Before the end of the 8:30 a.m. Sunday Mass at the Church of the Holy Ghost on the quiet downtown corner of California and 18th, the Rev. Greg Cleveland, adorned in white-gold vestments for the Epiphany, stood behind a wooden lectern. He spread his arms out wide, welcoming all communicants, ranging from the Pittsburgh Steelers fan dressed in a black Troy Polamalu jersey to the Broncos’ fanatic in navy blue John Elway attire. Cleveland, absorbing the scene, issued a blessing upon the faithful.
“May we hope that Tebow has another miracle in him,” he said, referring to Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, a devout Christian and mystical game manager.
The crowd laughed, applauded and listened still. Cleveland then trained his attention on the visiting Steelers and their sizable quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“The bigger the Ben, the harder they fall,” Cleveland said.
The Book of Tebow turned another page as afternoon cooled into night, re-routing a season seemingly derailed in recent weeks with a riveting 80-yard touchdown connection with wideout Demaryius Thomas for the game-winning touchdown. It was the final touch of a 29-23 overtime win that relied upon an aerial attack over the Steelers in a Wild Card game played out before 75,658 fans at Mile High.
Pittsburgh, hobbled by injuries, including Roethlisberger’s continued ankle issues, looked helpless in limiting Tebow, as the Broncos, champions of the AFC West, burst through the opening round to face the New England Patriots in Foxborough on Saturday night.
Tebow completed 10 of 21 pass attempts for 316 yards and two touchdowns.
The Broncos’ brain trust utilized Tebow in multiple formations, taking advantage of his left arm as much as his legs. The second-year quarterback received the majority of his snaps in the shotgun, shifted out wide as a receiver in a Wildcat package and maneuvered past defenders on quarterback keepers. He scrambled from pressure, scampered into the secondary on several read-option runs and altogether shook free from the league-wide scouting reports that declared him a liability in the passing game.
The game nearly turned on a running play by Broncos tailback Willis McGahee. Rushing right, McGahee was stripped by Steelers defensive back Ryan Mundy and linebacker LaMarr Woodley recovered the loose ball at the 44-yard line. Roethlisberger sacked for six yards on the subsequent first down, but, forever resilient, he maintained poise ni the pocket, finding former Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery for a 31-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 23-23 with 3:48 remaining in the game.
Passing proved problematic early. His first two attempts fell incomplete; a third, to wideout Eric Decker, was first marked a nine-yard completion, only to be ruled a lateral by officials. He connected again with Decker on a crossing pattern for a 21-yard gain, but Steelers coach Mike Tomlin challenged the reception and the referees overruled it. Worse still, Decker endured a knee injury and left the field. No matter. Tebow dropped a 53-yard pass in wideout Demaryius Thomas’s hands along the left sideline. Lance Ball rushed one yard before Tebow hit receiver Eddie Royal for a 30-yard score.
When it was over, Tebow and teammates circled around midfield as a fan behind the Steelers bench held up a sign with one word repeated three times.