playoff weekend. On Saturday, the high-scoring New Orleans Saints (14-3) earned a trip to San Francisco against the 49ers (13-3) with a convincing 45-28 win over the Detroit Lions.
The Houston Texans (11-6) will be at Baltimore to take on the Ravens (12-4) next Sunday after a 31-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals for the first playoff win in franchise history.
At Denver, Tebow’s toss to Thomas took 11 seconds and was the quickest ending to an overtime in NFL history. Thomas hauled in a high play-action pass at the Denver 38, stiff-armed Ike Taylor and then outraced Ryan Mundy to the end zone.
Tebow knelt on one knee — “Tebowing” — and then pounded a fist in triumph and took a victory lap.
“I think we executed a little bit better. We tried to step up,” Tebow said. “We knew it was win or go home. This team wanted to fight. We wanted to play another game.”
Tebow struggled the last three weeks and was prodded by John Elway to let the ball fly, and he sure did. His career-high 316 yards passing — the most against the Steelers this season — lifted the Broncos (9-8) to their first playoff win in six years.
“Everybody says we backed into the playoffs,” Bailey said. “We’re in. We did something right along the way. We’re in it. We won a game. Now, we’ve got to go try to win another one.”
The Steelers (12-5) lost despite a hobbled Ben Roethlisberger, playing on a bad ankle, rallying injury-depleted Pittsburgh from a two-touchdown halftime deficit with 10 points in the final 10 minutes.
Now, Tebow and the Broncos will prepare for the Patriots (13-3), who walloped them 41-23 last month. The loss also sent Tebow into a funk that included seven turnovers and a 40 percent completion clip — and prompted Elway to implore him to “pull the trigger” in the playoffs.
“We knew they were capable of big plays,” Mundy said. “They didn’t make the playoffs for no reason.”
At East Rutherford, N.J., Manning scrambled for a 14-yard gain that woke up New York’s offense in its first postseason victory since its Super Bowl upset of undefeated New England four years ago. The Giants (10-7) will next take on the defending champion Packers (15-1), who won in East Rutherford, N.J., 38-35 in December.
“We know they are a good team,” Manning said. “We played them tough here, did some good things here, we scored some points. We know offensively we are going to have to play strong, score some points.”
Manning hooked up with Hakeem Nicks on a 72-yard catch and run in the third quarter that put away the inept Falcons (10-7). Manning also connected on a 4-yard TD with Nicks in the second period, and a 27-yard TD throw to Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter that finished it off.
The Giants’ previous postseason trip to frigid Lambeau Field was a 23-20 overtime victory for the NFC championship two weeks before they upset the Patriots.
“Cold, I remember that. I remember Coach Coughlin’s face. I remember (tackle) David Diehl sweating and it froze on his hair and he had icicles on his hair,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “And I remember us winning. Hopefully, we can go back there and do it again.”
New York twice stymied Atlanta on fourth-and-1 as Ryan’s sneaks went nowhere in the Giants’ 24-2 win Sunday. The defense also stopped Michael Turner on a third-and-inches late in the third period. The Falcons couldn’t gain any traction on the ground and were held to 64 yards rushing.
“They did a great job of defending us, especially in the second half,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “That shouldn’t happen to a team like we have. We’re a lot better than this.”
But the only points the Falcons could muster was when Manning was pressured into the end zone by James Sanders and threw the ball away to avoid the sack, resulting in a safety.
“Our defense played great,” Manning said, “kept us in the lead.”