(Reuters) - The Denver Broncos stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers with an 80-yard touchdown strike from Tim Tebow on the first play of overtime for a 29-23 win on Sunday to advance to the second round of AFC playoffs.
Tebow, whose shortcomings as a passer have been well documented, connected with Demaryius Thomas on the first play from scrimmage after the overtime kickoff to floor the defending AFC champion Steelers and bring the Mile High crowd to its feet celebrating the team's first playoff win since 2005.
I don't think it's the first time our offense has clicked ... but I thought the timing was great. We had struggled over the last couple weeks and a lot of that progress was because of our quarterback, said Denver coach John Fox.
A lot was said, a lot was written and there's been a lot of critique on him but I thought he stepped up in a huge way tonight and I think he was a big part of us winning the game.
The Broncos, who backed into the post-season on a three-game losing skid, now hit the road full of confidence ready to face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots when the second round of the NFL playoffs resume on January 14.
It was more Mile High magic from Tebow, who became a fan favourite by pulling out late wins after getting the starting role during the season, but he set the stage for the victory much earlier with a second quarter blitz that ravaged the NFL's top ranked defence for 20 points.
Tebow's numbers would hardly shine alongside even average outings by Brady or New Orleans counterpart Drew Brees but his 10 completions on 21 attempts for 316 yards and two touchdowns were enough to earn Denver its first playoff win in seven years.
The southpaw quarterback, who also ran in for a touchdown, may have also found a big-play target in Thomas who hauled in four passes for 204 yards, including the game-winning catch that resulted in the quickest end to an NFL overtime at 11 seconds.
We just tried to step up, we knew it was win or go home and this team wanted to fight and play another game, explained Tebow. It was a great call, it was something we had ran earlier in the game.
When I saw him score, I was running pretty fast trying to catch him then I just jumped into the stands. First time I've done that.
Down 6-0 after one quarter, Tebow surprised the Steelers by going to the air and connecting on two long passes, a 51-yarder to Thomas followed by a 30-yard touchdown strike to Eddie Royal.
The touchdown was Denver's first in 22 drives and the TD pass was the first given up by the Steelers in six games.
On the next possession, Tebow went right back to the air hooking up with Thomas on a 58-yard pass then finished off the drive in a more familiar fashion, keeping the ball himself and charging over from the eight for 14-6 lead.
The Denver defence also got in on the fun by intercepting Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was hampered by an ankle injury, and giving Tebow the ball on the Pittsburgh 18 to set up a Matt Prater field goal.
Prater would add another 28-yard field goal to cap a sizzling second quarter that sent the hosts into the half to a standing ovation with 20-6 lead.
Roethlisberger, slowed by a high ankle sprain that forced him to wear a special oversized shoe, took charge after the break engineering an 88-yard drive capped off with speedy Mike Wallace racing around the end for a one-yard score to cut the Denver leave to seven.
The teams traded field goals early in the final quarter, before Big Ben again went to work turning a Willis McGahee fumble into a 31-yard touchdown to Jerricho Cotchery to tie the contest at 23-23 with just under four minutes to play.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)